By Avery Jensen
In March, the Wikimedia Foundation adopted a Technical Code of Conduct for technical spaces. A basic code of conduct will state what kind of conduct is expected, how it will be enforced, how to report a problem, and provide training for those who will respond to incident reports. This Technical Code of Conduct includes a list of examples of unacceptable behavior, a description of how to report problems, and a five-member committee for responding to reports. The TCoC will apply to Wikimedia technical spaces, both virtual and at in-person events, including MediaWiki.org, wikitech.wikimedia.org, Phabricator, Gerrit, technical mailing lists, technical IRC channels, and Etherpad.
So, what is the Technical Code of Conduct and why do we need it?
The development of the Wikimedia Technical Code of Conduct is the end result of 2,718 edits by 140 editors over the course of 19 months. In October 2016, I was at WikiConference North America in San Diego, and had a chance to see the presentation. At that time it was about half finished–it had started the year before at Wikimania in July 2015. The TCoC had been preceded by other Wikimedia policies: Wikipedia civility, friendly space policy, event ban policy, Wikimedia Foundation code of conduct for WMF staff and board, and phabricator etiquette. Other organizations had already gotten a jump on Wikimedia with codes for technical spaces, in particular, the Contributor Covenant’s Code of Conduct was already widely popular, and other codes were also available to consult, such as the Ada Initiative, and templates from the Citizen Code of Conduct and the Electron project (Open Code of Conduct).
There was some controversy surrounding the implementation of the TCoC. Initially, people expected the code to be developed quickly and voted on as a whole, in the same way that a typical RfC is concluded after 30 days, but when it became evident the discussions were becoming lengthy and the timing of the project would be measured in years rather than months, the decision was taken to approve each section of the code as it was completed. If changes were necessary later, the code could always be amended.
Code of conduct at conferences started being an issue several years ago, around 2014. Author John Scalzistarte, of science fiction fame, started a thread on his blog asking people to pledge not to speak at or attend a conference that did not have an anti-harassment policy. It garnered over a thousand signatures. There was a similar pledge thread, #CoCPledge on Twitter. Cartoonist Rachel Nabors laid out some of the issues in her widely circulated blog post, “You literally cannot pay me to speak without a Code of Conduct“, explaining in simple terms what this was and why it was needed. Programmer Ashe Dryden also posted an FAQ and collection of resources on the subject that was shared widely.
A code of conduct is necessary because, quite simply, people will no longer participate in projects without one.