[Foundation-l] [Wikimedia Announcements] Q&A regarding board resolution

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Thu Jun 24 06:21:17 UTC 2010

Replying for the purpose of forwarding the original message, part two.

--Michael Snow

On 6/23/2010 10:59 PM, Michael Snow wrote:
> What is the purpose of the resolution?
> The Board is asking its Executive Director to conduct a study, with the
> goal of figuring out what to do about potentially-objectionable material
> in the projects. We know there is, and will always be, some material in
> the projects that some readers will find offensive: that's inevitable,
> given the size and scope of our readership, and our commitment to
> providing access to all of the world's knowledge. We don't want to cause
> unnecessary offence to people, and we particularly don't want to offend
> people if it means they won't therefore use our projects, or that they
> will aim to keep other people from using them. We want our projects to
> be available to as many people as possible, and we would like, as much
> as possible, to minimize the number of people who are prevented from
> accessing the projects by third-parties. Having said that, we see the
> projects' role as making available all knowledge, not making available
> solely such knowledge as is universally deemed acceptable. It's a
> challenge, and we need to strike an appropriate balance. Therefore,
> we're asking our ED to do some investigation and thinking, and make some
> recommendations to us at our meeting this fall.
> How was the resolution developed and agreed upon?
> The board and the community have been talking about this topic for the
> past two months -- and indeed, the Commons and Wikipedia communities
> have been discussing it for many years. Once the board reached general
> agreement that a study was a good idea, we asked our ED to draft a
> resolution to that effect. After she did that, we spent several weeks
> talking with each other, refining the language of the draft, and voting
> to adopt the resolution.
> Does the board have consensus on what to do about
> potentially-objectionable materials in the projects?
> No. So far, board members have exchanged several hundred e-mails on this
> topic, and we will continue to discuss it in the coming months.
> Currently, board members have expressed quite different views, and there
> is no consensus on how to resolve the issue. We think that's completely
> fine though: it's complicated, and it's worth a lot of thought and
> discussion. That's why we've commissioned a study: to see what we can
> learn from other similar discussions that have taken place within other
> organizations.
> What are the individual board members' views on this issue? How divided
> is the board?
> We don't really want to characterize individual board members' views.
> Having said that, individual board members have expressed their opinions
> publicly in the past, and they will probably continue to do so. The
> board is comfortable with disagreement on this issue, and it's
> comfortable with people expressing their opinions. For example, Michael
> Snow has been having a conversation with contributors on Commons, and
> both Jimmy and SJ have been expressing their views there too. That's
> fine, and the board encourages it.
> How is this study related to the purge of some sexual imagery that
> happened on Commons a month ago?
> The Commons purge happened because Jimmy felt there was material on
> Commons which didn't belong there -- that was potentially objectionable,
> and had no educational value. The board released a statement on May 7,
> encouraging Wikimedia editors to scrutinize potentially offensive
> materials with the goal of assessing their educational or informational
> value, and to remove them from the projects if there was no such value.
> Jimmy himself then deleted a bunch of imagery he thought was
> problematic. In so doing, he made a lot of admins on Commons really
> angry -- essentially because they felt Jimmy was acting unilaterally,
> without sufficient discussion. So yes, this study is an attempt to
> better handle the general issue of potentially-objectionable material on
> the projects, including Commons, by giving it some sustained attention.
> In its statement May 7, the board said that it was not intending to
> create new policy, but rather to reaffirm and support policy that
> already exists. Has that changed?
> We don't know yet what recommendations will come out of the study. It's
> quite possible they will include recommendations to change policy on the
> projects. In giving direction to the consultant, we have asked that
> everything be considered: nothing has been ruled out.
> In the aftermath of the Commons purge, a lot of editors felt that the
> Wikimedia Foundation, the board, and/or Jimmy had overstepped their
> authority. What do you say to those editors who believe that editorial
> policy is their purview, not the responsibility of the board or the staff?
> We agree with editors who say that, and we believe that Wikimedia's
> current methods of developing and enforcing policy, for the most part,
> work really beautifully. The Wikimedia projects are a shining example of
> the power of mass collaboration, and nobody wants to fundamentally
> change anything about how the projects work.
> Is this the first time the Board has ever asked the ED or WMF to address
> an issue like this?
> This is the first time the Board has asked the ED to investigate the
> issue of potentially-objectionable material on the projects, yes.
> Will the Board make a decision about next steps on this issue following
> the ED's presentation of findings?
> The Board will review the recommendations and findings, and will
> continue to discuss the matter and reach out to the community of
> volunteers to discuss the issue. We won't speculate on what decisions
> will be made, or when, until findings have been reviewed and discussed.
> Who will the ED be seeking out to undertake this research?
> She has hired a consultant: Robert Harris, a former executive with the
> Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Robert is an experienced Canadian
> journalist and writer who, over the course of his career, has held
> responsibility for developing and ensuring compliance with editorial
> standards and practices at the CBC. We think he's right for this work
> because he's smart and thoughtful, has decades of experience handling
