SAN FRANCISCO—Fox News sure has its undies in a bunch over the Wikipedia porn story; the question is, why? As the controversy surrounding sexual images on Wikipedia Commons has ratcheted up, the role Fox News is playing in the hullabaloo could threaten the company’s reputation as a “fair and balanced” news organization. [sarcasm intended]
Not content to simply report on the story, Fox last week inexplicably took it upon itself to advance it in dramatic fashion by contacting dozens of Wikimedia Foundation supporters to let them know that the non-profit was maintaining “vast pornographic content on the company's educational servers,” and asking them for comment.
Pressure from the news organization became so intense that some comments on the Wikimedia website accused Wikimedia president Jimmy Wales of buckling under pressure from Fox when he decided last week to begin purging all of the company’s websites of so-called pornographic images.
Ironically, the backlash to the purge has already begun to take its own toll. BBC.com reported Monday that Wales has “has given up some of his site privileges following protests by contributors angered that he deleted images without consultation.”
Citing criticism from volunteers who help to maintain the site, “some of whom argued that the decision to delete was undemocratic and taken too quickly,” the BBC reported that “on Sunday, in response, Jimmy Wales voluntarily revoked many of the ‘permissions’ given to him as Wikipedia's founder, to delete and edit ‘protected’ content on Wikimedia Commons.”
In a message delivered to the Wikimedia Foundation mailing list, Wales said he took the action to keep the discussion focused on the issue at hand and not on “how quickly I acted.”
But Wales is far from the only Wikipedia founder to have shot first and asked questions later. The entire episode was instigated by estranged co-founder Larry Sanger, who last month expressed his concern that Wikimedia sites were rife with images of child sexual abuse. Fox was involved with that breaking news also when it published an April 27 interview with Sanger in which he expressed his concern that two Wikimedia categories in particular—“pedophilia” and “lolicon”—harbored child pornography, and that he had sent a letter to the FBI outlining his concerns.
Wikipedia/child porn/FBI headlines went viral almost immediately after the Sanger revelation, leading quickly to the subsequent Fox News email to major corporate entities supporting the Wikimedia Foundation, which in turn inspired Wales’ abrupt call for the so-called porn purge and its aftermath, which continues unabated.
Monday, Fox was at it again, posting an article with the headline, “Despite Content Purge, Pornographic Images Remain on Wikimedia.” In it, writer Jana Winter writes that despite the purge of “thousands” of images of porn, “countless graphic images remain on the sites, including those of a 16-year-old boy's genitals, according to the file description, and an early 20th century color illustration of a young girl performing oral sex on an older man.” Also still on the site, she wrote, are “the original illustrations of children engaged in sexual acts that Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger reported in his April letter to the FBI early last month.”
Farther down in the article, however, Winter explains that Wales specifically referenced the above illustrations in a May 6 online discussion with Wiki users, but that within four hours of the discussion, “Wales appeared to reverse his position on whether images in this category should be deleted. First, he wrote ‘I didn’t look at all of them but most of them don’t even contain nudity. And they are historical drawings, which does strike me as a legitimate factor to consider.’
“Less than four hours later, Wales said of the same images, ‘I see little or not educational value in any of those.’”
Obviously, Wales’ vacillation and subsequent voluntary suspension of his delete privileges points to the larger problem with the images in question—namely, the fact that most are circa 1905 illustrations that are difficult to label child pornography.
Even Fox admits, “The images aren't photos; they're drawings,” but then goes on to say that some experts say it doesn’t matter legally.
“Clearly some of the currently available drawings are obscene, and individuals have been prosecuted for downloading and possessing similar material,” Fox quoted James Marsh, an attorney who represents victims of child sexual exploitation, as saying.
But Eric Goldman, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute, offered a contrary legal opinion, “It’s almost impossible for non-visual material to be considered obscene.”
Not content to single out the illustrations, however, Fox News also points out another Wikimedia Commons category titled “Nude Children,” as an example of “porn” still available on the site. But a perusal of that page reveals not one image that could even remotely be construed as being prurient or an example of child sexual abuse.
Indeed, if the photographs, pictographs and illustrations found on that page are deemed by anyone at Fox News to be examples of illegal child pornography, then one can only hope that those individuals do not have children of their own, because anyone who thinks of mere nudity as a crime is already guilty of possessing an obscenity-oriented brain.
[Ed. Note: As the father of a 6-year-old boy, the writer of this article is actually quite alarmed by the actions of Fox News in this matter, especially by its proclivity to intertwine the term “pornography” with “child pornography” and now “nudity.” It is precisely this sort of inarticulate usage of terms that also have legal connotations and implications that leads to witch hunts that invariably target innocent people. McMartin, anyone?]