User:Deryck Chan/Friendly and inclusive space for unusual perspectives

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  • Originally titled "Friendly and inclusive", and Brexit at Wikimania and posted to wikimania-l and wikimediauk-l, 9 July 2016

I apologise for the somewhat emotionally charged post. Please read to the end and I promise my argument will come together...

Wikimania 2016 gave me more emotional hot air than any other previous Wikimania except the one I organised (2013). But unusually, the hot air didn't arise from disputes about Wikimedia chapter governance or conference (dis)organisation. It was about Brexit.

(For the record, I thought Wikimania Esino was amazingly well-operated.)

Before Wikimania, I had already set out my attitude towards Brexit on a Facebook note. I've reposted it on my user-space on the Wikimania 2016 wiki so I won't repeat my argument at length:

The title of my post gives it away - I'm lukewarm towards Brexit.

At Wikimania, the topic of Brexit naturally brought itself up in many mealtime conversations between me and Wikimaniacs from other EU countries. My opinion on the matter often took conversations towards unhappy disagreement, and I would feel excluded from subsequent conversation on the same table.

I've never felt so rejected at Wikimania. Most heated debate at Wikimania I was involved in took the form of "us vs. y'all", so as inflamed as a debate may have been, there would be a "my side". But not this time. My unusual perspective as a non-white British (and EU, until UK formally withdraws) citizen meant that I had a perspective that was shared by very few others at Wikimania. It was like "me vs everyone else".

I felt disenfranchised enough by the referendum debate itself as a non-white citizen of the UK. I felt sad enough that I voted Remain but Leave won. I wanted to share the little bit of hope I still had about the future, on the day Leave was declared victorious, and wasn't appreciated.

I shared my feelings with Daria Cybulska (WMUK staff, Polish origin) and she reminded me to be "sensitive" of other people in discussion... an instruction I immediately fell foul of in that discussion, as I forgot that the UK's withdrawal from the EU will mean fewer opportunities for people with similar backgrounds to Daria, as much as the EU's protectionist tendencies have been reducing the opportunities for people with similar backgrounds to me.

Okay, enough Brexit chat. I promised my argument would come together.

In her Wikimania keynote, Katherine Maher said one of the things WMF would prioritise in the next year is to make our communities a "friendly and inclusive space".

I'm a six-time Wikimaniac; and in-person meetings are known to facilitate more amicable debates than online discussions. But because of my unique background, even I fell foul of the standards of sensitivity in communication, and as a result felt unwelcome.

Now imagine someone from a far-flung corner of Wikimedia-sphere joining Wikimania for the first time. Or a prospective new editor from a far-flung corner of Earth clicking [edit] for the first time. When there's disagreement in which the newcomer has a unique perspective, will they feel included?

I don't claim to have the magic bullet. But thanks to Brexit happening during Wikimania 2016, now I understand the sheer magnitude of the problem. I feel encouraged that Katherine and the WMF are making it a leading priority for the next year to foster a "friendly and inclusive" community atmosphere.

I'm not sure which one is easier to solve: the political mess of today's Europe, or the hostile mess of online communities. But for both, I shall remain hopeful and do my part to make our communities better.