[Foundation-l] Letter to the community on Controversial Content

Bjoern Hoehrmann derhoermi at gmx.net
Sun Oct 9 21:57:16 UTC 2011

* Sue Gardner wrote:
>Please read Ting's note carefully. The Board is asking me to work with
>the community to develop a solution that meets the original
>requirements as laid out in its resolution. It is asking me to do
>something. But it is not asking me to do the specific thing that has
>been discussed over the past several months, and which the Germans
>voted against.

There is nothing useful to be learned from the Letter to the Community.
What we can assume is that someone on the Board raised the issue about
people complaining about images, someone suggested if there are images
people don't like, they should have the option to have them hidden from
them, and then they agreed that someone should figure that out. Board
members do not thing they have to contribute to the solution and they
don't think the community should have any say in whether the feature is
actually wanted by the community. Whoever is tasked with figuring this
out isn't actually taking useful steps towards solving the problem.

Instead we are burning goodwill by arguing the finer points of what is,
exactly, censorship, how there are provocateurs in our midst, and how
important, relative to not, it is that users have this feature whether
they are logged in or not, and any number of other things. This is not
an issue where you can hope to get everyone on board by appealing to
people's empathy and understanding, people do not know whether they are
to board the Titanic or the QE2, so you get a lot of talk about how the
ship will sink if you build it incorrectly or steer it badly.

It would be easy for the Board to resolve that at this point they ex-
pect whoever they tasked with it to come up with a technical proposal
in coordination with the community which might then be implemented on
projects who volunteer to test it and then there will be an evaluation
also in coordination with the community before any further steps are
taken, for instance. But the Chair has chosen to instead inform the
community that it's far too late to argue about this feature and there
is no reason for the Board to do as little as hint at the possibility
that this feature will not be imposed on projects by force.

We can read the Letter to the Community carefully if you want. I note,
e.g., "deliberately offending or provoking them is not respectful, and
is not okay". This is insinuating a notable group of people is taking
the opposite position, which is not true. That part starts "We believe
we need, and should want, to treat readers with respect. Their opinions
and preferences are as legitimate as our own". The list of opinions and
preferences humans have held throughout history that today "we" would
find abhorrent is very, very long. "The majority of editors who
responded to the referendum are not opposed to the feature." I do not
see how one can have followed the discussion without running across the
fact that this statement is regarded as invalid inference from the poll.

Like I said, it does not really matter what he wrote, the people who've
expressed concern about the filter do not care about random claims how
the Board is listening and hearing and paying attention and wants us to
work with "you" despite the Board being openly hostile towards the com-
munity, whether it means to be or is just exceptionally bad at dealing
with the community in a manner that is well received. What they want is
that this issue goes away, whether that is by abandoning the project or
a brilliant idea that nobody has thought of so far or whatever.

Clearly an image filter can be developed and maintained. Having one has
costs and benefits. It may well be that no filter can be developed such
that the benefits outweigh the costs. Without knowing that it is not
reasonable to command implementation of the filter. If this had been
framed as some explorative feasibility and requirements gathering study
with an open outcome and proposals sought, we would have a different
kind of discussion.

>The Board is hoping there is a solution that will 1) enable readers to
>easily hide images they don't want to see, as laid out in the Board's
>resolution [1], while 2) being generally acceptable to editors. Maybe
>this will not be possible, but it's the goal. The Board definitely
>does not want a war with the community, and it does not want people to
>fork or leave the projects. The goal is a solution that's acceptable
>for everyone.

Well, then the Board should not have commanded implementation before an
idea what to implement had been developed, the development should not
have happened way out of reach of the community, there should not have
been a referendum without a proposal that enjoys some meaningful level
of community support, the referndum should have asked more meaningful
questions, and the whole thing should have been very clearly branded as
an experiment participation in which will be genuinely optional. It'll
be necessary to move a few steps back to re-synchronize with the rest of
the community and move together from there on. There would need to be a
forum and process to discuss and agree on questions like whether it's
sufficient if there is a feature to hide, blur, or otherwise obscure all
images, and if not, what kind of process should be used to decide to de-
cide how to classify images, and all manners of questions like these.

If the people who wish to participate in this come up with something
they anticipate overwhelming support for, let them doublecheck with the
larger community informally, like calling for comments in the Signpost
or whatever may be suitable, ideally allowing people to test this in a
test wiki with reasonable sample images, then ask the community if they
want this feature on their wikis and enable it as appropriate. This is
not rocket science, if you want community support, make it easy for the
community to be informed about and participate in all steps in the pro-
cess, make decisions only after people could voice their well informed
opinions, improve documentation based on what you learn in discussions.

Gather more data, conduct a representative poll among german speaking
people, ask them how often they use Wikipedia, how often they encouter
images in some general category that would rather not see. If you have
50% of regular users who find such images on 1 of 10 articles they see,
german speaking editors would most likely be surprised and re-evaluate
their position, not necessarily with respect to the filter, but they'd
pay more attention to their image selections, perhaps there are areas
where image selection is a problem because we lack better ones, then
new images could be made and so on. Conduct a global poll, demonstrate
that this is an issue for so and so many people. The "referendum" is of
no use here since, when the Board decides we must have a filter, people
assume they have carefully studied the need and the feasibility and are
all the more likely to agree than if it's a matter of "some people com-
plain, someone suggested maybe some sort of filter would help, should
we spend donor's money on this problem rather than better tools to com-
bat vandalism?". Having studies would allow you to cite your sources
when making claims about whether there is a problem; a familiar concept.
As it is, we do not even have the full results of the "referendum" ...
Björn Höhrmann · mailto:bjoern at hoehrmann.de · http://bjoern.hoehrmann.de
Am Badedeich 7 · Telefon: +49(0)160/4415681 · http://www.bjoernsworld.de
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