The notorious co-founder of Wikipedia interviews the notorious co-founder of Genius


I am spending a few days with the energetic and charming young crew of Everipedia at their offices in sunny L.A. I got to know Everipedia through Mahbod Moghadam, the 30-something but youthful and “thug” (this, apparently, is a good thing) co-founder of Genius.com, whom I got to know last year when I was still working on Infobitt (which, alas, is still in mothballs). Mahbod is not the CEO but is certainly one of the leading lights of this approximately one-year-old company; he and the other guys are very friendly, easygoing, smart, and hard-working, as far as I can tell. Anyway, Mahbod likes to be interviewed, and he is a “character,” so I thought it would be fun to do that. After all, people have interviewed me a lot but I can’t remember ever interviewing anybody else. So the tables are turned! For this blog’s very first interview, here is Mr. Moghadam. This will be a fairly wide-ranging email interview, so here goes.


Everipedia is the project you’re now working on. What exactly is the vision, at present, behind Everipedia? What are you trying to achieve?
Everipedia is the baby of Sam Kazemian and Tedde Forselius — they are my sons. It is, in short, a better version of Wikipedia. There are lots of differences, but the biggest one is that you can make a page about ANYTHING. I’ve had a Wikipedia page written about me before — several times — and Wikipedia kept taking it down! It was heartbreaking, especially because it has always been my dream to have a Wikipedia page about me. I’m sure there are millions of people who feel this way. Sam showed me my Everipedia page when I was giving a talk at UCLA — I was over the moon! I went home and immediately started making pages for all of my friends, my friends’ companies…everything I think is cool! Adding pages on Everipedia is really easy — it’s like posting on Facebook. No complexities or weirdo markup language like Wikipedia.

You say you want Everipedia to be the encyclopedia of everything, covering not just the topics in Wikipedia, not just the topics snootily deemed not important enough to include, but topics far, far outside the mainstream of what is considered “encyclopedic.” Things like: Every person in the world (including me and you!). Every street in the U.S. All the products currently for sale. All the species in the world. Every chemical compound (!). Every gene (!!). Every episode of every lame TV show. Every website (!!!). Etc. First of all, are you frigging insane?
I think it’s insane to have a strict notability requirement! The cool thing about the Internet is there is so much bandwidth — everyone can have their piece. Even if you are a shitty photographer, you can have an Instagram. Even the WORST rappers annotate their lyrics on Rap Genius. (TRUST ME) So why shouldn’t everyone have a Wiki?

OK, setting aside issues about feasibility, maintainability, etc., there’s a more basic question: Why is it important to have an encyclopedia of everything? Aren’t you basically just trying to replicate the Internet, or what eventually will be on the Internet?
Yeeee! One of our nicknames for Everipedia is “Crowdsourced Google” — the same way that Google gives you information about any subject, we want Everipedia to give you the info, except humans are doing the sorting, summarizing and rating of the sources instead of a machine.

Right now the site actually reminds me no small amount of the early days of Wikipedia — same youthful enthusiasm, same friendly welcoming atmosphere, same lack of f’s given if someone starts work on a topic with a very lame article. But Wikipedia sort of grew up (not entirely) and became huge, with long, meaty articles. How are you going to “get from here to there” and avoid burnout or seeming irrelevant?
Hopefully we can steal a lot of users from Wikipedia! On Everipedia you get IQ for your contributions. Contributors get credit and recognition for their accomplishments, they are not simply working in a void. College students can be appointed “Everipedia Campus Representative” if they earn it, and celebrities can contribute via Verified Accounts. Wikipedia won’t even let Snoop Dogg contribute to his own page! That ain’t right…on Everipedia, Snoop can even cite himself as a source! Not to mention anyone can cite his Instagram posts, hit tweets…anything that has cool information.

Why should somebody work on Everipedia when they can work on Wikipedia and have a better chance of having their words read by people on the #7 website in the world?
Because on Everipedia you get rewarded for your work. On Wikipedia, you get no recognition, contributions are pretty much anonymous. Maybe that appeals to some people — but I know, personally, I would never want to spend time working on something without getting credit for it. I think I’m a very good writer, and I want to be recognized for my work. I’m sure there are a lot of talented writers who feel the same way I do!

You have sometimes called Everipedia the “Thug Wikipedia.” Come on, dude, isn’t “Thug Wikipedia” likely to be off-putting to people who are, you know, working on an encyclopedia? And what does this mean, anyway?
Haha, yeah, we should probably stop saying that. What I mean by “thug,” in this case, is that there aren’t a bunch of unnecessary rules. You might think rules are great, but look at the result. Wikipedia’s notability requirement results in systematic discrimination against women and minorities, which is truly shameful. The top-performing pages on Everipedia are often black actresses, like Mariah Lynn from “Love and Hip-hop,” who are massively popular but face “Wikipedia Discrimination.” Everipedia made a page for Sabrina Pasterski — known as the “Female Einstein.” Wikipedia scraped our article and didn’t cite us! So I think that symbolizes the different focus of Everipedia and Wikipedia. Maybe we should change “Thug Wikipedia” to “Feminist Wikipedia.”

You and your buddies started Genius, originally RapGenius, which is one of the coolest collaborative websites online. I put it up there with Wikipedia, Quora, and a very few others that feature open collaboration among equals in order to develop a resource that is of use to everyone. This is what I love, and you and I both agree people ought to make more of these sorts of sites. So what is your top advice for entrepreneurs or community organizers (so to speak) who want to organize other people to create awesome resources that are useful to everyone?
It is bizarre. Every wiki site blows up. Even WIKIFEET gets a ton of traffic. But nobody wants to make encyclopedias. Everybody wants to make “The Next Snapchat.” I think this is because making a social media app is sexier than making an encyclopedia. Also, if you succeed, it’s a lot less work. You don’t have to sit there and use your own product, add a bunch of cool pages, etc. But I don’t think it’s an accident that I am 2 for 2 on successful startups and both are encyclopedias. There is such a thirst for robust software to disseminate information. It is the future of media! And nobody is doing it…personally, I think Quora sucks, and even Quora is blowing up…

OK, I gotta ask. You’ve been asked this ad nauseam, I’m sure, and I’m sure you’re annoyed by it, but I gotta ask. (Remember, this question is coming from a guy who thinks we are falling in a moral abyss. I may be a libertarian but I am also a moralist.) In November 2014 you wrote an article ill-advisedly titled “How To Steal From Whole Foods.” First of all, WTF? What were you thinking of? You know that stealing is wrong, right?
The article was meant as a joke, the sole purpose was to make people laugh. The title is paying homage to Tao Lin’s classic tome “Shoplifting from American Apparel.” Lames like Mark Suster took my words literally, because they have the minds of sheep. A lot of people also told me they loved the article — those were the smart folks. I don’t steal, but personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with stealing. You certainly can’t compare it to murder or rape, not even close. Stealing food, especially, strikes me as a morally neutral activity.

