The departure of Valerie D’Costa: Can Trust & Safety protect you?

Nine months after joining the WMF, Chief of Community Engagement Valerie D’Costa has quietly slipped out the back door.

Her global account was locked with the comment “no longer employed at wmf” on Nov. 8, when much of the U.S. was busy paying attention to elections.

Here she is in April 2019, out in the field, actually talking to volunteers at local events.

D’Costa reported directly to the legendary and irreplaceable Maggie Dennis, aka user:moonriddengirl, who disappeared six months ago, after going on sick leave. She hasn’t made an edit since April.

So who can protect us?

Here is the chart again from “The importance of not being harassed“, slightly modified to show the most recent changes:

We know the “trust and safety” group is massively underqualified.  Not only that, but when they have tried to protect people in the past (*cough* Framgate), the board of trustees has just pulled the rug out from under them.

Harassment is now being handled by arbcom.  And as someone recently said, “Anyone proposing to send anything to Arbcom right now must be drunk.” The inmates have taken over the asylum.

Who would want to be a manager under those circumstances. No wonder they have all gone AWOL.

So what is going on with “trust and safety”? They have lost their alliance with line management, as well as the board.  At this point they have two choices for career survival.  They could throw their weight to the affiliates – their traditional allies – and hope the “strategy process” gives them some influence, although it is being said that the new Chief of Staff is trying to squelch that.  Or they can throw the affiliates under the bus and make an alliance with the Dark Side. The signs are that this is exactly what they are now doing.

So no, “trust and safety” cannot be trusted.  And they will not protect you.

The importance of not being harassed

How important is the harassment issue to the WMF?

They are hiring an actual manager of an anti-harassment program. Sydney Poore, of Trust & Safety, posted it to the Facebook Wikipedia Weekly group back on Oct. 3.

This seems kind of important.  In every strategy session I have either been in or heard about, the number one priority is harassment.  Until this problem is solved, multiple groups have concluded, progress cannot be made in other areas.

So what is this harassment program about? They must be trying to recruit someone with specialized expertise, and assign it to one of the top managers, right?

“The Lead Program Manager, Anti-Harassment will report to the Lead Manager, Trust and Safety.”

Wonder if they are planning to discuss the Framban during the hiring process.

Because Trust & Safety got their butts kicked by arbcom.

Not even the Board of Trustees is willing to support anti-harassment.  They could have said yes, we support the staff.  There would have been some fuss from the likes of Kudpung, Jehochman, and the Manchester panty-sniffers, but it would have blown over and the people who were really interested in building an encyclopedia would have stayed.  The place would have been better for it.

But they blinked.

Because harassment is good for business.

It pits the girls against the boys.  It writes headlines. It gets entire Wikiprojects going.  And the donations just keep pouring in.

So what kind of expertise are looking for in this new manager?

  • Experience leading technical programs in mature platform environments
  • 3+ years experience managing the release of customer-facing software from concept to production

Oh goody, more technical solutions.  What was it last time?  More blocking tools for admins, who refuse to follow the blocking policy?  And how is that harassment problem coming along?  What happened to the last manager?

Oh dear, that would be Trevor, who quietly snuck out the back door after cleaning out his desk and clearing his user page.  I wonder if he is still holed up in his Bat Cave. I do hope he recovers from his year at Wikipedia.

Here is the announcement:

https://boards.greenhouse.io/wikimedia/jobs/1898856?gh_src=1316ffb11

Oh look someone’s already archived it. https://web.archive.org/web/20191004143039/https://boards.greenhouse.io/wikimedia/jobs/1898856?gh_src=1316ffb11

Tikkun olam

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
[Source]

The religious principle of removing harm from the world is not confined to one religion.

In some Protestant traditions, the reaction to Darwinism led theology away from biblical literalism. At the same time there there arose the concept of creating a paradise on earth, and for women, the tradition of the Protestant nun, as exemplified by Jane Addams’ Hull House.

Muslims may tell you that if you see a piece of broken glass in the middle of the street, there is a religious obligation to remove it, so someone does not get a tire puncture.

In the Jewish tradition, the principle is Tikkun Olam, or “repairing the world”.


You are not obligated to finish the work; neither are you free to desist from it.
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.
-Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21

Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishnah, the first text of the Jewish oral law. The Misnah is primarilly a set of short statements or aphorisms, usually attributed to first century rabbis.  But while the rest of the Mishnah concerns itself with case law,  the Pirkei Avot expresses a series of ethical principles behind the legal opinions.

According to one religious scholar: “I would like to maintain a strict distinction between tzedakah, the maintenance of the poor within a system of social welfare, and tzedakah u’mishpat and tikkun olam, which seek to reform institutional practices in society. Tikkun Olam – “repairing the world” – …usually refers not only to relief work such as gemilut hesed – emergency care for the ill and feeding the hungry after a hurricane – but also to fixing the socioeconomic system, often requiring sustained political and judicial activism.

