Wikimedia Foundation Board Officially Rejects Porn Filter

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.”

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.

Share this post

  • Subscribe to our RSS feed
  • Share this post on Delicious
  • StumbleUpon this post
  • Share this post on Digg
  • Tweet about this post
  • Share this post on Mixx
  • Share this post on Technorati
  • Share this post on Facebook
  • Share this post on NewsVine
  • Share this post on Reddit
  • Share this post on Google
  • Share this post on LinkedIn

About the author

Larry Sanger had written 163 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, WatchKnowLearn.org, ReadingBear.org, and Infobitt. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

11 Responses to "Wikimedia Foundation Board Officially Rejects Porn Filter"
  1. Reply Gregory Kohs July 15, 2012 15:09 pm

    It used to be astounding to me to see how Jimmy Wales can say one thing in one venue, then say the opposite in another venue, then act “shocked” and “alarmed” and “offended” when people point out to him how duplicitous this is.

    I am no longer astounded, because he does it with such regularity.

  2. Reply Sterling Ericsson July 15, 2012 16:12 pm

    You know, not misrepresenting events would be a good way to write blog posts. Just saying. Or trying to slant information.

    For example, as you well know, the album in question was the 1976 Virgin Killer album by renowned German rock band The Scorpions. And the Internet Watch Foundation was heavily criticized for their action and they rescinded the block within four days.

    Furthermore, could you clarify something for me? Weren’t some of the images you reported to the FBI late 19th century and very early 20th century lithographs by famous erotic literature (and pretty much founder of the genre) artist Martin Van Maele? And there’s also an 1890 image by artist Raphaël Collin and and early 19th century image by
    Achille Devéria, did you report these as well?

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 15, 2012 17:38 pm

      There was definitely a controversy over that album cover, and whether the blacklisting was removed after a few days does not detract from this basic point. As to the age of the child porn material, I think most of it was less than a hundred years old, and in any case my description of it was precisely correct. The fact that explicit, obscene depictions of child molestation are 100 years old should not matter to you, or anyone. It is extremely reprehensible–it was then, and it is now.

      I misrepresented nothing in my post.

      • Reply Sterling Ericsson July 15, 2012 17:57 pm

        I think you should first off make an immediate distinction between images of “child sexual molestation” that are photographs and those that are drawn. And then make the distinction between ancient pieces of artwork by famous artists and something drawn by some guy last week.

        Clearly, the FBI made such a distinction, because they didn’t do anything with your report. And other than Fox News making a big deal about it for a while (no surprise), every other news source moved on because who cares?

        • Reply Larry Sanger July 15, 2012 18:29 pm

          I do make such a distinction. In my post, I wrote “graphic depictions.” If I had meant photographs, I would have used that word instead.

          80 years old, or whatever it is, is not “ancient,” and it doesn’t matter that they are 80 years old anyway. That is my assumption, and it is sound.

          The statute that required me to report the WMF specified any depictions of sexual molestation.

          A lot of people do care, and a lot more than Fox News has reported on these issues–there are many other sources even among those I cited, which is a small portion of the available sources.

          You may continue to post on this blog if you are able to be interesting and accurate. If you keep writing boring and error-ridden responses, they’ll be deleted.

  3. Reply Gregory Kohs July 15, 2012 21:19 pm

    Here’s a sample of Sterling Ericsson’s resume material: http://www.furaffinity.net/user/silver-seren/ Larry, you’re being criticized by one of the world’s foremost experts in Molecular and Cellular Biology, who also happens to be a Siberian White Wolf in his spare time.

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 15, 2012 22:03 pm

      Siberian White Wolf! Golly, I should have been more careful!

      • Reply Eric Barbour July 15, 2012 22:56 pm

        Okay, Larry, are you beginning to see what kind of “creature” inhabits the “Dark Forest” of the Great Wiki? It is no wonder they don’t want to have their real identities “outed”, because in real life so many of them are embarrassing.

        This is a good summary, but I will BE BOLD and say upfront: that nothing will result. The WMF are cowards and Jimbo is an even bigger coward.

        • Reply Larry Sanger July 17, 2012 09:55 am

          Hey Eric. Well, I think I have a fair idea. I’ve dealt with a lot of the little miscreants over the years. The WMF may be cowards, but if they think that it is the safest way to jettison the filter, and then rely on Jimbo to make a credible appearance of organizing a filter, they’re sadly mistaken. Right now, they fear the wrath of the likes “Silver Seren.” The only reason they’ve largely been given a pass on this issue by the news media is that, indeed, people like Jimbo have made some noise that resembles good faith progress on a filter. But as the scandals pile up and what you and I understand to be only so much hot air increasingly looks only like hot air to everyone else, some high profile journalists are going to notice. I suspect they’re going to notice in November. If not then, then soon enough. And then, well, the WMF will understand that they have other interested parties–namely, their readership–to worry about.

  4. Reply Al July 15, 2012 22:46 pm

    I wonder why Jimmy keeps removing Larry’s posts http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk%3AJimbo_Wales&diff=502482559&oldid=502481939 It looks silly, it looks as Jimmy has something to hide.

  5. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » Is it time to establish Internet user unions? July 18, 2012 10:25 am

    […] law, are often forced to participate in an arcane and often unfair system. Wikipedia also lacks any filter for their enormous porn holdings, while its representatives continue to tout it as a great resource […]

Leave your response