Being around you and the other Everipedia guys have introduced several items of slang that are completely new to me, because I don’t watch TV, don’t spend any time around teenagers or college students, and work from home in an exurb of Columbus, Ohio. I’m a bit cloistered, to tell the truth, but that’s how I like it. You meanwhile are the man about town, living in L.A. and hip to the scene (which shows how unhip-to-the-scene I am, since kids these days do not use the phrase “hip to the scene”). So I require brief, Urban Dictionary-type but Mahbod-crafted definitions of the follow terms d’art of the thug life. I give you…

The Mahbod Moghadam Lexicon
thug (not in the brutal ruffian sense):
Did you know this comes from the Hindi word “Thugee”? I use it in homage to 2PAC — my favorite human who ever existed. (He had “Thug Life” tattooed on his chest). It is a synonym for “disrupt.”
pimp (not in the employer-of-whores sense): If you’re a pimp, that means you’re charismatic! You can get others to serve you..
janky: Means “sucks.”
yeeeee: One of my Persian friends got me saying “yeee”! It is a refreshing alternative to “yasssss!” which is very popular with Hillary Clinton supporters…
hooooo: Short for “HOOOOOLY SHIT!” — we say this a lot at Everipedia HQ because we are constantly amazed and bewildered by our own product! It is changing the world. It is our catchphrase.
blowin up: This is what Everipedia is presently doing! YEEEEE
ewoking: Ah, my favorite word! This means “contributing to the site” — it is derived from the username of the TOP-IQ EDITOR OF RAP GENIUS, Monsieur William Goodwin aka EwokABDevito. He is one of only 2 users who have a higher IQ than I do.
shhhhht: This is the companion of “HOOOOO!” (See above.)
bae: I use “bae” sarcastically — “bae” is a word the kids say these days, it means “baby”/”babe” — I think it sounds ridiculous, which means I’m getting old! So I imitate them.
jag: “Jagh” means “masturbate” in Persian, my native language. This is pretty much the only non-work activity we are allowed to do at Everipedia HQ. (We’re also allowed to go to the gym once a day.)
swag: This is my favorite word of all time. The eccentric rapper Lil B “The Based God” popularized it. It is a nonsense word, similar to Kurt Vonngut’s “Ho Hum”…it can mean whatever you want it to mean! It is the best word.
dope: Dope means good, like drugs.
chill: Currrrr! (Sorry I got cold for a second there!) Chill means you’re icy, which indicates a state of jewel-encrusted repose.

Now for a microaggression. Where are you from? No, where are you really from?
I’m from the Barrio vato! Barrios weyyyy! Pinche cavron! (I’m from the San Fernando Valley — Encino to be exact — via Iran.)

At this juncture I would like to inform our readers that you have a B.A. in History from Yale, a J.D. from Stanford Law, and were a Fulbright scholar. You also helped Genius to go viral. So, in short, you are clearly pretty goddamned brilliant. And yet if a reader reads your answers so far, these revelations might seem surprising. I hate to, you know, lift the curtain on the mystique (although I suspect that’s not really possible in your case), but can you comment on why, particularly at age 33 (you know — when your friends have become boring adults), you affect a “thug” attitude?
I loathe snobbery and propriety — I am against society. I was making wikis for Merrick Garland and his family today — he is a Jew trying to be a WASP, very “Ivy League” — he makes me want to throw up. I consider myself to be a UCLA alum, not a Yale alum. UCLA is where I will be donating my money, it is a school where they teach you actual knowledge, instead of propagating bullshit yuppie culture.

What are your favorite topics in history? The law?
My specialty in college was French colonial history! I am obsessed with all things French — I don’t know why — it is embarrassing! My favorite legal subject is tax, by far. I had an amazing professor for several tax courses, Joe Bankman — he is my Rabbi, basically. He taught me the most about ethics and the way the world works. I love him.

I noticed you play piano pretty well — I think I heard some Bach. Did you have lessons or what?
I am OBSESSED with Bach! That is what I am first and foremost — a Bach performer. His music is so intellectual, and yet so emotional! He is the greatest artist of all time. Hopefully Everipedia will get really big within a year or so and I can leave the company and return to my REAL full-time job — learning the complete keyboard works of Bach. I took lessons from age 15–17 with a lovable Persian guy named Arjang Rad, who is now a famous composer.

Last question, back to Everipedia: Given the choice of Everipedia and Wikipedia, or spending time in some other similar online knowledge-sharing pursuits (e.g., Quora, Medium, etc.), why should people check out and start writing for Everipedia today, in March 2016? Is it ready for people to get involved?
Everipedia will give you recognition. You get IQ, badges, and top users get equity in the company. This company will be worth billions of dollars someday — and it will not only belong to the founders and investors — it will belong to everyone who helps build it. We have already awarded equity to top users.


Some thoughts, 15 years after Wikipedia's launch

It's been 15 years since I announced the opening of the new Wikipedia.com site, with a little message that said:

http://www.wikipedia.com/
Humor me.  
Go there and add a little article.  
It will take all of five or ten 
minutes.
--Larry

I am still sometimes called "Wikipedia's sharpest critic," but if you actually look at the panoply of Wikipedia criticism, you'll quickly see that that's not actually true. I happen to know some critics of Wikipedia, people like Gregory Kohs and Edward Buckner. They know a lot more (and care and are more "outspoken") about Wikipedia's assorted flaws than I do. Saying Wikipedia's co-founder is a critic does make a nice headline, though, which is why, when I did a long, nuanced interview with VICE recently, the headline writer (not the interviewer) called me "Wikipedia's most outspoken critic."

Some people might come to this page to see what have I been up since leaving Wikipedia 14 years ago, so let me fill you in. I taught philosophy for a while, I worked on somebody else's failed startup for a year, then transitioned to start Citizendium, which is still kicking six years after I left. I allowed myself to be poached from my own project by a Memphis-area philanthropist who wanted me to work on what became WatchKnowLearn. While developing that I was teaching my toddler son to read, and the video of his precocious reading inspired the same philanthropist to fund ReadingBear, which digitizes the method I've used with both my sons. Reading Bear was very difficult to develop, but I'm proud of it. You'll probably see some new features on the site soon—mobile compatibility, probably.

