COVID-19 and WordPress Community Engagement in 2020

This is an update regarding Wordfence’s community engagement in 2020 along with a recommendation for WordCamps globally and for the global WordPress community. As always, I’m taking a data-driven approach to this post. I present an update from the WHO regarding the containment of COVID-19 in China and what has worked. I then discuss what Wordfence is doing and my recommendations for the global WordPress community for 2020.

The World Health Organization recently released a report regarding COVID-19 in China. They sent an international team to investigate. The Joint Mission was implemented over a 9-day period from 16-24 February 2020.

According to the report: “The Joint Mission consisted of 25 national and international experts from China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, the United States of America and the World Health Organization (WHO).

I’m going to include a few key paragraphs. Please note that these are extracts from the report. The entire report is available on the WHO website.

–Begin extracts from WHO report–

In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history. The strategy that underpinned this containment effort was initially a national approach that promoted universal temperature monitoring, masking, and hand washing. However, as the outbreak evolved, and knowledge was gained, a science and risk-based approach was taken to tailor implementation. Specific containment measures were adjusted to the provincial, county and even community context, the capacity of the setting, and the nature of novel coronavirus transmission there.

Achieving China’s exceptional coverage with and adherence to these containment measures has only been possible due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action in the face of this common threat. At a community level this is reflected in the remarkable solidarity of provinces and cities in support of the most vulnerable populations and communities. Despite ongoing outbreaks in their own areas, Governors and Mayors have continued to send thousands of health care workers and tons of vital PPE supplies into Hubei province and Wuhan city.

China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic. A particularly compelling statistic is that on the first day of the advance team’s work there were 2478 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in China. Two weeks later, on the final day of this Mission, China reported 409 newly confirmed cases. This decline in COVID-19 cases across China is real.

China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response. This rather unique and unprecedented public health response in China reversed the escalating cases in both Hubei, where there has been widespread community transmission, and in the importation provinces, where family clusters appear to have driven the outbreak.

Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.

–End of WHO extracts–

At the time of this writing, COVID-19 has arrived on the shores of Europe and the USA, and we saw our first death in King County, WA over the weekend.

It is my experience that people react to bad situations too slowly. Whether it is a choking victim, a storm or a national emergency, there is the awkward pause that happens as life-as-usual transforms into a realization of reality requiring fast action. Often, that reality only sets in after the event.

The global WordPress community has thus far reacted to COVID-19 by cancelling WordCamp Asia. [Edit: My colleague pointed out after publishing that Wordcamp Geneva on March 20 has been postponed until autumn 2020. In addition, the Wordcamp Retreat in Soltau on April 30 has been postponed until 2021.]

The Wordfence team did not attend WordCamp Miami this weekend, but we continued to sponsor the event without a booth. We did not want to inconvenience the organizers. The event was not cancelled.

Thus far, I’ve seen most of the arguments for attending events or traveling centered around how deadly COVID-19 is, or how likely an individual is to die from infection. While this may be based in fact, this is an individualistic view and does not take the global community into account. Instead, are we considering whether we are facilitating transmission or helping contain the outbreak? That should be the moral arithmetic, not whether it will inconvenience or kill you personally.

“WordPress” and “community” are two words that often appear side by side in sentences, and rightfully so. Much of what makes WordPress successful is the community that supports this open-source project. We all see this, and we value this “community” for all the goodness it brings.

A question to consider: Do we care enough about the WordPress community and the global community to make the hard decisions we should be making to help protect those communities that we value?

It’s time for us to step up and show the world that we aren’t just a group of people who like contributing to open-source software, empowering others, and democratizing publishing. Instead, we will promptly acknowledge the reality of this situation that the globe, and our community, finds itself in. We will take action. We will make hard choices. And we will be an enabler for others.

We will lead.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that the WordPress community come together around the following principles.

  1. We will take a data-driven and science-driven approach to understanding the problem, the risks, the solutions, how we might hinder and how we can help.
  2. We will be proactive rather than reactive. In other words, we will look for opportunities to help the global situation rather than being reactive and told what to do when things get too risky.
  3. We will do everything we can to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has the potential to kill millions of older and immune-compromised individuals. They matter, too. We understand it’s not just about us. We understand that we need to make tough choices to help our immediate community and their loved ones.

In the spirit of these principles, I am announcing the following on behalf of Wordfence and my team: 

  • Effective immediately: Wordfence will not be attending WordCamps anywhere globally until COVID-19 has run its course or an effective and tested vaccine is available. We are also pulling our speakers from in-person events. We will work closely with organizers to smooth the transition.
  • We will still sponsor events to which we have committed, however we will not attend in-person events.
  • As we have done with WordCamp Asia, we will do what we can to reduce the burden COVID-19 has caused to organizers and attendees of canceled events.
  • Wordfence will work proactively to enable remote events, facilitating and supporting alternatives to in-person WordPress events.
  • Wordfence will work proactively to enable and encourage remote work for companies around the globe. We are a remote organization of 35 people with an extremely successful software product and millions of customers. We have much of this remote thing figured out and we can help others.

I would like to suggest the following to WordCamp Organizers: 

  1. Cancel WordCamp Europe.
  2. Cancel all other WordCamps globally in 2020 until further notice.
  3. Put a hold on WordCamp US, pending cancellation. A vaccine may emerge or containment may be effective by late October when it is scheduled, but that is doubtful in my mind. It may be logistically easier to cancel now.
  4. Use the time, people and resources that are available after these cancellations to facilitate remote events and remote networking, collaboration and education.

To my fellow WordCamp sponsors and companies in the WordPress space: 

Work with WordCamp organizers to smooth the transition this year from WordCamps to remote collaboration. GoDaddy and Yoast already teamed up with us to help support WordCamp Asia attendees by refunding their cancellation fees. We can do much more.

WordPress is a $10 to $20 billion dollar industry. We have extensive resources we can use to help this transition. If you are concerned about your shareholders or board, explain that you have a moral imperative to help the WordPress community in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Explain that exhibiting leadership positions you exceptionally well for the next decade within your community – the community your products and services serve.

To the WordPress community – which has become my community: 

I feel your pain because I won’t get to see you either. This sucks. But it will pass. Your community needs you to make tough choices and to lead. It’s time to step up.

In closing: Let’s act early to reduce costs for attendees and sponsors and reduce the stress and workload of organizers. Let’s lead the global community in making these tough calls to keep the WordPress community safe so it can continue to flourish and empower for years to come.

WordPress as a global community is very good at remote collaboration and remote work. We also have an opportunity to be of service showing brick and mortar organizations how successful remote work is done. Not only can we make 2020 the year of 100% remote networking and collaboration, but we can be an enabler for many organizations out there, some of whom are going through a traumatic shift.

The time to act is now. Assemble your crisis teams. Make it so. Let us show the world how it is done.

Mark Maunder – Wordfence Founder & CEO.

I’m available on Twitter at  @mmaunder.


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1 Comment
  • Thank you Mark for this post and advise. However, as you rightly note, WordPress meetups and WordCamps are very important that I don't think they should be cancelled globally - including in countries where no cases of COVID-19 have been reported. Otherwise great thanks to Wordfence for being such a great watchman for the security of WordPress websites and now the WordPress community too! Or prayers are that the virus is contained soon so that everything goes back to normal. Rogers Mukalele, Kampala-Uganda.