When it comes to the world of Wikipedia, sometimes it is all too easy to let compassion fatigue set in, and give up completely.  Because what is really needed is not just removing one bully or one admin gone amok, it is a repair of the whole system.  One more aphorism then:

And one more image.

Complaints, harassment, and entitlement

We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
1928 Book of Common Prayer

Oh this is good, I must do a closer reading when I have time.

It is a research in progress.

…why do people complain;…. I have been learning how complaint means committing yourself, your time, your energy, your being, to a course of action that often leads you away from the work you want to do even if you complain in order to do the work you want to do (as many do).

Oh yes indeedy.

A formal complaint can lead you into the shadowy corners of an institution, meeting rooms, corridors; buildings you did not have any reason to enter before become where you go; what you know. We can learn from this: how trying to address an institutional problem often means inhabiting the institution all the more (1). Inhabitance can involve re-entry: you re-enter the institution through the back door; you find out about doors, secret doors, trap-doors: how you can be shut out; how you can be shut in. You learn about processes, procedures, policies, you learn to point out what they fail to do, pointing to, pointing out; you fill in more and more forms; forms become norms; files become futures; filing cabinets, graves.

By this it is meant a “complaint graveyard”, but one does sometimes catch glimpses of darker things hidden…

The criticism sites are nothing more than a collection of “back doors”.

A burial is not only where you might end up, the last stop in a sorry tale, a destination; burials can be evoked as a potential before you even start. Warnings evoke burials: you are warned that a complaint would mean career suicide, the end of a line; making a complaint as becoming a ghost.

You are also warned that you will be buried by the process.

Forty people have been interviewed so far.

…institutional machinery; the clunk, clunk, of how complaints are stopped from getting through or getting out as the sound of institutions at work. …. It is those who try to get through who teach us about stoppages. And so: in listening to stories of stoppages and blockages, I am also hearing about the work that some – let’s call them the complainers – are prepared to do; despite the walls they come up against, because of the walls they come up against…..I can hear the strain, the physical effort, the wear and tear; I can hear how hard some are willing to push, because they are not willing to give up or to give in.

The language is not yet polished, it has a draft feel to it, a sort of stream of consciousness, but you can see the picture emerging…

 Perhaps the effort to stop some ways of acting is experienced by those who are acting in such ways as punishment in the sense of potentially depriving them of what it is that they want…. Trying to stop harassing and bullying behaviours (by describing such behaviours as harassing or bullying) is experienced as depriving some of their freedom as well as what they assume as their entitlement.

Yes this is about Kumioko, it is about Fram, it is about Wikipediocracy and their willingness to partner with those who look for and bully the least powerful in the Wikipedia food chain.

A complaint can be how you live with yourself because a complaint is an attempt to address what is wrong, not to cope with something; not to let it happen; not to let it keep happening. You make a complaint as a way of doing something. And so: a complaint can be a way of not doing nothing…. You will not just leave the problem behind you by not complaining (even if a complaint leads many to leave).

Oh this is so very good…This is the sequel to Alinsky’s Rules.

In past work I have focused more on how the costs of complaining are made high. These costs can be about warnings as well as punishments: you are warned you will be punished; punishments are often used as warnings to other would-be complainers. There is no doubt: complaint is made costly. From the question, why complain, I am learning about the costs of not complaining.

From “Why complain?”

One student who talked to me about a series of complaints about harassment and bullying, none of which got anywhere, gave an answer to why complain by leaving with a sense of hope: “You know the process is broken, but still you know you must do it, because if you don’t, more falls to the wayside. So it’s like a painful repetitive cycle where you do what you know is right, knowing it may not make a difference at that time, but you always hope, you always have that hope, that maybe because I did this, it paves the way for something else. I think that is why I keep doing it: because I have hope. 

Does Wikipedia eat its own babies?

Every hero becomes a bore at last. -Emerson

Two aphorisms.  Here is the first piece, from Twitter:

Don’t grieve because reality isn’t what you thought it was. Don’t cry because your heroes were hollow and complicit. Be grateful the truth is out. Now you have choices.

When the pain of things staying the same is greater than the fear of change, things change. It is up to you and me to make change happen.

This tweet, picked out of Katherine’s Twitter feed, is about the MIT/Joi Ito/Jeffrey Epstein scandal, as well as Lawrence Lessig’s inexcusable defense of Ito (but not the underage girls who were sex-trafficked) (Lessig’s eccentric campaign for president was endorsed by Jimmy Wales), but it strikes a chord, about leaders, about choosing allies, about Framgate of course, and ultimately about trust, misplaced or otherwise.

pandora - Linsey Messecar
Linsey Messecar: Pandora

How do you stop harassment without re-victimizing the harassed?  Some things can only take place in private. So how are those decisions made, and who decides?  Ultimately, without safeguards and review processes, it all boils down to trust.  We are asked to trust decision-making that takes place in the dark, but who can you trust?