After that I decided to try my first for-profit funded startup, Infobitt; we ran out of runway, as most startups do, but we also learned a lot about how a volunteer, collaborative news summary site might work. Since last July I've been working part-time doing various fun projects for Ballotpedia as well as ReadingBear, and I've been wooed by a few different startups. I've been developing a few different exciting ideas, just to test them and make proposals to different organizations. Whatever I do, I want my next move to be into something that has a good chance of being long-term.

One idea I'm toying with a lot lately is educational videos like these, which my boys liked quite a bit and which surprisingly get a good bit of traffic. The best part is that they're fun to make and I can make them pretty quickly. I don't have a sponsor as such for them, yet, but making a bunch of such videos does seem like a worthwhile way to spend my time. I have various other interests that I've thought about parlaying into meaningful employment: writing a curriculum about philosophy for kids; free speech, a topic I'm greatly interested in; organizing a community to defend the fundamental ideas behind enlightenment Western civilization; writing superior reviews of homeschooling resources; and joining a news startup interested in letting me develop Infobitt further.

There are two grand ambitions lurking in the background, although the jury's still out whether I will ever have time and resources to work on them. One is Textop. The other is developing a system of philosophy roughly in the vein of Thomas Reid, the great Scottish Enlightenment philosopher of common sense.

I would love to hear from anyone with advice and help to move forward on any of these fronts.


Let's try out "Golden Filter Premium" on Wikipedia, shall we?

I encountered a journalist-activist on Twitter, a writer for (among others) Al Jazeera in English, who is nevertheless a free speech activist. We discussed the recent FoxNews.com article that reported, among other things, that the Wikimedia Foundation entirely failed to respond to a "more or less free" offer of filtering software. They need such software, of course, because they are heavily used by school children, and widely available in schools, and yet they host enormous amounts of porn. Anyway, the journalist-activist and I had a charming exchange, the end of which went like this:

Journalist-activist: "Why don't you simply push for people to purchase NetSpark or similar for home use?"

Me: "...a lot of people don't have money or expertise to install such a solution."

JA: "I don't buy that - free, good filters are widely available."

Me: "If you find me a 'free, good filter' that is 'widely available,' I will install and test, and blog about the results."

JA: "http://t.co/4CHL54yc"

Me: "All righty then! This should be fun!"

First, the Egyptian-made Golden Filter Premium is quite easy to install. However, though I am a certified "power user" of computers (Jimmy Wales called me that back in 2000), I couldn't immediately find where the software resides. As soon as it installed, the installation window closed, zoop!, and when I searched "porn" in Chrome (my currently favored browser), the window magically closed. So it was working, I just couldn't figure out where to fiddle with the options. Finally I opened the Task Manager, found the original file location of the exe, read the ReadMe, and discovered that the app is shown via F9 and F10. I would have known the F9/F10 trick if I had read the installation notes, apparently, but who does that?

So once it's installed, what is the first thing I do? I follow the script I followed when I made this fun video. Results?

It doesn't filter Wikipedia.org, which is fine. You can use it to block the whole site, if you want. But of course the WMF should offer a more fine-grained filter than that.

The software instantly closes a window as soon as it sees one of the verboten words on it. You may edit the list of verboten words.

I don't think they know about "fisting" in Egypt. It isn't in the list of verboten words, so when I type it into Wikipedia, of course I get the article, complete with illustrations. (I won't supply links here. You can go ahead and search if you dare, but bear in mind that this and the following examples are highly NSFW.)

Next, I go to multimedia search on Simple English Wikipedia, as I did in the above video. Let me try my test searches: "Poseidon." Yep, there's the old "Kiss of Poseidon.jpg" which does not actually feature the Greek God.

"Cucumber"? Page 2 of the results (used to be page 1) features some female exhibitionists who are altogether too fond of this vegetable.

"Toothbrush"? Again, page 2 has someone using a toothbrush in a way not approved by the ADA (used to be the top of page 1; Wikipedians obviously were uncomfortable with the bad publicity).

So...this free version doesn't work. By the way, for what it's worth, a non-free filter, NetSpark's, not only caught these examples, it deleted them inline instead of simply blocking the whole page. I'm not saying NetSpark is the only or the best solution, just that it's the one I'm familiar with and that it seemed to work rather well.

Wikipedia could pay a modest amount of money (I'm not sure what the bottom line bill would be, if over $0, from Netspark) and obtain a solution on behalf of the school children who use their smut-ridden resource. But they refuse. Few parents will want to use "Golden Filter Premium," in any case. It's just too clunky, and it doesn't work the way it should on Wikipedia anyway.


On the moral bankruptcy of Wikipedia's anonymous administration

I announced, named, and launched Wikipedia way back in January of 2001. My originating role in the project was acknowledged by Jimmy Wales later on in 2001, when he wrote, "Larry had the idea to use wiki software..." Virtually all of the news articles about the project before 2005 identified me as one of the two founders of the project, as did the project's first three press releases, all of them approved by Jimmy, of course. I managed it as "instigator" and "chief organizer" for the project's seminal first 14 months. To give you an idea of what role I had in the project, Jimmy declared, a few weeks before I left the project, that I was "the final arbiter of all Wikipedia functionality."

Since then, I've become better known as a critic of Wikipedia. But this is mostly because I am defending myself against repeated attacks on my reputation and pointing out inconvenient truths that a more responsibly-managed organization would try to fix. Contrary to what some have said, I bear no grudges--once I have defended myself, I let matters drop. And I am not trying to damage Wikipedia. Rather, because I inflicted it on the world, I am trying to improve it because it has become one of the most influential websites in the world. I feel some responsibility for it, even though I'm long out of its administration.

I've been reading draft chapters of a fascinating book, written by some online friends of mine, about the history and conduct of Wikipedia and its administration. I knew that Wikipedia's administration is screwed up and somewhat corrupt, but these writers have opened my eyes to episodes and facts that I had not been tracking. However useful Wikipedia might be--and its usefulness is something I have always affirmed--the sad fact is that Wikipedia's administration has been nothing but one long string of scandal and mismanagement. The saga of Wikimedia UK and its chair is only the latest. Did you know that the deposed chair, Ashley van Haeften, continues to sit on the Wikimedia UK board, and continues to head up Wikimedia Chapters Association? This is despite the fact that van Haeften has been banned from editing Wikipedia, for various violations of policy such as using multiple "sockpuppet" accounts (anonymous, fake accounts), something truly egregious for a high-ranking editor. What kind of Internet organization allows its leadership to continue on in positions of authority spite of being banned (for excellent reasons, mind you) from the very institution it is promoting? Wikipedia defenders, consider what you are defending.

