The Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia, announced last week that its Board of Trustees has approved a new “code of conduct” for the site and its affiliated sites. Plans for a code of conduct had been announced last year and an early draft pushing left-wing identity politics submitted for public comment a few months later. Several clarifying changes were made following the comment period, with final changes after approval broadening the scope of restrictions on “intimidating” content.
Discussion of the “code of conduct” continues as the next public comment phase on its enforcement started in January. Members of Foundation-owned sites have responded with a mixture of hostility and caution regarding the “code of conduct” and the prospect of more Foundation intervention in the largely self-governing communities, such as the intrusions that prompted a Wikipedia editor revolt in 2019.
Last year the Wikimedia Foundation announced that it was imposing the code of conduct on Wikipedia and other Foundation-owned sites because it wanted them to be “welcoming, inclusive, harassment-free spaces in which people can contribute productively and debate constructively.” Months later, a committee responsible for writing the code of conduct that was staffed with radical leftists submitted their draft for public comment from members of Foundation-owned sites. In the draft, several provisions advanced left-wing identity politics stances, including required use of “preferred pronouns” and other provisions criticized as threatening free speech.
Several changes were made to the code of conduct in response to public criticism, but mostly to clarify the provisions or correct wording rather than significantly changing their effect. One change on a provision for “disclosure of personal data” added a vague prohibition on “sharing information concerning” the “Wikimedia activity” of users “outside the projects.” When the code of conduct was approved by the Foundation board, another major change was made to a provision barring “use of symbols, images, categories, tags or other kinds of content that are intimidating or harmful” to remove the need for showing an intent to be intimidating or harmful.
In a news release on the code of conduct’s approval, the Foundation cited a Council on Foreign Relations report blaming online speech for “rising violence . . . against marginalized groups and ethnic communities” to justify the new measure. Foundation CEO Katherine Maher and Board Chair Maria Sefidari both reiterated the code of conduct’s intended role in creating a “welcoming and inclusive environment” for site users. The release further claimed the code of conduct “signals the Foundation’s commitment to creating spaces that foster diversity of thought, religion, sexual orientation, age, culture, and language to name a few.”
Enforcement questions have prompted concern about the Foundation becoming more involved in the affairs of site communities. On Wikipedia in 2019, editors revolted when the Foundation imposed a year-long Wikipedia-specific ban on a veteran administrator in a major escalation of the Foundation’s role, which has traditionally acted only on serious legal matters or issues affecting multiple Foundation-owned sites. Pressure from the community forced the Foundation to back down and the ban was eventually overturned with editors believing the Foundation had committed to avoiding such intrusion into the self-governing nature of site communities in the future.
While the code of conduct has been approved, the method of enforcement is yet to be decided and has been the subject of public consultations since January. Communities of select Foundation-owned sites have been asked about various methods of enforcement and what role the Foundation should play. At Wikimedia Commons, a file and image repository for Foundation sites such as Wikipedia, many users complained the Foundation was ineffective on harassment. Users at both Commons and Wikidata, a Foundation site focused on compiling data tables on subjects, insisted most enforcement should be publicly transparent with some allowance for a private reporting system in severe cases.
Responses from some non-English language versions of Wikipedia sites were generally less hostile to the Foundation. A user from the Arabic-language Wikipedia who lives in Morocco mentioned some complaints with the Foundation’s lack of transparency in handling cases and along with other users suggested members of the Arabic-language community should be more involved in the code of conduct’s implementation to give users confidence in it. Users at the Korean-language Wikipedia seemed more open to direct Foundation involvement in enforcement, with one suggesting Foundation involvement should be allowed on request of the reporting user.
Considerably more resistance emerged at the Polish-language Wikipedia where a thread about the public consultation prompted users to vote on rejecting the code of conduct only to become frustrated when informed its implementation was already decided by the Foundation. Editor “Zezen” was particularly vocal citing the 2019 editor revolt, English Wikipedia banning profile pages supporting traditional marriage last year in a move criticized by family and Christian organizations, and English Wikipedia users advocating a “No Nazis” standard while allowing Stalinists and other left-wing extremists. Zezen argued similar political bias could be imposed on all Foundation sites, including to persecute critics of political correctness. One user called the code of conduct’s approval the “beginning of the end.”
Zezen had previously been banned from the English Wikipedia mostly for edits relating to LGBT issues that editors found offensive such as editing a caption about “LGBT-free zones” in Poland to reflect the actual wording of non-binding resolutions by local governments promoting what they called pro-family positions. Also cited was Zezen’s criticism of the “No Nazis” essay on the site arguing Wikipedia should be open to people of all ideologies or beliefs so long as they follow site policies. Those calling for the ban and the administrator who imposed the ban in turn cited the “No Nazis” essay as justification for banning Zezen.
Political bias at Wikipedia and the Foundation has been a growing cause of concern. Last year the Foundation endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement, ignoring violent rioting associated with it and declaring “no neutral stance” existed on the issue, while editors on Wikipedia pushed the movement’s agenda. The Foundation cited the code of conduct as one way it would address “equity issues” on Wikipedia in its endorsement. Numerous studies and analyses have demonstrated a left-wing bias on the site, a bias criticized by co-founder Larry Sanger last year, with one study finding the push for off-setting a “pro-men” bias on Wikipedia has over-corrected into a “pro-women” bias. With the new code of conduct, such biases are likely to worsen.
T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.