The subject of online harassment became poignant and personal for the WordPress community recently. Mika Epstein shared a years-long struggle that she’s had to endure as one of the volunteer moderators of the WordPress plugin directory.
Reading her story is shocking — I know many who were angry, myself included. The first question I asked was “Who has the time and patience to be this cruel over so long a time over so little?” The next question I asked was “But what can we do against things like this in general?”
Mika made two strong suggestions:
- Donate to the Trevor Project — many people suffer daily online (and offline) harassment just for being who they are. The Trevor Project provides intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people under 25.
- Secondly, Mika made a direct ask in her article to plugin authors and developers specifically:
“When you write new code, think about how it can be abused. Think about disrupting harassment. Think about allowing people to protect themselves. And, above all, if someone tells you this is going on? Believe them.”
Join the Conversation
I reached out to several folks who write code, who manage WordPress communities, who have longstanding insight and authority in this matter and they all graciously agreed to have a conversation with me about this. Join us this Thursday at 11am Pacific to talk this through.
- Andrea Middleton, works at Automattic and has years and years of experience with the WordPress community and the WordPress.org users and the challenges that represents.
- Kim Coleman, co-Founder of Paid Memberships Pro, a WordPress plugin for managing memberships on your website.
- Pippin Williamson, is founder and CEO at Sandhills Development, makers of Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP and more. He’s also been a member of the Plugin Review Team and a generous contributor to all things WordPress for 10+ years.
- Joost de Valk, is founder and Chief Product Officer at Yoast.com. He’s been a Core contributor and volunteer of all things WP Community, Marketing, and more since as long as I can remember.
Watch the whole conversation here:
Highlights and Actions from the Conversation
We raised some excellent nuances and questions around the issue of online harassment. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
Code of Conduct
Several attendees chimed in that an official code of conduct for WordPress.org users would really be essential. While it’s impossible to enforce laws with such a globally diverse user-base, it is possible to lean on a code of conduct and enforce it when necessary.
Andrea Middleton highlighted that such a document is already underway. Joshepha Haden announced the beginnings of this just two days before our panel discussion. You’ll notice that the proposal includes both a “Code of Coduct” and a “Code of Ethics”. Panelists and attendees both felt that was a necessary step in the right direction.
GDPR and Other Privacy Tools
Both Pippin and Yoast raised how the EU’s GDPR regulations are an attempt to have users’ best privacy interests at heart. Plugin which fully empower their users to have the “right to be forgotten” (for example) are helpful tools in the fight against online harassment.
The Need for Human Intervention
There was a lot of consensus that in Mika’s particular case, everyone surrounding her did a lot to help and support her throughout the process. In many ways, the system worked — it’s just that these particular perpetrators continually seek out new avenues to target her directly. This is something that no technology (to date) can truly prevent. That is why the people behind the tools are so important.
We all have to be committed and alert to all the ways in which harassers can be problematic and abusive to the people we work and interact with online, and we need to be ready to stand up and help.
If this issue speaks to you and you want to do something today, please donate to the Trevor Project and designate that gift to Mika Epstein.