But again, this is only the latest in a long, long series of scandals, which included things like Jimmy Wales telling The New Yorker, of all things, that he didn't have a problem with someone lying about his credentials on Wikipedia, the hiring of a deputy director with rather dodgy views on child-adult sexual relations, and the hiring of a COO who turned out to be a convicted felon.

Let's not forget the problems associated with the many, many questionable editorial decisions made by Wikipedia administrators. Like the rank-and-file, they can be and often are completely anonymous. You read that right. The people who make editorial decisions about what is taken to be "probably pretty much right" by a lot of gullible Internet users do not even have to reveal their own identities. That's right. There are all too many Wikipedia administrators who self-righteously pride themselves on insisting that the full, ugly truth be revealed about the targets of their sometimes quite biased Wikipedia biographies; yet those very same administrators bear no personal responsibility for their actions, which can be quite consequential for people's careers and personal lives, insofar as they remain anonymous.

No other journalistic or scholarly enterprise would tolerate such unaccountability. The reason that journalists are prized in our society, the reason they are in their positions of power and influence, is that they have committed themselves to high journalistic standards and put their personal reputations on the line when they make claims that can damage their targets. Wikipedia, like it or not, enjoys a level of credibility but without personal accountability. The system has been ripe for abuse and indeed far too many Wikipedia administrators do routinely abuse the authority they have obtained. I look forward to the above-mentioned book because it will really blow the lid off this situation.

Wikipedia administrators bear a heavy moral burden to make their identities known. If you make serious decisions that affect the livelihoods and personal relationships of real people, or what students believe about various subjects, the price you pay for your authority is personal responsibility. Without personal responsibility, it is simply too easy to abuse your authority. Why should anyone trust the decisions of anonymous Wikipedia administrators? They could easily be personally biased, based on ignorance, or otherwise worthless. Worse, aggrieved parties--whether they are persons whose reputations have come under attack or scholars who are seriously concerned about the misrepresentation of knowledge in their field--have no recourse in the real world. If someone writes lies about you, there is no way you can name and shame the liar, or at least the Wikipedia admin who permits the lie. Instead, you have to play the stupid little Wikipedia game on its own turf. You can't go to the real world and say, "Look, so-and-so is abusing his authority. This has to stop." In this way, by remaining anonymous, Wikipedia's decisionmakers insulate themselves from the real-world responsibility that journalists routinely bear for their statements and publishing decisions.

If you were a Wikipedia administrator, wouldn't you feel absolutely bound to make your identity known? Wouldn't you feel cowardly, craven, to be standing in judgment over all manner of important editorial issues and yet hiding behind anonymity? I know I would. Why shouldn't we hold Wikipedia responsible for making its administrators' identities known? A Wikipedia administrator who refuses to reveal his or her identity is morally bankrupt, because unaccountable authority is morally bankrupt. Members of democratic societies are supposed to know this.

Even the so-called "bureaucrats," the people who are responsible for conferring adminship on an account, can be anonymous. In fact, from a glance at their usernames, most of them are anonymous.

It is a little strange that journalists, who are trained to understand the importance of taking responsibility for published work, have given Wikipedia a pass for this appalling state of affairs. It's one thing for Wikipedia authors to be anonymous, a situation journalists often remark on with bemusement. It is quite another for its administrators to be, a fact that journalists have hardly noticed at all.

Indeed, why is the fifth most popular website in the world, which shapes what so many people believe on all sorts of subjects, controlled by a cadre of mostly anonymous administrators? Isn't that fact, all by itself, scandalous? Why don't we as a society demand more accountability? I don't get it.

Wikipedia, wake up. We, the undersigned (let's make a petition out of this), demand that all administrators be identified by name.


The Saga of Wikimedia UK and its Chair

The following story is very instructive about the sort of people in the Wikipedia universe, and what sort of people actually run things on the sixth most popular website online.

In case you didn't know, there is an organization, Wikimedia UK, that is legally independent of the Wikimedia Foundation headquartered in San Francisco. Wikimedia UK has a separate budget of £1 million, and is currently headed up by someone who calls himself "Fae" (among many others) on Wikipedia, and whose real name is Ashley Van Haeften.

Van Haeften is a charming character. Among his many exploits, he is reputed to have posted pornographic pictures of himself in bondage gear to Wikimedia Commons, although any evidence has by now been deleted, so we now have only copies like this. While he has been a high-profile administrator on Wikipedia, he routinely lobbed personal attacks at those who dared to criticize him. And much else.

So the High Court of Wikipedia, the Arbitration Committee, declared on July 20: "For numerous violations of Wikipedia's norms and policies, Fæ is indefinitely banned from the English Language Wikipedia. He may request reconsideration of the ban six months after the enactment of this remedy, and every six months thereafter."

In other words, Van Haeften, the head of a £1 million charity devoted to the promotion of Wikipedia, has been banned from Wikipedia itself, and for violating Wikipedia's own policies!

Now that is, I'm sure you'll agree, just appalling. It speaks volumes about the Wikipedia community at present that Van Haeften attained the position he holds. But it gets even worse.

On July 26, Wikimedia UK held a closed-door meeting in which the Board declared that they are "united in the view that this decision does not affect his [Van Haeften's] role as a Trustee of the charity."

In other words, the board that manages a £1 million budget, devoted to promoting Wikipedia, supports its chair even if the chair has been banned from editing Wikipedia itself. One has to wonder: how can the Wikimedia UK Board pretend that Van Haeften can continue to be a credible chair of a well-funded Wikipedia charity if the judicial body of Wikipedia has deliberately excluded him from the website for violating Wikipedia's own policies?

It is a stunning revelation of just how huge a pass the mainstream media has given Wikipedia that this story was nowhere to be heard, outside of online forums and blogs, until this morning. Eleven days after Van Haeften, head of Britain's £1 million Wikipedia charity, was banned from Wikipedia, and five days after he was unaccountably supported by Wikimedia UK, a single story came out in the mainstream media.

This morning, the Daily Telegraph came out with a pitch-perfect and (as far as I can tell) factually accurate report:

Ashley Van Haeften is chairman of Wikimedia UK, a charity with an £1m annual budget funded by donations by Wikipedia visitors and dedicated to promoting the website among British museums and universities.

