Community Summit Discussion Notes: Open Source participation in global legislation

From the session schedule:

Historically, the WordPress project has avoided taking clear public stances on legislation as it appeared across the world, instead relying on our sustaining/underwriting corporations to advocate for the best positions. Increasingly, WP is being asked to weigh in or participate in taking a collective stand with other FOSS projects in our field. Are our current methods sustainable? Do we have the community backing to make this sort of broad claim?

Facilitator: Angela Jin (@angelasjin)

Notetaker: david wolfpaw (@wolfpaw)

Notetaker: Erica Varlese (@evarlese)

Raw notes:

  • As we’ve learned from Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility.
  • Some questions to address:
    • What questions do we have on the topic and what context would be helpful to start the conversation?
    • What kind of government regulation/legislation are we discussing? Global, such as EU, GDPR, etc.
  • While a lot of legislation is starting in Europe, such as GDPR, it is going to evolve and spread to other parts of the world, as that already has.
  • What do we currently do, how we can improve it, and is it sustainable when it involves participating in legislation.
  • How reactive versus proactive should we be in the project for legislation: just reacting to legislation as it comes up, or making suggestions for future legislation.
  • We need to find an official home within the structure of the project (Make Teams) to have legislation related discussions. The Sustainability Team has been brought up as a suggestion. Without this anchor of a team, transparency becomes untenable. We need to set some sort of framework for a process when it comes to thinking about these issues.
  • Russia is considering a law to make it illegal to work with a foreign non-profit. What does that mean when it comes to volunteering with the WordPress project? We have to be proactive since we can see it coming. It’s not just high level discussions on code and security, but on who can participate in the community.
  • When we respond to requests, how do we ensure that we are capturing the community.
  • We might want to measure how likely legislation is to pass before determining if we should get involved.
  • We should not only be discussing legislation, but how else we can or should be involved with other governmental activities. For instance, should the WordPress project respond with amicus briefs on cases being brought before courts, such as what some technology projects have done.
  • This in part goes to the idea of, “decisions, not options”. Are we an opinionated project or not? Should we put out these amicus briefs, or just respond if something affects us. We can say that we have talked about things as a community, and generally agree on some action/idea and publish that to Make.
  • WordPress could say, “this could affect these sites, this source code, etc”, and the greater community could take this information and act on it. Not making the statement so much advocacy, but opinions that could facilitate action that the community would not have to take explicitly.
  • As a community we need to lobby a little to be reactive to things that exist like GDPR, and to make changes in WordPress. For instance how we need to be more open about security in the project because we will need to due to upcoming legislation.
  • We need a space to explain what is happening with specific laws when it relates to our community.
  • As a 501(c)3 we cannot be seen as doing any sort of lobbying.
  • What would a proactive response from WordPress look like? – The most important thing to be proactive about is deciding about what is important to address. Legislation that we are looking at is very broad, and could be globally reaching, or even more locally, such as Montana banning TikTok. Deciding upfront which things that we care about, and then looking for how we can get involved. We should not feel intimated or that there is a barrier, but work on conversations where we can participate in with our domain knowledge, such as on open sourceOpen Source Open Source denotes software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Open Source **must be** delivered via a licensing model, see GPL., contributors, security, etc.
  • We don’t want our contributors, especially self-sponsored contributors who make smaller contributions, to be responsible for legislation. We have a majority of contributors in the EU, and we want them to be able to contribute for as long as they would like, as safely as possible.
  • The difficulty in knowing that silence is safety versus silence is complicity is how much it affects us as a community. If other CMS reactReact React is a JavaScript library that makes it easy to reason about, construct, and maintain stateless and stateful user interfaces. to something, WordPress either has to respond, or not responding could be seen as tacit disagreement.
  • Would it be beneficial for WordPress to explore consultative status at the United Nations, with the office of NGOs
  • There was a position taken concerning contributors and the EU, and there will need to be other positions taken in the future. If someone takes a position on behalf of the community, it needs to have the support of the community. Perhaps we could create a structure where discussions happen, for when positions will or won’t be taken.
  • There are so many times when individuals or sponsored contributors take positions, and the rest of the community can feel left out and that their discussion and feedback does not matter.
  • There are so many issues that the community could comment on: Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, gender, sexuality, war. How can these translate into advocacy? We can have a conversation of how far we go. Human Rights are important, but how far do we go as a community?
  • There is an assumption that Make teams are representative of what we call the Community. The challenges of representing the community is that people are represented, but that is not representative. That could be an issue with whether representation is ever possible. We are asking some big blockBlock Block is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience. of people but it won’t represent everyone.
  • How do we flag things for WordPress to review. How do we see what things that we should be concerned about, what should be the structure to do this advocacy work, and how do we keep it sustainable.
