The questions and answers below relate to the Human Rights Policy approved by the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees on 8 December 2021.
Frequently asked questions (published 9 December 2021)
What does this policy mean for Foundation staff and Movement volunteers?
The Global Advocacy team has published a Diff blog post that examines what this policy means for Foundation staff and Movement volunteers.
What was the process for developing this policy?
In 2020, the Wikimedia Foundation joined the company constituency of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder organization that advocates for freedom of expression and privacy on the internet and requires its company members to commit to a set of principles in support of those rights, in accordance with international human rights standards. Also that year, the Foundation commissioned Article One Advisors, a consultancy that specializes in human rights, responsible innovation and social impact, to conduct a human rights impact assessment of Wikimedia’s free knowledge projects. The assessment was informed by extensive consultation with Foundation staff, Movement volunteers, and other stakeholders and experts on technology and human rights. The scope was intended to address all human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression and privacy. The assessment’s objectives included surfacing salient human rights risks across Wikimedia’s free knowledge projects and the development of strategies to mitigate actual and potential risks related to the Wikimedia projects, including avoiding harm to people who engage with or are affected by Wikimedia projects, directly or indirectly.
Article One submitted their final report to the Foundation in July 2020. The report’s findings and recommendations were presented to the Board of Trustees in September 2020. It surfaced five categories of human rights risks related to Wikimedia’s free knowledge projects: harmful content, harassment, government surveillance and censorship, risks to child rights, and limitations on knowledge equity. Priority recommendations included:
- Develop a standalone Human Rights Policy to serve as a North Star for Wikimedia’s human rights efforts (which we have now done);
- Conduct ongoing human rights due diligence. This includes:
- Regular human rights assessments (across the Foundation and its projects)
- Transparent reporting on outcomes and mitigations
- Rights-compatible channels to respond to human rights concerns raised by community members
- Empower Foundation Staff and the Broader Community via robust training programs and product tools (e.g. incident response software) to support broader respect for human rights.
It is our intention to publish more detailed findings and recommendations from the Human Rights Impact Assessment report in 2022. The Human Rights Policy has undergone several drafts with initial inputs from Article One, members of the Human Rights and Public Policy teams, and other members of the Legal Department. The policy was then shared with key representatives from across the Foundation and with the Board of Trustees’ Product and Technology Committee. After extensive feedback and discussion, it was further revised before being submitted to the full Board of Trustees for final approval.
How will you involve the movement in shaping how this policy will be implemented?
The policy represents a set of very high-level commitments that will take years to implement, in an iterative, consultative, and transparent fashion. Now that the policy has been approved, we need to develop an initial implementation plan. In January our Human Rights and Public Policy teams will begin that process, working closely with staff from across the Foundation to review the recommendations from our impact assessment. At the same time, in the new year we will establish real-time and asynchronous channels for members of the movement to help us shape how our human rights commitments are implemented.
What if I have questions or concerns?
If you have immediate concerns, questions, or suggestions, additional conversation hours will be scheduled in the coming weeks. A video of the 10 December 2021 conversation hour is available on Wikimedia Commons and written notes of the call are available on Meta-Wiki. You can email Richard Gaines (rgaineswikimedia.org) and Ziski Putz (fputzwikimedia.org) with any other questions.
Will this policy become available in other languages?
Yes, the Foundation is currently work to translate this policy.
Frequently asked questions (published 3 February 2022)
The Wikimedia Foundation believes knowledge is a human right. Wikimedia projects provide channels and platforms through which everyone—everywhere—has the right to share and access knowledge freely, without fear. To this end, The Board of Trustees approved the Foundation's Human Rights Policy on 8 December 2021. The Wikimedia Foundation announced this policy on 9 December in a Diff article addressing what this policy means for the Movement. The Global Advocacy team facilitated a Conversation Hour on 10 December (written notes are available) to discuss the policy and to answer any immediate questions from the community.
The following questions and answers are based on questions raised by members of the community in various fora. They complement an initial set of frequently asked questions published alongside the policy. The information contained on this page is intended for all members of the Wikimedia community, including volunteers and Foundation staff. This information seeks to clarify the policy’s purpose, the process behind its drafting, and certain aspects of its content. The Global Advocacy team will continue to monitor questions and concerns raised in the “talk” section of this page and will provide responses on a quarterly basis.