Despite his volunteer role at the head of the charity he is now banned indefinitely from contributing to Wikipedia because of “numerous violations of Wikipedia's norms and policies”.

Mr van Haeften’s punishment exposes a deep rift among Wikipedia contributors over the mass of explicit material in the online encyclopaedia, at a time when the Government is developing new controls on internet access to protect children online.

The story goes on to discuss Wikipedia's problem of unfiltered porn, readily available to the school children who use it, and includes my YouTube video about the problem, and the following quote from yours truly: "Some things are worth going to the mat over and this is one of them. It goes to the sense of seriousness of the whole project. Wikipedia can’t command respect if it regards itself as above the norms of wider society." The story was also followed up by an excellent report in CivilSociety.co.uk. (Update: And on August 1, FoxNews.com.)

I hope the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is paying attention. They will lose credibility by being associated with Wikimedia UK (WMUK). They should not allow Wikimedia UK to use Wikipedia.org for any further fundraising. Nor should WMF cooperate with WMUK in any other way. The WMF should also release a statement condemning WMUK's recent action. They should continue this non-cooperation until the WMUK Board has been replaced. If the WMF continues to act as if nothing has happened, they will become complicit in the appalling behavior of Ashley Van Haeften and his colleagues on the WMUK Board who supported him.

If Van Haeften had any decency, he would have resigned on July 20. If the WMUK Board had any sense, they would have fired him as soon as Van Haeften made his defiance clear.

By the way, if you want to get into the sordid details, some places to start are this long Wikipediocracy thread and this Wikipedia Review thread. Frankly, I haven't read much of either one.

This story's front page thumbnail is from a screen capture of this Google Images search--note, the fifth search result for the image search is taken from this article. (Update: that search is made when SafeSearch is "off." As it turns out, Google's optional filter excises Van Haeften's self-pornography.)

UPDATE (8/2/2012): Van Haeften has finally resigned.


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.


Dad & Junior find porn via a Wikipedia "Schools Gateway"

I thought I'd illustrate one of the "what could possibly go wrong?" scenarios, for people who (1) don't want to click on the nasty links and/or (2) lack imagination.

Script:

Opening shot: article about unfiltered porn on Wikipedia

Voiceover: The adult imagery is blurred in this video. Still, don’t watch it with your kids.

Man (voiceover): Wikipedia has porn? Surely not.

(switches to Wikipedia)

Man: What did he say, “fisting”? I don’t even know what that is.

(types in fisting)

Man: Oh! Boy! They have multimedia!

(clicks on magnifying glass in search box, then clicks “Multimedia”)

Man: Let’s see here… Oh my gosh. OK, yeah, well, it’s a real-life phenomenon, I guess. So that’s what fisting is. Wikipedia, you have disappointed me. How can I tell Junior to "go look it up on Wikipedia" now? But wait a second, didn't I see once something called "Simple Wikipedia"?

(types in simple.wikipedia.org)

Man: Yeah…here we go…yeah, it says here, "The Simple English Wikipedia is for everyone! That includes children." So Junior shouldn't be able see any fisting in here. Oh, look at this, they have a "Schools Gateway."

(clicks on "Schools Gateway")

Man: Yeah, see, they wouldn't have such a page if they feared the wrath of schools. I mean, they could get in serious trouble, if they invited schools in and also hosted adult content here. (sounding uncertain) Right? Well, whatever.

Man (turning away from microphone): Junior! C’mere!

Junior (could be same person doing voiceover, but preferably turned away from microphone and in a boy's voice): What?

Man: Here's a place where you can search for images for those reports you were working on!

Junior: That’s cool.

(clicks on magnifying glass icon in search box, clicks on Multimedia)

Man: it's called "Simple English Wikipedia." They say it's for children, so, you could probably bookmark this one. Didn’t you make a list of things to search for? What’s the first one?

Junior: Yeah, OK. We’re growing different plants in science, and I’m growing a cucumber plant. So I need a cucumber picture for the title page of my lab report.

Man: Huh.

(types in “cucumber”; gets results)

Man: These look OK. You could use any of those.

Junior: No, I just want one cucumber by itself.

Man: Huh, well, OK.

(scrolls down; sees the nude lady)

Man: Oh my gosh.

(quickly backs up)

Junior: You didn’t see any cucumbers by themselves?

Man: Uh…no. (to himself) Well, that was probably just a fluke. It’s Wikipedia. You can’t expect perfection. (exhales) OK, so what else have you got?

Junior: In health, my group is doing a powerpoint presentation about dental hygiene. I’m supposed to find the pictures.

Man: All right, let’s get to work. What’s the first item on the list?

Junior: “Toothbrush.”

Man: Oh…kay.

(types in “toothbrush”)

Man: (not noticing the bad pic) So, there’s some toothbrushes…

Junior: What is that? Is that somebody using a toothbrush on his arm?

Man: Whoa!

(quickly backs up)

Man: Wow. OK. Well, maybe those were just flukes. Let’s just try one more.

Junior: What was that?

Man: Never mind. No more dental hygiene pictures. Anything else?

Junior: You could search for “Poseidon.” I’m supposed to write a report about him.

Man: OK, “Poseidon.” That sounds safe.

(types it in, hits enter; picture of naked lady is blurred)

Man: There we go.

Junior: Wow! Is that a naked lady?

Man: What the?

(quickly goes back)

Man: Oh, my god.

Junior: I don’t think that was Poseidon, Dad.

Man: You know what? Go away, Junior.

Junior: Whatever! I’ll just get on Mom’s computer.

Man: Wait, wait, do not do that yet. Just go play.

Junior: Good! OK, bye!

Man: (innocent-sounding encouragement) Yeah, you go have fun. (after a short pause) I wonder…

(types in “fisting”)

Man: (disgusted) Those are the same results I saw on the main Wikipedia search. Ugh. What kind of people run this website? God…

  • (Does these things, ad lib voiceover:
    goes to main page
  • clicks on “Wikipedia:Schools”
  • clicks on “talk”
  • types in: Porn on Simple English Wikipedia
  • types in: Shouldn't you at least tell schools that you've got a lot of porn here, so they can make an informed decision? -- Concerned Dad
  • save

Jimmy Wales reiterates support for Wikipedia porn filter

Over on Twitter, I've been having the first conversation, of sorts, I've had in years with Jimmy Wales. First, I wrote (pointing to my post, "What should we do about Wikipedia's porn problem?"):

Jimbo replied:

Hmm, I thought:

Jimbo had a couple of replies to this, too:

I found it implausible that the God King could do nothing:

And that's as far as it's gone, as of this writing.