> sensitive editorial issues, and is experienced at balancing the
> interests of multiple stakeholders inside a mission-driven organization
> designed to serve the general public. Sue worked with Robert for 17
> years at the CBC, and is confident he can help us with this issue.
> What will the process look like?
> This won't be like the strategy project, which took an entire year and a
> team of full-time people. This process will be smaller and simpler.
> Robert intends to gather input from four major sources: i) by reading
> existing policy and discussion pages on the wikis, ii) by interviewing
> key project participants such as board members and community members,
> iii) by gathering together external statements of policy, papers and
> reports on this topic, and iv) by interviewing key experts such as
> advisory board members, anti-censorship advocates, child-protection
> organizations, and so forth. He will probably not do much original
> research (such as surveys or focus groups): instead, he will tend to
> rely on existing research done by others. Once Robert has gathered all
> the input, he will do some analysis and thinking, and then make
> recommendations to the board. It is intended to be a fairly quick and
> simple process of information-gathering and thinking.
> What will the end result look like?
> Robert will explore and summarize our particular context: our mission,
> our production processes, and current relevant policies. He will tell us
> how other organizations and entities, such as libraries and big
> user-generated content sites, have handled this challenge. He will lay
> out possible courses of action, and the pros and cons of each in our
> context. And finally, he will make recommendations to the board.
> What might those recommendations include?
> Nothing is off the table. Robert has not been asked to explicitly
> exclude anything from the scope of recommendations. He could recommend
> anything from doing nothing to creative ideas that haven't been
> considered before.
> What will happen after the board receives the recommendations?
> The board will discuss the recommendations at its fall meeting. Then it
> will talk with the community. Nothing will happen without lots of
> discussion.
> Why not hire a community member to do this work?
> Any community member who'd be interested in this work has probably
> already formed an opinion on the topic, which means it might be hard for
> them to maintain neutrality, and/or other people might perceive them as
> non-neutral. Robert brings a fresh eye, which is probably useful. Also,
> he will bring to us his experience of designing policy elsewhere.
> What other projects or properties face similar situations as those of
> Wikimedia's? Who or what can provide context for this kind of research
> or decision making? Who else knows how to address this issue?
> We are interested in practices of other large projects containing
> community-created material, such as Flickr, YouTube, Google, eBay, and
> the Internet Archive. We are also interested in educational institutions
> and archives, whose work is similar to ours. So we will be talking with
> groups such as libraries, museums, and universities. Many smart people
> have grappled with these issues, and we are looking forward to hearing
> how they have handled them. We also know that our context is unique, and
> the outcome will need to be suited to us: our mission, goals, values and
> editorial practices.
> Are you doing this because you're worried about the media, or donors?
> No. The board is doing this because we've agreed that getting more
> information about other approaches to the issue is the right thing to
> do. We want to be thoughtful and responsible, and we think it's worth
> putting some focused effort against this issue. We may be wrong about
> that (and it's true that some board members feel more strongly about it
> than others). We want to do what is best in terms of advancing the
> mission and meeting the needs of all the world's readers and contributors.
> Has the Board or Foundation actively done anything on the projects to
> remove explicit content? Has any illegal material been found or deleted?
> Although the Foundation would remove any illegal content if it were
> necessary, it has not needed to do so--the task of removing this kind of
> material generally falls to our volunteers first, who watch the latest
> changes and additions to our projects. However, project policies often
> include editorial considerations in addition to legal considerations;
> just because an image is within the bounds of the law does not
> necessarily mean it falls within the project scope, and individual
> members have removed content they believed was outside of project policies.
> The Wikimedia community has engaged in thoughtful policy development
> around these issues for many years. Why is there a need for a top-down
> process now?
> It's true that the community has had many good policy discussions about
> these issues, dating to the earliest days of Wikipedia. Ultimately, we
> think those discussions may have been constrained in ways that aren't
> ideal. First, discussions about policy tend to be project-centric,
> rather than addressing the interests of the Wikimedia movement as a
> whole. That means they typically aren't very informed by a
> bigger-picture view (for example, the experiences of other projects,
> other communities, other websites, other educational initiatives), in
> part because there typically aren't resources dedicated to getting that
> information. And, some types of policy change (for example, those with
> technology implications) may be abandoned early, because community
> members know technical support is hard to come by. We're hoping that
> this process will help us to have a broader conversation about the topic
> than might otherwise be possible.
> Who wrote this Q and A, and who is its intended audience?
> The first draft of this Q and A was written by Jay and Sue for the
> board, based on the text of the resolution, and Sue's understanding of
> the consensus that had been achieved by the board over the past several
> months. Individual board members requested various revisions, and new
> versions of the draft were recirculated over several days. The main
> audience is the Wikimedia community, and the goal is to articulate the
> board's position as completely as possible.
> --Michael Snow
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