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Protecting youth online: Wikimedia Foundation publishes its first Child Rights Impact Assessment

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Originally posted on 17 January 2024 by Richard Gaines on Diff.

The Wikimedia Foundation has published an independent assessment to understand the impacts, risks, and opportunities posed to children who access and participate in Wikimedia projects.

After repeatedly reaching his school library’s weekly maximum for book checkouts, a curious 12 year-old student started his journey editing English Wikipedia in 2008. Having an insatiable appetite for knowledge about trains, he searched for information on the Wikimedia projects about technological marvels and achievements. The enterprising newcomer was only in middle school, but quickly began noticing gaps in important locomotive information. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, the novice Wikimedian launched a lifetime hobby of contributing his own knowledge to Wikipedia. 

As a young editor, he now explains, “I was learning how to write and express myself in a way that I wasn’t in school.” Within a few years, the promising newcomer mastered writing in an encyclopedic style, citing reliable sources, and navigating Wikipedia’s community-led processes so well that he was elected into a leadership role: an administrator for English Wikipedia at just 14 years of age. The now-veteran Wikimedian uses his professional legal expertise to help protect others in the Wikimedia communities. Describing his journey, he explains that working with other Wikipedians, “who had all kinds of backgrounds, opinions, and communication styles, was a humbling and eye-opening experience so early in my life.” 

The inspiring story of that young Wikimedian, whose name has been withheld for security and privacy reasons, isn’t unique. Joe Sutherland, a lead Trust and Safety specialist at the Wikimedia Foundation, began editing English Wikipedia when he was 13 years old. By age 15, drawn to the strong sense of community and the multitude of talented people contributing to free knowledge, he was elected as an administrator. Reflecting on how his work as a volunteer contributed to his education, Joe shares: “The process of researching a topic, identifying which sources were reliable and which weren’t, and how to gather the necessary information for a complete citation, really helped me to write my thesis during my final year of university.”

While the Wikimedia Foundation’s commitments to privacy and data minimization make it impossible to know just how many young readers and editors there are on Wikimedia projects, an untold number of people less than 18 years of age seek out verifiable, encyclopedic information on Wikipedia. As the above stories illustrate, some of them progress from readers to editors as they start to contribute their own knowledge to these pages. Protecting child safety, both of readers and editors, is a top priority not only for the Foundation, but also for Wikimedia community groups and affiliates around the globe. 

To this end, today the Foundation is publishing an independent assessment that explores the impacts, risks, and opportunities posed to children who access and participate in Wikimedia projects. This Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) is the latest initiative that we have undertaken in order to meet our commitment to protect and uphold the human rights of all those who interact with Wikimedia projects. In 2020, the Foundation carried out an organization-wide Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA), with a report and update on progress published in 2022. A key recommendation of that assessment was to conduct a targeted CRIA, which could help us to better understand the benefits to and risks to children participating in Wikimedia projects.

The Foundation—in partnership with Article One, a specialized strategy and management consultancy with expertise in human rights, responsible innovation, and sustainability—started work on the CRIA in late 2021, and completed it in March 2023. The publication of this report (redacted to protect security and privacy of volunteers, readers, and those who were interviewed for the report) represents both a continuation of the Foundation’s commitments to human rights, and an important opportunity to revitalize conversations across the Wikimedia movement around how to best protect children on Wikimedia projects.

About the Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA)

The purpose of the report is to identify and analyze the impacts, risks, and opportunities posed to children who access and participate in Wikimedia projects, and to propose concrete recommendations that the Foundation and Wikimedia communities can implement to mitigate those risks, so that children can fully benefit from participating in our projects.

Foundation staff, volunteers, affiliates, and external subject matter experts were consulted as a part of this assessment, including individuals who participated in Wikimedia projects as minors and continued their engagement into adulthood—activities which, they explain, offered them unique perspectives on the risks and opportunities posed to children. 

As a movement, we know that Wikimedia projects advance and support the right of every child, everywhere, to education and knowledge. Access to free knowledge also helps children to exercise a number of their human rights, including freedom of expression, the right to access factually accurate health information, and the right to participate in cultural and civic life, among other rights. These benefits are also realized by adults. This report affirms that children—and society at large—can benefit significantly from accessing and contributing to Wikimedia projects. 

The CRIA report identifies risks to children who interact with Wikimedia projects as editors, participants at in-person events, and as readers. Risks of concern included: possible harmful contact (such as bullying) and exploitation; threats to privacy and personal safety and security; exposure to harmful content; difficulty accessing processes to remedy when harms do occur; and, lack of voice within the Wikimedia movement. 

The Wikimedia Foundation is committed to ensuring safe participation for all, regardless of age. As the CRIA report notes, Wikimedia’s model does not present the same risks as that of for-profit platforms whose business models aim to maximize advertising revenue by targeting users with highly-engaging, but often unreliable or unsuitable, content. This report also underscores that existing community-led processes for identifying and removing the rare appearance of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are effective. 

The report contains a number of recommendations that the Foundation can spearhead, such as developing and strengthening Foundation policies like an upcoming child protection policy, and proactively engaging with governments on regulation that affects children’s rights—as we have done in the UK around the Online Safety Act. Various teams within the Foundation have already made significant progress towards acting upon such recommendations.

The report also contains key recommendations for the Wikimedia Foundation and volunteer communities to collaborate more closely within existing areas of work. These include evaluating the Movement Governance Strategy through a child rights perspective, and empowering children to protect themselves by providing child-friendly resources and tools.

Importantly, implementation of other key recommendations are most appropriately led by Wikimedia volunteers. For instance, incorporating child rights considerations into project policies and guidelines, in addition to advancing efforts to identify and manage interactions that may be harmful to children—such as bullying, exposure to sexually exploitative images, or exposure to hate speech—on topics or pages that may be frequently accessed by minors on Wikimedia projects.

When reading the CRIA report’s findings and recommendations, it is important to keep in mind that the assessment was completed in March 2023. Since then the Foundation has already taken a number of concrete steps that aim to cohesively and sustainably address many of the report’s recommendations, including the finalization of a child protection policy to be published in the coming days, supporting the development of the Incident Reporting System, incorporating child rights considerations into recent reviews of grant applications, and more. It is also important to acknowledge that implementing the recommendations contained within this report will be a long-term endeavor, and not every recommendation may be feasible. 

How Wikimedians can learn more about, discuss, and provide feedback on the CRIA

We want to hear from you on this topic: What questions do you have? What are your thoughts on the risks and recommendations discussed in the report? What is your community already doing, or what would you like to do, to ensure the safety of children on Wikimedia projects? 

We know that many communities are already hard at work on activities related to this topic. For example, WikiVibrance hosted an event at Wikimania 2023, which discussed the challenges that youth face and overcome on the Wikimedia projects, seeking to build understanding of the importance of supporting and empowering young people within the volunteer community. Also during Wikimania, Wikimedia Korea shared their experiences of working with youth who are learning how to contribute to Wikipedia. Other chapters in attendance shared about their own work in this regard.

Finally, we would also like to know: How can we build on the momentum we already have and collaborate to make progress? Please leave a message on report’s Talk page or join us at either of the two community conversation hours scheduled for the following times:

If you prefer to ask questions or share information privately, you can also email us at We will take the information and feedback we gather across various channels to prepare a map of efforts happening across the movement, along with ideas for collaboration and implementation. 

We look forward to working together to ensure that every curious child, everywhere, can feel safe on the Wikimedia projects while accessing and contributing to the sum of all human knowledge.