Ethical Terms of Service (ToS)
Working Group

What problem are we trying to solve?

Thousands of flowers are blooming in the shape of new public platforms designed to host communities that are tired of reckless, dangerous, and unethical behavior by large social media platforms.

At the same time, because social networks are a microcosm of humanity, many of those who engage in unethical behavior on large social networks, are also migrating to these platforms.

Many of these small, often independent platforms lack awareness of the potential problems that could arise for the safety of their members, and lack a mechanism to deal with those issues.

What are we trying to do?

We are interested in collaborating on an Ethical ToS (“Terms of Service”) toolkit designed for people operating small platforms, for example ActivityPub implementations including Mastodon instances, discussion forums, and other online community spaces.

The Ethical ToS is meant to be a starting point for continuous processes of improvement, not an ending point or a solution. Adopting and adapting the Ethical ToS will signal that the platform has given substantial thought to a plan for protecting their community from harmful and possibly illegal actions– and that the platform will work to ensure that the ToS is not weaponized against vulnerable users.

Who is the Organization for Ethical Source?

We are a global community of open source maintainers and contributors, tech ethicists and advocates, legal experts, academics, sociologists, human rights workers, and others who work together on ways to center justice and equity in the software commons.

OES stewards the continuing development of Contributor Covenant and developed the Hippocratic License, both examples of innovative policy instruments specifically designed to meet the evolving needs of open source communities. You can find out more about us on the OES website.

What do we need from co-creators and collaborators?

We plan to convene a working group to collaborate on the “Ethical ToS” project, bringing our own expertise in creating living and open policy documents, and offering support from legal experts and others in our organization.

While we are open to help from anyone, we are particularly interested in collaborating with people experienced in crafting Terms of Service or other policies for large platforms. We also would love to work with the people building these platforms, who recognize the need for a ToS like the one we envision.

What resources will OES provide?

Acknowledging that maintaining healthy online communities is constant process, OES will commit to an iterative approach to its evolution and improvements over time. We will provide a permanent home for the living document, help develop a custom “ToS builder” similar to the Hippocratic License builder site, and facilitate Ethical ToS adoption through raising awareness, promotion, and education.

Most OES projects are volunteer-driven, including both contributor and leadership roles, with support and sponsorship from one or more members of our Board. The working group may request a budget allocation for consultation with outside experts and similar needs.

How can you participate?

Sign up to join the OES Slack community, which is hosting the Ethical ToS Working Group, by filling out this form.

OES will also set up a public project in our GitHub organization to invite wider public participation.