Home Wales Puts Founder Pen Away at Wikipedia, For Now

Wales Puts Founder Pen Away at Wikipedia, For Now

Jimmy Wales has withdrawn from actively editing, as a “founder,” (ie, under a “Founder’s flag“) Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia he helped to create, and its allied and subsidiary websites. (Wales remains the Founder-Member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees and has all the same editorial rights as any other of the organization’s volunteer editors. )

Last week, Fox News started asking representatives at companies that have donated to the group’s Wikimedia Foundation for comment on their discovery that Wikimedia Commons had a large collection of photographs that could be described as pornography, even as child pornography. On hearing this, Wales apparently began unilaterally to delete images from the group’s servers. This set off a great argument among the encyclopedia’s editors.

According to an editor and volunteer at the organization, Wales was not forced out but withdrew as a peace offering to editors who were irked with his decision.

Wales said as much in this discussion thread.

“In the interest of encouraging this discussion to be about real philosophical/content issues, rather than be about me and how quickly I acted, I’ve just now removed virtually all permissions to actually do things from the “Founder” flag. I even removed my ability to edit semi-protected pages! (I’ve kept permissions related to ‘viewing’ things.)

I do not want to be a tyrant or dictator. I do not want us to fight about that kind of thing, as it’s really a distraction from our work.”

The widely quoted Fox story was inspired by Larry Sanger, a co-founder currently on the outs with the organization, who reported the hosting of child porn by the organization to the FBI.

Wikimedia Commons, the “free media repository” associated with the encyclopedia, pursues a policy of no censorship and of educational emphasis. The presence of sex and drug-related content has been a thread of debate among editors seeking to hew to these policy points. This “kerfuffle” is just the latest and one of the more dramatic expression of this.

Mr. Sanger responded to our inquiries by email.

“While I did use the term ‘child pornography,’ I was clear in my report to the FBI that what I was reporting were explicit drawings of child sexual abuse–the relevant statute was 18 USC 1466A, I said. I stand by this. I think a lot of people who have dismissed my concerns as being about ‘mere drawings’ that were ‘historic’ have not actually clicked on the thumbnails and looked at the pictures–they truly are disturbing, at least to me. I do think that the statute was designed to be applied to this sort of material. But, of course, that is for the FBI and the courts to decide….

“A lot of people have dismissed my motives as insincere and self-interested. As I explain in the first of the above links, I do not think that this controversy has much chance of helping Citizendium or WatchKnow, or me. It has, as I expected, made me unpopular with a lot of Internet geeks. That can’t be helped, I guess.”

He refered us to his response on Slashdot regarding his motivations for calling the FBI.

“I have no interest in trying to get Wikimedia shut down; that would be unnecessary, and I doubt it would happen as a result of the violation of the statute. But I think and hope it may cause pressure on Wikimedia from law enforcement, politicians, and the general public to eliminate this sort of content. I also hope that Wikimedia will be persuaded, or if necessary forced, to label its “adult” content as such in a consistent and reliable way, so that it can be easily filtered by school system filters.”

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