Questions about the policy itself
What is the purpose of the Human Rights Policy?
The policy is intended to serve as a compass for our broader work in advocating for policies and technologies that advance the movement. It provides a framework for respecting and protecting the rights of everyone—from staff to volunteer contributors—across all Foundation operations and movement activities. It clarifies our responsibility to ensure that all Wikimedia projects are operated and designed with human rights-related risks and benefits in mind. Critically, the policy will inform how we respond to and protect members of our movement against demands and threats from non-state actors as well as governments that threaten to violate their human rights.
In what ways have the human rights of community members been affected, making this policy necessary?
The ways in which members may experience threats or violations to their human rights in connection with Wikimedia projects vary by their situation and context, given that ours is a global movement with members of our community living in and contributing to Wikimedia projects from countries spanning the spectrum of free to authoritarian societies.
For example, volunteers in more authoritarian contexts have been threatened and even physically assaulted in connection to their work on Wikimedia projects. This Fast Company story published in late 2021 describes how some volunteers were harassed and targeted by state surveillance.
Does this policy inadvertently expose volunteers to greater risk?
The unfortunate answer is “probably” but must be nuanced by the fact that not having such a policy will probably also inadvertently expose volunteers to greater risk. In some parts of the world, sharing information is a radical act. We can’t change that fact by what policies we embrace or don’t embrace. We believe it is important to acknowledge the risks, while doing our best to avoid amplifying them. This policy helps us firmly state our commitment to addressing them. Our goal is to protect and preserve as much as possible the rights of those who would use our platforms to share or access knowledge.
What is the impact of this policy on the neutrality of Wikimedia projects?
Neutral point of view is and will remain a core principle of many Wikimedia projects (it should be noted however that at least six projects do not have such a policy). Formalizing our commitment to internationally-recognized human rights norms does not diminish this principle or the right of any projects to enforce NPOV policies in their content. Nor does the implementation of this policy mean that any volunteer who may contribute from a politically-sensitive environment is a de-facto human rights or political activist. This policy does, however, strengthen our commitment to protect the human rights of volunteers who may be at risk as a result of their work with Wikimedia projects.
Significantly, the policy reiterates and reinforces Wikimedia’s commitment to free knowledge as a human right. It begins by reminding the world that Wikimedia projects themselves are enabling people to exercise that right. Furthermore, the right to share and access free knowledge should be understood to include the right of volunteers to govern Wikimedia projects according to the principle of neutrality, and to enforce the community’s rules around NPOV.
The policy includes a commitment to use the Foundation’s influence to advocate for human rights. How is that within the scope of the Foundation’s primary purpose which is to support all of the volunteer-run Wikimedia projects?
Let us look very specifically at the Foundation’s primary purpose. We are “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.” We are not here for the projects as much as we are here for the humans who work on the projects and the humans who access the content they create and curate. It is our firm position that empowering people means supporting an environment that is conducive to the safe creation and curation of knowledge resources and to the safe (and hence effective) use of the same.
We do not believe it is premature for several reasons.
Second, while it is true that the enforcement pathways are not yet defined, we think it is important to explicitly recognize that the UCoC and Human Rights Policy are part of the same effort: to formalize the Foundation’s ongoing commitment and work to protect and defend human rights. Where the Human Rights Policy is the first step in clarifying our commitment and responsibility to protecting human rights, the UCoC is one example of how we are already living up to that commitment. The policy reinforces values and behaviors needed to protect and respect the fundamental rights of those people involved in Wikimedia projects.
All that said, we do want to note that the call for a UCoC was a recommendation of the Movement Strategy developed by many volunteers over a span of several years. It underwent extensive consultation and development, with hundreds of users participating, and dozens of revisions incorporated, prior to the Board resolution adopting it. This shared community-co-creation and Board-ratified legitimacy model has served the movement well in creating and adopting policies that the Foundation must help uphold. For instance, the call for a movement charter which will create alternative routes to universal policy creation was in itself a recommendation of Movement Strategy and was ratified by the Board. We also firmly believe that the effectiveness of the UCoC can be fully understood only after it is put into trial and we can identify what works and what does not. This is why we are committed to a collaborative review of both the policy and the enforcement pathways after a year with an eye towards adjustments that meet community needs.
