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Ethics have been always complex, and the addition of an online layer to our interactions just adds more complexity. This essay tries to identify principles of expected behavior in our communities, and to justify why this exercise is important.
A simple approach to expected behavior
Most people know what is the expected behavior in their homes, neighborhoods, schools or workplaces. Remembering these references when participating in an online community is usually just enough.
When you are not happy and you are about to post a message, ask yourself: would I tell this message to someone if they were in front of me? Would I use this tone and these words with a relative, a neighbor, a friend, or a colleague that I meet regularly?
When you read a message from someone that doesn't make you happy, ask yourself: what would I do if a relative, a neighbor, a friend, or a colleague would speak to me that way?
Hospitality, respect, support, fairness... are equally valid principles online and offline. If someone speaking to you actually sounds angry, mad, arrogant, prepotent... then the chances are that such person has clearly departed from the expected behavior.
The following behaviors are expected and requested of all community members:
- Participate in an authentic and active way. In doing so, you contribute to the health and longevity of this community.
- Exercise consideration and respect in your speech and actions. Be aware that English is not everybody's primary language, and work to resolve misunderstandings.
- Think of the audience and recipients of your message. Every activity creates notifications which could be distracting. Involve specific people in a conversation when you know that they welcome getting involved and that they are knowledgeable about the discussed topic.
- Attempt collaboration before conflict. Focus on the specific topic and its scope to bring the discussion forward, on resolving issues and learning from mistakes. Well-formulated comments after some investigation of the topic are clearer to understand by others than a quickly added short comment.
- Be mindful of your surroundings and of your fellow participants. If you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of the Code of Conduct, please report them even if they seem inconsequential.
Why expected behavior is not always expected
Communities are more pleasant and effective when their members share expectations on behavior and when those expectations are followed by their members.
Homogeneous communities usually get away with implicit expectations, because their members share a common background and their initial expectations are mostly common. Traditional communities can also rely on implicit expectations, because their rules and protocols are well established.
However, online communities welcoming diversity at all levels have a harder time defining an expected behavior simply based on assumptions. This is why it is useful for these young innovative communities to agree on principles of expected behavior and to write them down. The Wikimedia community is diverse and aims to increase its diversity at every chance.
Diversity in Wikimedia technical spaces is not as wide as in the rest of the movement, but this is a known problem that we are trying to fix actively. To help with this, consider the impact of decisions on people in underrepresented groups, such as women, non-native English speakers or non-English speakers, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, sex workers, older people, mothers, young people, non-neurotypical people, undocumented people, and people of lower socioeconomic status.
This page and the Code of Conduct are just one piece of creating a more welcoming community.
Online behavior has offline effects
In online communities, established social moderation tools such as public identity, shame, and punishment are all diluted. With most interactions happening without seeing real faces or hearing real voices, it is easy to forget that online (mis)behavior has very tangible and non-virtual effect in people's emotions and lives. Without any risk of being actually shouted back or punched back, it is easier to let online conversations degrade to levels that we would hardly allow in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools or workplaces.
In fact, there is no such thing as online behavior. Online behavior is just behavior, and it plays under the same social principles and expectations.