As much as I appreciate Jimmy Wales' willingness to state his views publicly, it is hard to believe him when he says he "strongly" supports a filter. He is not only on the Wikimedia Board of Trustees, he is the only member of the board that, if I'm not mistaken, has a seat made especially for him. He surely knows the situation with the filter: he surely knows that the Wikipedia community has come out against it, and that the Board he sits on has let the matter drop. So why doesn't he ask the Board to take it up again?

The trouble for Jimbo, Sue, the Board, and the grown-ups in the community generally, is that there are a lot of very loud filter opponents who will scream bloody murder if work on the filter continues, and even more if it is finished and installed. I'm sure they wish the whole thing would just go away. But that is the weak way out. That is why it is important that we not just let it go away. Jimmy Wales has boldly declared that he "strongly" supports the filter. I will believe him when he takes decisive action to help it come into being. Until then, I must conclude that he "weakly" supports it.

Some other Tweeps have shared "What should we do about Wikipedia's porn problem?" as well, including Robert Scoble (261,146 followers) and TJ Manotoc (128,146 followers), who says "this is a bit of a shocker." Several high-profile journalists (in order of response, Dan Murphy, Declan McCullagh, Andrew Lih, and Jason Walsh) have retweeted, expressed support, or told me they were reading the post.


What should we do about Wikipedia's porn problem?

I want to start a conversation.

I. Problem? What problem?

So, you didn't know that Wikipedia has a porn problem?

Let me say what I do not mean by "Wikipedia's porn problem." I do not mean simply that Wikipedia has a lot of porn. That's part of the problem, but it's not even the main problem. I'm 100% OK with porn sites. I defend the right of people to host and view porn online. I don't even especially mind that Wikipedia has porn. There could be legitimate reasons why an encyclopedia might want to have some "adult content."

No, the real problem begins when Wikipedia features some of the most disgusting sorts of porn you can imagine, while being heavily used by children. But it's even more complicated than that, as I'll explain.

(Note, the following was co-written by me and several other people. I particularly needed their help finding the links.)

Here is the short version:

Wikipedia and other websites of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) host a great deal of pornographic content, as well as other content not appropriate for children. Yet, the Wikimedia Foundation encourages children to use these resources. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and many other high-profile sites have installed optional filters to block adult content from view. I believe the WMF sites should at a minimum install an optional, opt-in filter, as the WMF Board agreed to do [*] in 2011. I understand that the WMF has recently stopped work on the filter and, after a period of community reaction, some Board members have made it clear that they do not expect this filter to be finished and installed. Wikipedians, both managers and rank-and-file, apparently do not have enough internal motivation to do the responsible thing for their broad readership.

But even that is too brief. If you really want to appreciate Wikipedia's porn problem, I'm afraid you're going to have to read the following.

Here is the longer version:

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) and its project communities have recently stopped work on an optional, opt-in filter that the Foundation's Board approved [*] in 2011. “Opt-in” means the filter would be switched on only for users who choose to turn it on. It would hide certain content behind a warning, and even then, the content would still be accessible to all users. It is accurate to call this proposed filter "weak”.  Nevertheless, after a period of community reaction, some Board members have made it clear that they do not expect this filter to be finished and installed. WMF director Sue Gardner implicitly endorsed their description of the situation at the end of this discussion [*] (at “I wish we could’ve talked about the image filter”).

Yet, Wikipedia and its image and file archive, Wikimedia Commons, host an enormous and rapidly growing amount of pornographic content. This includes (or did include, when this petition was drafted):

WARNING, THE FOLLOWING ARE EXTREMELY EXPLICIT
• articles illustrated with pornographic videos (“convent pornography” [*], “The Good Old Naughty Days” [*], “A Free Ride” [*])
• videos of male masturbation [*] and of ejaculation in two [*] formats [*]; pictures as well: ejaculation [*]
• illustrated articles about various extreme and fetishistic topics (cock and ball torture [*]hogtie bondage [*]fisting [*]autofellatio [*]pearl necklace [*]hentai [*])
• photo categories for the “sexual penetrative use of cucumbers” [*] and other vegetables, practices like scrotum inflation[*], pictures about penis torture [*]
(Note, [*] indicate links to archived versions of pages, for reference in case these pages are edited.) Some searches produce unexpected results [*]. For example, an image search for “male human” [*] in the “Simple Wikipedia” (touted as a children’s version: “The Simple English Wikipedia is for everyone! That includes children and adults who are learning English”) shows dozens upon dozens of pornographic and exhibitionist images. Almost all the most frequently viewed media files on Wikimedia servers [*] are sexually explicit files, which puts the lie to the oft-repeated claim that pornography is rarely viewed on Wikipedia.

Many parents and teachers are neither aware of the adult content on Wikipedia sites, nor that it is accessible to school-age students, nor that this content is in fact quite popular.

With so much adult content, so often accessed, you might think that Wikipedia is adults-only, and that children don’t use it. But of course, they do. We are told that today's children are "Generation Z" who get much of their information online. Even pre-teen children are heavy users of Wikipedia, which is often ranked in the top five of all websites in terms of traffic. In fact, 25% of the contributors to Wikipedia are under the age of 18, according to a 2010 survey, and about 12% of both readers and contributors said they had only a primary education.

Youth readership is something that the Wikimedia Foundation appears to condone, at the very least. For example, Jimmy Wales has addressed audiences of school children about Wikipedia, and one of their Wikipedian in Residence programs is at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis [*]. Wales expressed a common attitude about children’s use of Wikipedia in an interview in which he said that if "a 10-year-old is writing a little short paper for class, and they want to say that they got some information from Wikipedia, I think we should be just glad that the kid's writing and actually thinking about giving credit -- due credit -- to people who have helped. And I think that's wonderful." (Libertyfund.org, at the 20:19 mark; cf. this BBC story)

If it is meant to be used with children, you might wonder whether Wikipedia and its sister projects really intend for their service to include pornography. Of that, there is no doubt. Wikipedia declares officially that it is “not censored” [*] (originally, this was labeled [*] “Wikipedia is not censored for children”) and its official policy page [*] on “offensive material” also makes it clear that pornography is permitted. To learn about the attitudes of many Wikipedians in the trenches, see the “Wikipedia:Pornography” [*] page and follow the links, or just try this search.