Arbcom?  Trust & Safety? Or is it too early to place hope in the Strategy process, which represents a much broader swath of The Community than the band of brigands that has taken over Wikipedia’s inner city, and turned it into a rock-throwing slum.

The second piece, from Sucks:

So Fram is the kind of person, who attacks new products in their infancy, instead of helping out? The kind of person, who demotivates good-willing, hard-working contributors by criticizing the early issues, that are part of any new project, and unavoidable? Anybody who nurtured a project into adolescence knows this is part of the process, and respects the hard work behind what’s been achieved. It seems he has no such experience, and does not know what it takes to make it work.

This is about the new Fram bogpost on Wikipediocrazy. “Wikidata: Melania Trump was a ‘former sex worker and porn star’”.  Quite obviously Fram does not understand what is going on with WikiData and is trying to turn back the clock to a day when WikiData didn’t exist. It was kind of weird though for Wikipediocracy to publish the thing after the Fram arbcom case started, and before it was closed. But this is not just about Fram, although Fram may be the most obvious example right now.  It is about the way users are treated, the way that the inevitable problems that always surface are to be solved.

This huge philosophical difference, I think, can go a long way to explaining some of the WMF other controversial moves, for instance the Brill Lyle ban. Bril Lyle was also hugely critical of startup programs, not offering constructive criticism, but just trashing people who were trying something new, without much in terms of analysis or suggestions for the future.

And in the end, an organization that doesn’t try new programs and new ways of reaching people is going to die from lack of new blood. The old blood of course may try to find ways to keep its entrenched privilege and whatever small perks they have managed to hoard — the smaller the perk, the more cutthroat the competition. But if Wikimedia doesn’t find a way to give these new voices some breathing room, and figure out how to onboard them without taking casualties, they will eventually grind to a halt just from attrition, failure to adapt to changing circumstances, and reputational damage among those who are best placed and most inclined to lend their expertise.

No one yet seems to have pointed out the irony of Fram handling problems by getting rid of the person he disagreed with vs. T&S handling the Fram problem by getting rid of Fram.

And the arbitration committee has once again proved it is incapable of solving any of Wikipedia’s problems.  This time they are about to deprecate the word “harassment“, which is an actual policy with a clear definition.

Because the word “harassment” spans a wide variety of types of behavior, and because this word as used off-wiki can carry serious legal and human-resources overtones, at times it may be better to describe allegedly problematic on-wiki behavior such as “wikihounding” with more specific terminology.

What kind of arbspeak is that?  And “Overtones”?  They don’t want to police civility, which is an actual pillar, but they will police “tone”?  Oooh it’s a Wikipedia article, : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tone_policing  The category is relevance fallacies.

lmao lmao lmao lmao lmao lmao

And they don’t say what kind of “more specific terminology” might be best utilized to protect their friends, and insulate them from the consequences of their “allegedly problematic” bullying.  May I suggest “fluffy bunnies”.

bunny with club evilbunny bunny with ax 1
And since this is your paper doll and coloring connection, here is your fluffy bunny mask, so you too can pretend to be an arbcom hat-collector and protect your harassing, er, “more specific terminology” friends. It’s not too early to start planning that Halloween costume!bunnies_mask

Wikimania closing ceremony: “Civility” or “harassment”?

Free Loujain.

If you watch the Wikimania videos, the closing ceremony looked serene.  But apparently everyone was busy tweeting about the difference between civility and harassment.

Although Jimbo traditionally presents the awards, there was only one award this year, Wikipedian of the Year, to a woman wearing a Loujain t-shirt.   The time allotted to the Jimbo speech was short this year.  Wikipedia is a teenager now, and teenagers don’t like to listen to their parents.

But two things happened.  Jimbo centered his comments on “civility”, quoting his remarks from other years. And Katherine’s remarks about “harassment” received a standing ovation.

So which is it, civility or harassment.

Civility is an old world concept.  Civility is thought to be valuable because it promotes discourse and agreement.  It is a gentlemanly virtue.

Traditional lady-virtues have more to do with appearances, wearing white gloves, clutching pearls, and avoiding politicized speech. Or perhaps avoiding speech entirely.  But this is the 21st century, so not gonna happen.

So perhaps in some way this is a gendered discussion.

Framing it as “civility” is a way to gloss over what is really happening, and give dudes an excuse for behaving badly.

So let’s take away the fig leaf.

It’s harassment.