Elevating Wikimedia: a Universal Code of Conduct for free knowledge

Wikipedia began 20 years ago with a radical premise: to build a free encyclopedia to which anyone could contribute. That idea has grown into an inspiring, aspirational vision: to create a world in which every single person can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. The values at the core of this promise, openness and participation, are the reason for our explosive growth at the beginning and our enduring relevance today.

Yet Wikipedia has still not yet realized the full potential of our initial promise. Our volunteer community is not representative of the world we serve, and that women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups often face increased scrutiny, pressure or outright harassment. In order to achieve our free knowledge vision, the Wikimedia movement must be a place where everyone feels welcome, knows that their contributions are valued, and sees that their participation matters.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation launched a Universal Code of Conduct for Wikipedia and its companion projects. This Code has been crafted through the contributions and hard work of Wikimedia community members around the world, in order to create a more welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment for our contributors, and a more open and thriving movement for free knowledge.

The Code elevates expectations for contributor behavior, and outlines the types of supportive, collaborative participation that characterizes Wikimedia’s communities at their best and most productive. Unlike many other platform standards, the Universal Code of Conduct outlines in detail, with examples, what constitutes online harassment and its variations. It also addresses power relationships common in online communities, and the responsibility of trust and care of those with power.

The final recommendations were urgent and unequivocal: in order to meet our mission and become the truly global movement we aspire to be, the Wikimedia culture must evolve to be truly welcoming and inclusive.

The need for a Universal Code of Conduct was identified during the Wikimedia 2030 Strategic Direction process, a multi-year, radically participatory global consultation undertaken by the Wikimedia Foundation and our volunteer communities. This effort, which spanned dozens of countries and languages and engaged thousands of contributors, called upon the world to imagine a vision of Wikimedia for the future. The final recommendations were urgent and unequivocal: in order to meet our mission and become the truly global movement we aspire to be, the Wikimedia culture must evolve to be truly welcoming and inclusive.

Building a code of conduct together

We knew that our approach to developing a code of conduct for a sprawling and mature global movement would need to be as unique as Wikipedia itself. Wikipedia and its sister free knowledge projects are often considered an exception from for-profit models of social networking and content creation. As a nonprofit movement of global volunteers, we are built around a model of shared power and consensus. We don’t build things for our users; we build things with our users. Our movement encompasses a great scope of needs, from more mature communities dating back two decades, to brand-new projects, as well as a diversity of community cultures from around the globe. Our distinct movement would require a correspondingly bespoke approach.

In order to create a Universal Code of Conduct that would effectively address the needs and challenges of our current and future contributors, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Trust and Safety team began working with our volunteer communities in June of this past year. They hosted conversations in 19 local languages and with communities of varying size and expertise, to understand the nuances of the editors’ work, their current approach to conflict, and the support they required to build safe and welcoming cultures. They assembled a globally representative committee, composed of six volunteer editors and three Wikimedia Foundation staff, to draft the initial text.

Just as with an article on Wikipedia, the draft code of conduct was made available for anyone to review and make suggestions. The final Universal Code of Conduct represents eight months of community feedback and edits, including more than 75 revisions made to the policy based on suggestions from the open community consultation period. Keeping with Wikimedia’s value of transparency, all of these conversations, and proposed changes, are online and available for anyone to read.

The final Universal Code of Conduct is rooted in Wikimedia’s values of respect, civility, and the assumption of good faith. It clearly defines acceptable behavior on the Wikimedia projects, outlines what constitutes harassment both on and off the projects, and applies to participants of our movement. It provides a clear, consistent framework to address potential abuses of power and misinformation, with shared responsibility between the Wikimedia Foundation and the global Wikimedia communities.

What comes next

Today’s announcement is the first step. From here, we will begin consultations with our communities on effective tools to enforce this new code. Rather than overriding existing rules and policies of community governance across our movement; we are looking at how to provide additional centralized support to protect the personal safety of our contributors, and how to provide a baseline foundation for conduct for smaller communities where no standards exist. Our goal is to go beyond top-down models of enforcement, and to encourage sustainable and effective conflict resolution practices, and equitable, fair, and transparent governance mechanisms.

The work ahead is difficult and complex, and will require our shared commitment to work through the inevitable challenges that will arise. However, we know that a lack of safety in our communities threatens everyone’s participation in our shared mission; and a lack of recourse undermines our intentions of building self-sustaining, resilient, and representative sources of free knowledge. For too long, voices from minority and marginalized communities have been excluded from participating and sharing their knowledge with the world.

As we seek to enable knowledge equity, break down barriers that prevent people from participating in free knowledge, and welcome new people into our movement, the Universal Code of Conduct is foundational to our efforts. Its success belongs to all of us; we are all accountable to the culture that we create and sustain. We hope that this work can be a model that other digital spaces and internet platforms can learn from, as we all work to make participation online welcoming, safe, and inclusive of more people.


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