BACKCHANNEL: On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog. So how can they tell if you have depression?

Hello Backchannel readers,

This is Jessi. On May 17, thousands of people subscribing to the Wikipedia public mailing list received an email titled “The End”. In it, a Wikipedia editor that we’ll call Elliott begins, “I’ve been blocked forever. I was bullied and I am suicidal.

What will you do if you receive this email? What should Wikipedia do? Australian writer Andrew McMillen brought up this question – and takes you directly to Elliott’s computer screen as he thinks about taking his life.

One of the most important stories we follow at Backchannel concerns the growth of the online community. We care deeply about how people figure out how to organize themselves and work together for a common purpose. Few better examples of this other than Wikipedia – the huge online encyclopedia survives and updates itself through the constant efforts of its volunteers. Currently, there are about 68,000 people working as global editors. They are so committed to creating, as the Wikimedia Foundation asserts, “a world in which every human being can freely share all of their knowledge freely” that they spend their free time updating posts. .

As with any large group of people, a small portion of the editorial community will experience a mental illness, which can hamper their ability to contribute to Wikipedia – and put them at risk. . Finding out who they are, when they need help and how to act assertively and compassionately to help them is a challenge. McMillen’s story has generated heated discussion in Backchannel, as readers face the consequences of mental illness in a broader online community.

Few people have shared their own experiences as Wikipedia editors. Among them was Pax AG, who wrote: “I am a Wikipedian with severe depression… people really need to take the thinking and well-being of other editors seriously. People with genuinely compromised mental health can sometimes take overly legitimate criticism too seriously, but the editing controversies too often go beyond constructive discussion to attack. personal. Deal with harassment not about censorship “freedom of speech“; Writing has consequences in real life. “

Another reader, Jessamyn W. writes, shared her experience in navigating mental health issues in another online community: “I was one of MetaFilter’s community managers for a decade and we shared suicide threats, suicide attempts and a few actual suicides among their members. I. We already have a set of administrative procedures to handle them. It’s horrible to talk about creating policies to deal with the user’s worst moments, but those are tough conversations that need to happen. Internet is real life. “

She added: “As a community response, members put together a page on a member-created wiki, a page called ThereIsHelp With suggestions and resources for people around the world dealing with suicidal thoughts or other complex mental health problems. I put it up in situations like this when it seems appropriate. All organizations are welcome to copy, remix or share this information ”.

Now, I’m asking you directly: What is Wikipedia responsible for its community of editors? Online, where our interactions typically take place through written conversations, it’s harder to figure out who is struggling. But, as Jessamyn pointed out, online communities are real life communities. What do we owe each other, and how can we help each other?

I’m 19 days away, the fourth annual vacation on social media. Goodness, I love it! I missed a few important announcements – good friends are pregnant and someone else is engaged – but for the most part, I enjoyed watching the constant updates and tough political posts. Many of you have joined me on this month-long vacation and shared your own thoughts on what you’re learning. Here are the three things you’ve said so far:

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