  • We cannot be representative of the entire community, and decisions have to be made, otherwise not making a decision is a decision. There will be some subset of people who make opinions that are representative of the WordPress community. Majority cannot make opinions that cover the Minority.
  • Right now, someone says, “hey, has someone looked at this?” and shares it to Matt or Josepha, and we react.
  • What could a process look like: Someone raises a question to Josepha or Matt, but maybe there is a group that could have a process.
  • Is the process broken enough that we need to make a system? We need specific people to agree to make positions. Perhaps it is not a process worth iterating on right now.
  • Leaning on the fact that the community is global would be nearly impossible to track things in countries where we don’t have as many contributors or do not speak the same language. Even putting out, “this is what the process is” without adding structure could be helpful to ensure that people know how to be heard.
  • Our motto is “democratize publishing”. But we are not going to be a direct democracy in the project. A representative democracy would better serve us by having community members who represent parts of their community. The only thing that is missing right now is garnering topics from the community. One on one conversations are valuable, but can be negative because it excludes people by its nature.
  • As an example there are regular town halls in some communities that people can bring issues up to that are not specifically about one problem, so that people can bring up any of the issues that they have to be addressed. The conversation component as a community is what is missing.
  • If something comes out of a discussion that the community cares about, it will become a big thing regardless.
  • Looking at how we can improve the process: what we need is a space for people to share in one space, and where people can comment on things that are happening in various parts of the world, with various legislation, etc.
  • Voting would be tricky, but we do have tools available, such as polling.
  • One issue is that the more things that we take positions on, there are more things that we have to take positions on. For instance we take positions on human rights issues in some places, but not in others. We could look to where we have the most contextual authority as a group of contributors to comment on positions.
  • When you pingPing The act of sending a very small amount of data to an end point. Ping is used in computer science to illicit a response from a target server to test it’s connection. Ping is also a term used by Slack users to @ someone or send them a direct message (DM). Users might say something along the lines of “Ping me when the meeting starts.” someone about a problem asking for position, keeping in mind whether we have domain experience. The recent issues of open source contributors being legally responsible for projects is something that is important to this community, but maybe something like agricultural bills is not important in the same way for our skills. The bigger your grasp gets, the further that people want you to reach.
  • We want to ensure that what we are adding is impactful, like having teams and representatives on squads for a purpose, not just because everyone should have a voice. Having people have to reach out to whole teams takes time that could be used for other pressing projects.
  • When we lead through example, it is powerful, and that’s something that we can control.
  • We don’t think that the community would not understand wanting to keep a narrow focus on things that directly impact the project, and we can define that. Things that matter as an open source project.
  • Some people will want us to talk about everything, but we can filterFilter Filters are one of the two types of Hooks They provide a way for functions to modify data of other functions. They are the counterpart to Actions. Unlike Actions, filters are meant to work in an isolated manner, and should never have side effects such as affecting global variables and output. that out and just focus on a clear scope of things that will directly impact the efficacy of the project. Open source things, infrastructure things, security things that directly impact CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress..
  • It is clear that there is a distinction between, “Stuff that WordPress supports”, and “Stuff that WordPress makes a statement about”. Statements about some law that affects someone doesn’t change things, but ensuring that the community is supported matters more.
  • Following this conversation, what are the things that we care about to make a statement on:
    • Four Freedoms of Open Source
    • Things that affect the openness of the internet/web that affect our users
    • Things that affect the ability to participate/use open source software
    • Security, personal security, encryption
    • AI Ethics
    • Legislation that might affect the content that we have on our various platforms, like on OpenVerse, Learn, Photos
  • WordPress tries to have human-centric approaches to dealing with modern technology and projects. Working your way through the project can teach you a lot about this. We look at open source as you can take it into the world, not just with WordPress itself.
  • It can be valuable to share how things are done when it comes to taking a position on behalf of the project. That way even if we don’t address something as the community, we have guideposts on how to respond on an individual level to take action.
  • If we don’t have a discussion as a community, then it will be seen as just Automattic’s position when a statement is made. Even from a perception standpoint, this is an issue.
  • If conversations are being had but people don’t know where they are or how to get involved, it can seem as if they were not able to have an opinion.
  • Some mechanism for Make teams to be notified of legal decisions coming down that would need to adjust what the teams are doing would be helpful to have.
  • A barrier to get involved in discussions is being able to parse all of the details, length of research and statements, etc. The summaries can be placed somewhere that more people can see.
  • Possible next steps:
    • Designate a place for these conversations to happen.
    • Draft a “Here are the topics WordPress would address” document.
      • We had a lot of discussion, so it may not already be apparent.
    • A method of communicating to the Make teams when there is something with legal ramifications or something we’ll need to deal with.
      • Summaries of what’s happening to allow people to get involved in the discussion.

#summit, #summit-2023