Human rights impact assessment
The FAQ published in December describes a human rights impact assessment that was conducted in 2020 prior to the drafting of the Human Rights Policy. Will that assessment be made public? When?
Yes, we are working on a version of the impact assessment report that can be published later this year. Our legal, human rights, and security teams need adequate time to review the public version to ensure that the information will not expose any individuals or communities to harm. It is important to us to avoid inadvertently providing a “playbook” to bad actors of how to use Wikimedia systems and processes to enact the kinds of human rights risks that we are seeking to mitigate.
To what extent were volunteers consulted during the human rights impact assessment?
The human rights impact assessment was conducted by external experts to evaluate the Foundation’s own technical systems, processes, and policies. They interviewed community members and staff as part of the assessment, as well as external expert agencies and evaluating policy documents.
The findings of the human rights impact assessment were presented to the Board of Trustees in September 2021. Based on the assessment’s findings and recommendations, the Trustees and Foundation leadership agreed that establishing this policy was urgent in order to meet the Foundation’s responsibility to protect members of our community from real, growing threats in the world.
At the same time, implementing a human rights policy takes time and resources, which requires planning and budgeting. Thus, Trustees and Foundation leadership agreed that it was important for the policy to be drafted and finalized in time for the December 2021 Board of Trustees meeting. Otherwise, it would not be approved until the March meeting at the earliest, which would be too late for the upcoming fiscal year’s planning and budgeting process.
Given the threats that the impact assessment identified, such a delay would have non-trivial consequences for human beings who contribute to or interact with Wikimedia projects. Thus, while consultations about the policy were carried out across Foundation departments and staff, there was no time to set up a broader community consultation process between September and early December in time to bring a final draft to the Board of Trustees.
That said, we are committed to a process of consultation about the policy’s implementation as part of the annual planning consultations being planned for Spring 2020. We are also seeking community input on how we can conduct ongoing conversations and consultations about human rights issues across the movement in general, and the policy’s implementation in particular.
December 2021 conversation hour
Why was the first conversation hour scheduled with one day notice?
The conversation hour was announced the day after the Board of Trustees approved the Human Rights Policy on December 8 and could not be announced prior to the policy’s formal approval. We sought to make representatives of the Foundation available to the community as soon as feasibly possible thereafter, recognizing that the coming holidays could result in many staff and community members being unavailable to participate. Thus, we decided that sooner was better than later. While we regret that not all people who were interested were able to attend, we look forward to additional conversation opportunities.
When will the next conversation hour be?
The next will be a conversation with the Board of Trustees on 17 February. The times for this engagement can be found on Meta-Wiki.
How, beyond conversation hours, can we best engage the team behind this policy?
While the team is small, we are committing to engage with questions and comments left on this page on a quarterly cadence. We may aggregate like questions, and we may not be able to provide specifics in response to all questions, but we will do our best.
If you have a concern about individuals who may be endangered as a result of their activities related to any Wikimedia projects, you may also email talktohumanrightswikimedia.org.
For general information about best practices when facing threats of of immediate physical harm, please see below.
Safeguarding against threats to individuals’ human rights
What are the procedures for protecting the rights of individuals under threat?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to talk about specifics in the processes without risking drawing the attention of bad actors in a way that may point out gaps and weaknesses. Our general approach builds on the traditional Voices under Threat program practice and aims to cultivate contacts in high-risk regions to provide support to volunteers who are being persecuted for their good-faith contributions to the movement when support is needed. There are a number of ways that the Foundation becomes aware of such threats, including via our usual emergency protocols, and we are increasing our capacity to respond nimbly and well to these kinds of threats with rapid response time with a small team of regional specialists under the oversight of a Human Rights Lead.
What if I or a Wikimedian I know are under threat?
Please reach out. Our processes will vary according to the urgency of the threat. If you or anyone face an immediate threat of physical harm, please see Threats of Harm for the best approaches. If the threat is not immediate, please reach out to talktohumanrightswikimedia.org.
How does this policy address labor rights?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that, "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of [their] interests." The Human Rights Policy reflects the Foundation’s commitment to protect and respect all human rights, including labor rights.