Moreover, in case there were any doubt, the Wikipedia community actively permits children to edit such content. The issue came up last year when a user who said he was 13 years old joined a Wikipedia volunteer group, WikiProject Pornography [*]. This raised eyebrows; someone proposed to restrict editing of articles about pornography to adults. Wikipedians discussed the matter at great length, took a vote, and a solid majority rejected the proposal [*].

This might look like a liberals vs. conservatives issue, at first glance; but I believe it is nonpartisan, more of an adolescent-minded-young-men vs. grownups-with-children issue. Nobody thinks of Google as being conservative just because they have SafeSearch (which is opt-out, i.e., turned on by default).

The WMF is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization with an educational mission. The presence of enormous amounts of unfiltered adult content, the “educational” purpose of which is questionable for anyone, directly conflicts with the goal of supporting the education of children.

That is Wikipedia's porn problem.

II. Is inaction acceptable?

The official Wikipedia position on this problem appears to be: do nothing, and heap scorn upon anyone who suggests that something needs to be done. That also seems to suit many techno-libertarians, especially young males without children, who are the most enthusiastic consumers of porn, and who often dominate conversations about Internet policy.

I think inaction will prove unacceptable to most parents. At the very least there should be a reliable filter available, which parents might turn on if their younger children are using Wikipedia. I know that I would use it with my 6-year-old; then I might let him look at Wikipedia, if it were reliable. It's hard to look over your children's shoulder every moment they're online. Wikipedians often glibly advise parents to do just this: if Junior is using Wikipedia to view porn and learn all about creative sexual fetishes, it's your fault. You should be monitoring more closely. This obviously doesn't wash, when it is well within Wikipedia's power simply to add a filter that parents could turn on.

It is also unacceptable for most teachers and school district technology directors. How, really, can you defend giving kids access to a website with so much porn, when it is so obviously counter to CIPA rules, and when their parents would in many cases object (if they knew of the problem)?

What about you? If you agree, I'm going to make it easy for you to comment. I know that some Wikipedians might want to respond in a very hostile fashion--I'm no stranger to such disputes, myself--and this would put off a lot of people from commenting. But since this is my blog, happily, I can make up the rules, and so I will. I particularly encourage participation by parents, teachers, and women generally. I would especially like to hear from people who support the idea that Wikipedia tackle this problem. If you are opposed, that's fine, but I will post your contribution only if you are polite and well-reasoned. I will not post anything that is personally insulting, and I also reserve the right not to post "flame bait" and merely silly or stupid remarks (and on such matters, my judgment is final). I will also pull the plug on any opponents who attempt to dominate the conversation. We already know there will be significant opposition, namely, from some Wikipedians and some of Wikipedia's supporters. The purpose of this post is to get people talking about whether Wikipedia should be doing something about this problem.

III. What should be done?

There are a few things we might do.

First, we might blog, tweet, and post on Facebook about the problem. For better or worse, we're all connected now, and getting the word out there is simply a matter of using social media. One person's comment won't amount to much--even this one won't, probably. But a lot of people together can create a groundswell of support. So add your voice.

Second, we might contact leading Wikipedians, including Sue Gardner and other members of the WMF Board of Trustees. And don't forget the many leading members of the Wikipedia project itself, such as the "checkusers" and the active administrators. If these people hear from readers not in the community, it can really make a difference. If enough of us write, Wikipedians might finally get the idea that there are a lot of readers out there who want a voice in determining what options are available to users.

A few months ago, I repeatedly (just to be sure) mailed Wikimedia chief Sue Gardner about Wikipedia's porn problem. In 2010, she and I had a very productive and polite exchange, by both email and phone, about these issues. But recently, she has not responded. That was disappointing, but I believe I understand. My guess--it is only a guess, and I will correct this if I learn differently--is that Sue has been beaten down by her dysfunctional community. She has given up. I think she wants a filter installed, but it is politically impossible, and she fears for her job if she takes a hard-line stand. That's my guess. If I am right, then external pressure will wake up the Wikipedia community and make it easier for her to insist that the community do the right thing.

Third, talk to the press. If you know reporters, or people who have lots of followers online, ask them to report about this story. It's a big story. Why isn't it big news that Wikipedia has given up its 2011 commitment to install a porn filter? Surely it is. It's time to ask the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as the leading Wikipedians, some hard questions. (And reporters, do be sure to ask questions of leading Wikipedians; I say that because the WMF does not control Wikipedia or Commons. If they did, they would be legally liable for a lot more than they are now. The people really making the decision, arguably, are the adolescent-minded Wikipedia admins who see nothing wrong with the current situation--not necessarily WMF employees.)

The fourth option is the "nuclear" option: we might boycott Wikipedia. Now, I'm not calling for a boycott--yet. If anything, I'd like to kick off a public discussion about whether we should boycott Wikipedia. I have been talking about this with some online acquaintances, and I am honestly torn. I don't want this to be a mere publicity stunt: I want to call for a boycott only if it could possibly have a positive effect. I also don't want to call for a boycott if I don't know that there will be a significant groundswell of popular support. And I don't want this to be about me. I want it to be all about making Wikipedia more responsibly managed and more useful for children--kids are some of its most important users, even if Wikipedians loudly insist that it is not "censored for children."

But if Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation do not take decisive action between now and end-of-year fundraising time, I might very well call for a boycott. For now, let's get the word out, start a conversation, and see if we can make a difference without taking such drastic action.

Please feel free to repost this online.

UPDATE: in a response to me, Jimmy Wales has reiterated his support for a Wikipedia porn filter. But this wouldn't be the first time Jimbo has supported a Wikipedia proposal that never saw the light of day. Let's make him put his money where his mouth is.

UPDATE 2: I made a video vignette, "Does Wikipedia have a porn problem? Dad investigates."


Wikipedia's porn filter DOA, and a proposal

Warning: this post has links to pages that are definitely not safe for work or school. I'll warn you which ones those are with "NSFW."

The post has two parts. The first is about the availability of porn on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, which for most people reading this is probably old news; but they've reached some new lows, such as actual pornographic films. The second part contains what I think is real news: that the much-debated porn filter they were developing is no longer in development and looks likely to be dropped.

I

There are, as many people reading this know very well, stupendous amounts of explicit imagery on Commons as well as Wikipedia itself; simply search for any fetish, porn industry term, or body part, and you'll be likely to find it illustrated literally ad nauseam. Users, whether they like it or not, can be exposed to all sorts of inappropriate, explicit content when doing perfectly innocuous searches. This degree of smut is obviously inappropriate for an Internet resource touted as "educational" and promoted for classroom use.

