Self-harm and the internet

Following a recent news report in a tabloid paper, which criticised websites including Wikipedia for not taking seriously enough the … Continue reading “Self-harm and the internet”

  • John Lubbock
  • May 3, 2019
Backlit keyboard – image by Colin CC BY-SA 4.0

Following a recent news report in a tabloid paper, which criticised websites including Wikipedia for not taking seriously enough the effects of online content on self-harm, Wikimedia UK would like to underscore the commitment of the Wikimedia community to addressing this issue.

Wikipedia aims to provide neutral, reliable encyclopedic content to its readers around the world. Wikipedia is written by independent volunteer editors and is open for editing by anyone. Editors use reliable sources to collaboratively write articles about a wide variety of topics, taking extra care to evaluate the information included about sensitive subjects in particular, such as those articles relating to suicide. Editors weigh these issues carefully to ensure information is presented from an educational, neutral viewpoint, and have also developed a guide for writing about suicide on Wikipedia.

The US based Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects, has a Trust & Safety team that responds to requests from users that are identified as an imminent threat to life and limb. They have developed these processes in consultation with law enforcement and experts in emergency response. Their systems often function in coordination with other community-developed systems aimed at supporting the safety of all our readers and editors. For example, the Trust & Safety team at the Foundation has developed detailed guidance for editors to respond to threats of harm made on the Wikimedia sites.

A UK government health committee looking at the problem of online self-harm recently held a meeting of technology companies, to which neither the Wikimedia Foundation nor Wikimedia UK received an invitation. The Wikimedia Foundation has been in touch with the UK government to convey the seriousness with which they take the issue of online self-harm, and emphasised that they would welcome the opportunity to join meetings or conversations about this in future.

Wikimedia UK does not set editorial policy on Wikipedia, and does not have legal control of the site or responsibility for its contents. However, we are keen to work with relevant parties, where we can, to help address the complex issues surrounding online content and self-harm. In this context, we have previously offered to put the Samaritans in touch with UK-based editors to discuss these issues and to understand more about how editorial policies are developed on Wikipedia. We have also contacted the Department for Health and Social Care, who organised the recent summit on harmful online content, in case it would be helpful for them to engage with the local Wikimedia chapter on this issue.

If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this blogpost, you can call The Samaritans on 116 123.

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