Preventing abuse

UPDATE (2016-05-24) “Involving page owners in annotation”.

Recent events (here, here, and here) have prompted us to rethink how the technology we are building can be used not only to discuss and enlighten, but also to harass and abuse. Here’s the heart of the matter: most web annotation systems, ours included, don’t currently provide adequate tools to prevent abuse.

We’re a non-profit organization whose mission is to enable conversations over the world’s knowledge. But as long as our platform lacks tools for people to manage and filter what they see, report abuse, and defend their communities from disruption, we will only be enabling a tiny fraction of all possible conversations. Other voices — often the ones we most need to hear — will be drowned out by those who wish to use the power of the internet to further suppress people who are already marginalized.

Starting today, we are stepping up our efforts to understand what tools people need to combat the potential for abuse on the Hypothesis platform. Lena Gunn, our Engineering Manager, will be reaching out to community leaders in this area to solicit their input. But we would appreciate your help, too: if you want to be part of an abuse-prevention community group that will help Hypothesis build a humane web annotation platform, please email

One criticism we have heard loud and clear is that the “without consent” clause in our principles is problematic. When forming these principles, we meant that individuals would be able to annotate the documents of corporate and governmental entities, or other powerful groups, without needing their approval — such as when the scientists of Climate Feedback annotate climate change coverage. But we acknowledge that our choice of language was poor. We will change it soon.

Thank you for all the feedback you’ve given us, directly and otherwise, over the past few days. We will continue to listen and work to make Hypothesis a safe and welcoming place for expression and conversation on the web.