Friday, May 14, 2010


Oh gosh! There's porn in Wikimedia Commons!

By now, everyone who cares about the functioning of the Wikimedia projects has heard about Larry Sanger's allegations that he found child pornography -- which is illegal in every country on Earth which aspires to some degree of respectability -- on Wikimedia Commons. And everyone who has investigated has discovered that the materials concerned -- some 27 images -- aren't actual examples of child pornography, but items associated with this shadowy sub-culture: pictures of a number of protests, some logos of pedophile groups, two images of child prostitutes, and some examples of 19th-century illustrations which could be considered child pornography in certain places.

Sheesh, not even one image of the Coppertone girl? She was that toddler in pig-tails with the swimming bottoms pulled down by a frisky puppy. Ignoring copyright concerns, now that could be considered kiddy porn. After all, allegedly it was a favorite decoration of prison cells in the 1960s. (And then there is that scandalous episode of "The Monkees", where one character carries a topless little girl along the beach! And it was broadcast on network television. Disgusting!)

The sad development in all of this is that after a certain conservative misinformation organization masquerading as a news channel ran with this non-story, Jimmy Wales panicked and decided to delete a bunch of images he thought were pornographic. (Story here.) Which only led to Wales relinquishing some of his administrative rights to appease a justly offended community.

Now allegedly there are a lot of images of a sexual nature in Commons which lack any educational or informative use. These include out-of-focus photos of genitalia, and avatars from Second Life doing things most people have only experienced by watching exotic porno videos. Or certain websites which come and go without much notice. Further, it's reasonably accurate to say that most people who volunteer with one of the Wikimedia projects -- or even at Commons itself -- believe most of these should be deleted. But let's put this into perspective.

Now in quality control, reaching a 99% success rate is pretty good. Especially if this is done by a bunch of unpaid volunteers who take time from their families, friends and employers to do the work. Reaching a 99.99% success rate is even better. Yet at either rate, there will be some materials which slip through which are undesirable, if not repugnant and illegal like child pornography. So had it actually been true that all 27 images had been undeniable examples of children under the age of 16 being coerced into sexual acts, as disturbing as the results was, the folks running Commons were still doing a fantastic job at monitoring content.

Had that been the case, Jimmy Wales should have written by hand a thank-you letter to each Administrator at Commons for the fine work they had done, not arbitrarily delete images he did not want there. (And no telling how many volunteers at Commons were offended by the act of a "hands-off" manager, and decided to find another use for their time.)

But since we all can agree that 27 images would be 27 too many, what should be done to improve things there? Besides looking for images that most of us really don't want to see and nominating them for deletion?

This blog post is already too long, so I'll have to defer my answer to this question to another post. But the solutions I would propose really aren't that hard to do, and I suspect that some of them have already been implemented on Commons.


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