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Wikimedia Foundation Board Officially Rejects Porn Filter

By Larry Sanger (see also Wikipedia’s forgotten creator and What Should We Do about Wikipedia’s Porn Problem?)

 

Last Wednesday, the Wikimedia Foundation board quietly voted, in person, 10-0 in favor of repealing the “personal image hiding feature”–in other words, a very weak, opt-in porn filter. “Quietly,” I say, because the resolution was not posted publicly until the middle of the weekend. Note that the page mistakenly states that Jimmy Wales voted against it: “That page is wrong,” Wales clarified on his user talk page, “I voted yes.”

The big news

This is certainly news. A brief recap of some related events will help put it in essential context. (Here’s another recap.) You may not know that funding for the early years of Wikipedia came from Bomis, Inc., which made much of its money from what Wikipedians have called “softcore porn.” I’ve always said that Bomis was the fertilizer on which Wikipedia was built. Jimmy Wales was CEO and one of the three partners of Bomis. I started Wikipedia for Bomis, which paid my paycheck. Anyway, I’m not sure when Wikipedia first started hosting what most people would call porn, but it may have been around 2003. Over the years, there have been many proposals to rein in or filter the “adult content,” all of which have failed. In March 2008, Erik Moeller, who had recently been appointed Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), came under heavy fire for what Mashable called “his continued self-defense of statements generally indicating that pedophilia is something that’s less than evil.” Moeller continues to hold the post. In December, 2008, Wikipedia was temporarily blacklisted by the British Internet watchdog, the Internet Watch Foundation, for hosting “images of child pornography.” The site continues to host the offending image, as well–an album cover feature a nude, and very sexualized, picture of a pre-pubescent girl.

Things really began to heat up in 2010. In March, I reported the WMF to the FBI because they hosted graphic depictions of child sexual molestation on Wikimedia Commons–and they still do. At the time, I also strongly urged the WMF to install a pornography filter. In the fallout, Wales and others started purging porn from Commons, but Wikipedians summarily swatted down the erstwhile “God-King” and reinstated much of the porn that had been deleted. There was also ongoing concern about Wikipedia’s pedophilia problem. In reaction, the WMF commissioned a report, which recommended installing an opt-in porn filter. In May, 2011, the WMF unanimously approved a “personal image hiding feature.” Matters were far from settled, however. In September, 2011, Wikipedians came out strongly in favor of allowing minors to edit pornography articles right alongside adults, and the German Wikipedians voted 86% against even a weak, opt-in a porn filter.

In March of 2012, Board members dropped hints that work had stopped on the filter and that they, like others, no longer supported it. I began conferring with some colleagues about what to do; I had been largely silent on the issue since the WMF demonstrated some commitment to tackle it responsibly. I was surprised to learn that the amount of “adult” content on Wikimedia servers had grown substantially since 2010. With the help of those colleagues I carefully wrote and posted this explanation of the problem, which got quite a bit of exposure. As I put it via Twitter: “Wikipedia, choose two: (1) call yourself kid-friendly; (2) host lots of porn; (3) be filter-free.” Jimmy Wales responded via Twitter, stating clearly and unequivocally that he supported the filter. My impression is that members of the public who recently commented on the issue online have been overwhelmingly supportive, many expressing surprise and even shock at the amount of “adult” content that Wikipedia hosts. This video of mine may help clarify the trouble.

That takes us up to today. On the issue of a weak, opt-in filter, the WMF perfectly reversed itself, going from unanimous support to unanimous rejection. “Unanimous” rejection assumes that Jimmy Wales voted yes on Wednesday’s resolution, as he said on his Wikipedia user talk page, and contrary to what the resolution page says, as of this writing. He has further clarified (if that is the right word) that, despite his apparent “yes” vote for Wednesday’s resolution, he continues to “strongly support the creation of a personal image filter.” If I were cynical, I would say that he and the WMF had deliberately left his views unclear, so that he could speak out of both sides of his mouth. Anyway, if he still strongly supports the creation of a “personal image filter,” voting to rescind the resolution that would create the filter is a mighty strange way to show his support.

However matters are, the filter is now officially and overwhelmingly rejected. Unless they make another 180° change and actually get to work, publicly, on a filter, I believe a boycott may well be in order.

UPDATE: Jimmy Wales is now hosting a discussion (talk) of how the filter should be written. Let’s see if anything constructive comes out of it.

 

Photo credit:  cowfish at Flickr — modified and posted under Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

3 comments to Wikimedia Foundation Board Officially Rejects Porn Filter

  • If nothing constructive comes of Jimbo’s discussion about how a content filter should be written (and installed), I will donate $100 worth of food to our local food bank. If something constructive comes of it, I will donate $300 worth of food. Maybe that will be an added incentive for them to get it done, but somehow, I suspect that my extra $200 won’t be going anywhere.

  • That’s as good as taking $200 worth of Spaghetti-os out of the mouths of poor children, Kohs! For shame!

  • Andreas Kolbe

    Wales started the page on the 15th, the day the matter hit his talk page. He hasn’t contributed to the discussion since the 16th.

    It’s how Wikimedia PR works. Whenever there is outside attention, tell everyone you’ll be doing something that will make everyone happy. If necessary, start a “discussion”. Then, when everyone has stopped looking, abandon it. When asked about it later, say you tried, but the community decided to handle the matter differently (i.e. do nothing). As a strategy, it generally works handsomely.