Almost two years ago, I reported the Wikimedia Foundation to the FBI (as I was required to by law) on grounds that Wikimedia Commons was hosting two image categories, labeled "Pedophilia" and "Lolicon," which featured depictions of child sexual abuse. I tracked the fallout in two posts. Recently, FoxNews.com followed up their coverage, reporting that little had been done since then. The Fox News reporter did a good job, I think. But some more developments have come to light.

The pervy categories are still there, and include whole hierarchies of categories under the titles "Erotic images of children" (NSFW) and "Child sexuality" (NSFW). The garbage by Martin van Maele, who drew many illustrations of children being sexually abused in the early 20th century, is still there, aggressively and proudly defended by the powers-that-be on Wikimedia Commons as "historical" and "educational." To give you an idea of the attitude of the pedophilia sympathizers on Commons, who clearly feel themselves to be put-upon and wronged, consider that there is a so-called "Hate for pedophiles" category which has existed, unmolested, since May 2010 (which, come to think of it, is the month when my FBI report made news). Consider also (as was recently pointed out to me) that the activists-for-free-porn on Commons have been awarding each other the new, outrageously gross, "Hot Sex Barnstar" (NSFW!) for their efforts. There are clearly some (to me) extremely unsavory characters involved who have made it their mission to make Commons, and Wikipedia as well, as free as possible to host the most explicit sorts of imagery on this tax-exempt, non-profit 501(c)(3) website.

Recently I received an email from someone who follows this issue. He called a few things to my attention. One item: a convicted child pornographer has apparently been prominently involved in curating adult pornography. It seems he is one of those who loves to use Commons to post pervy naked pictures of himself--discussion here. He is probably not the only one. Another item: Commons is now hosting an antique video (really, really NSFW) which I am told (I didn't watch the whole thing) shows a dog fellating a woman (in a nun's habit) and a man.

The Wikipedia community's more prurient tendencies are, so far from being reined in and moderated, exercised more boldly than ever.

II

My correspondent also directed me to this extremely interesting discussion on the Wikimedia Foundation mailing list (Foundation-L). Read both pages--here is page 2. As I write this, discussion is ongoing.

This discussion has revealed two pieces of news so far.

First, the powers-that-be at the WMF have directed their programmers to stop working on their opt-in "controversial content" (including porn) filter. They have higher priorities, we are told.

This needs some background. The very least that Wikipedia could do, on this issue, is to let people turn on a filter so that they (or the children using their computers) would not be shown porn and other grossly inappropriate content. In fact, my understanding is that the porn would merely be "collapsed," meaning that the user could still easily display it by "uncollapsing" the image. This, as sane people can agree, sounds both welcome and completely uncontroversial. This is what the WMF's consultant recommended in 2010, and it was widely assumed, after a referendum indicated general support (if lukewarm), that it would be implemented soonish. After all, the tool would simply let people turn on a personal filter. (It wouldn't be turned on automatically--users would have turn it on in user settings.) And the filter would only hide "controversial" images, not completely block them. But, no. There's no compromise on porn in Wikipedia-land, despite this being an "educational" project constitutionally committed to consensus and compromise. They want their commitment to free speech so loudly proclaimed that two full-color vulvas greet you at the top of the page (with a variety of others further down), should you have the temerity to look up the subject on Wikipedia. There has been such a groundswell of loud opposition to the opt-in filter idea that the project was never implemented.

This leads me to the second piece of news. It appears that two Wikimedia Foundation Board members, Kat Walsh and Phoebe Ayers, have both changed their positions. The Board was sharply divided on the need of this filter (which is just as amazing and silly as it sounds) last fall, but things have become even sillier since then. There is more community opposition, and so Ms. Walsh and Ms. Ayers no longer support it. They strongly imply that the earlier decision to build a filter is now a dead letter.

This says something very disappointing and even disturbing about the Wikimedia Foundation as an institution. It certainly looks as though they are in the thrall of anarchist porn addicts whose scorn for the interests of children--the group of users that stands to gain the most from a high-quality free encyclopedia--is constrained only by the limits of the law, and maybe not even that.

Eighteen months ago, after speaking at length to both WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner and the consultant she hired, Robert Harris, I had the distinct impression that the WMF might be capable of prevailing on Wikipedia and Commons to the extent of, at least, installing a completely innocuous opt-in filter system. So color me disillusioned.

I don't wish any grief or embarrassment upon Wikipedia's more sensible managers, like those I've mentioned--Gardner, Ayers, and Walsh. They are clearly right that politically they're in a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" situation. But given the choice, I'd rather be damned for doing the bare minimum needed to meet the needs of children, or at least trying to do that, than be more richly damnable for not doing anything. I'd suck it up and remind myself that there are quite a few more important things than power and status. Since such a complete no-brainer as an opt-in filter is currently politically impossible, Gardner and other sane adults among the Wikimedia managers face a dilemma: maintain some degree of power in the organization, but implicitly supporting what is only too clearly a deeply dysfunctional and irresponsible organization; or resign. If I were Gardner, or a member of the Board, I would seriously consider resigning and making a clear and pointed public statement.

Ultimately, the WMF, which has legal responsibility for the project--and which is supposed to be the grown-up, after all--has shown in its inability to act on this issue that it cannot avoid a truly spectacular scandal or a really serious lawsuit. The potential trouble isn't that the government might shut Wikipedia down, or slap it with judgments it can't repay. Rather, the biggest potential trouble is a mass exodus of profoundly disillusioned contributors, which is surely the Achilles' heel of a project with tens of millions of articles and files to manage.

If she really wanted to take serious leadership on this issue, what Gardner might do is spearhead a brand new project to use some of the many millions they've amassed and start a serious Wikipedia for young people, one that K-12 teachers can be proud to use with their students. It could be a curated version of Wikipedia. It would not only have obvious controls regarding age-appropriate content, it would also have reviewed versions of articles, Citizendium-style. They could brag that they have finally adopted "flagged revisions," which the media has been repeatedly led to believe is "right around the corner."

I do not think the WMF needs to ask the Wikipedia rank-and-file to vote on this. Or, if they ask those people, they should also ask their contributors to vote on it, as well. The WMF has to ask itself: who are we serving, the Wikipedia rank-and-file, which is dominated by anarchist porn addicts, or readers? Are they sensible enough to answer this question correctly?

As an added bonus, if a WMF-supported responsible version of Wikipedia existed and were growing healthily, then I would shut up about the X-rated version of Wikipedia. Maybe.