Donnerstag, 29. September 2011

Sorry, Sue Gardner, but the image filter question exactly asks, who is in charge.

Sue Gardner wrote an interesting blog post On editorial judgment, and empathy, which deals with the image filter, and the German community. She starts with a lengthy discussion of the German front-page Vulva picture in 2010. She explains the difference between censorship and editorial judgement, and why this is often so confused in the discussion. Finally she hopes for a less aggressive discussion on this matter - we all agree that we don't want censorship, but do not agree how to deal with questionable matter.

Sexualization versus Naturism:

First, I will start with the now-infamous Vulva picture. A picture I don't like too much, because I think it was too aggressive. But which also gets way too much fire, and which I think has suffered under a misunderstanding. According to Sue "the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees began to discuss how the Wikimedia community was handling controversial imagery. Why? [...] because the German community had put up a close-up photo of a vagina on its homepage." Neither I (nor many Wikipedians) think, that this image is overtly sexual. If you ask me, it is so aggressive, that it is actually anti-sexual and de-rousing.

And in this the image has more in common with German Freikörperkultur than with sexualizing content. As anybody can verify who has actually visited some nudist camp, naturism is about the most asexual activity in this world. Wikipedia says about naturism: "It is generally agreed among naturists that erotism and blatant sexuality have no place in naturism and are, in fact, antithetical to its ideals." Or, to cite the same article: Richard Ungewitter (Nacktheit, 1906, Nackt, 1908, etc.) proposed that combining physical fitness, sunlight, and fresh air bathing, and then adding the nudist philosophy, contributed to mental and psychological fitness, good health, and an improved moral-life view.

As far as I know my fellow Wikipedians, the Vulva-picture was chosen to improve the moral-life of its readers. It was chosen to represent the world "as it is". There is a straight-forward moral reasoning behind it: When we write an article about ovis aries, we show a sheep. When we write an article about legs, we show a leg. And when we write an article about vulvas, we show a vulva. The world is full of sheep, legs and vulvas, so we are morally obliged to show them. It is not the picture, that is sexualizing, but the unenlightened moral of the reader. We do have the moral duty to enlighten this person. It is a bit of brute-force-enlightenment, I admit. But it is straight-forward, coherent, and certainly moral-based.

This of course is a world-view especially strong held by Wikipedians. But in case of the Germans is not so far away from their readers. Almost all of the German speakers (and potential readers) live in a handful of Central European countries with a similar history, culture, and ethical standards. Almost all of writers and readers visited state schools with a thorough curriculum in sexual education (which btw. leads to one of the lowest birth rates in the world..). A very few will have gone through a similar curriculum in private school. A handful of Christian parents try to remove their children from school altogether to avoid this sex education - but they can't, there is a law against it. It is a law that is appreciated and praised by the mainstream German society. Every German above the age of 12 will have seen a picture similar to the Vulva one in a textbook in school.

A lamb is a lamb is a lamb.

The Vulva-discussion is pretty much the only community-wide discussion about moral topics I remember. Most other front page discussions run along the lines "too many military articles on the front page?" and "too many catholic bishops on the front pages?", where a small number dedicated users know how to play the rules, and push their topics in a rule-conforming way. In de.wp there is no big difference between writers and readers. The difference becomes even less when considering the basic moral outview on the world.

As already extensively said by Jan Eissfeldt, German Wikipedia moral standards are effortless in line with the moral standards of the German (Austrian, Swiss..) society. They may differ a lot from those standards prevailing in other countries. But a reader from, say India or Pakistan, won't hesitate to use the German Wikipedia out of moral qualms, but because he does not speak the language anyway.

Who am I writing for:

But right now I am only talking about Germany. What about the other readers? Sue writes: In newsrooms, editors don’t vote on whether they personally are offended by material they know their readers will find objectionable... The job is to provide useful information to as many people as possible.. Yeah, but it's not a job, and I am not getting paid. Newspaper editors have some strong incentives to reach as much people as possible. One is obvious, those people pay for them. The other, to assume good faith, is, because the editors want to make a difference in the world.

Lambs under a heating lamp
Is a lamb.

But most Wikipedians are not getting paid. They don't want to make a difference, but to make an encyclopedia. Many authors and Wikipedians are of course happy, when their texts are read, or when knowledge is distributed in the world - but text is first, distribution second. The five pillars mention readers not once. As great as readers are - Wikipedia is designed around writing an encyclopedia, not around distribution. Otherwise we would actually need much more sexualized content on the front page to reach people, simpler articles, less strange subjects we write about, and a much stronger presence of popstars on the front page. My - and I guess I am not alone - vision is to create the best encyclopedia in the world. And I am happy, if anybody reads it. But I am also perfectly satisfied, if nobody but 10 fellow Wikipedians read it. Actually, this was the case at the time I joined Wikipedia. Writing Wikipedia, while nobody read it, was quite cool.

A matter of control:

So how do we reach this best possible encyclopedia? I actually do agree with Sue, that the subject is not clear cut between free-speech-libertarians and adherents of censorship.

So, it is only partly a matter of censorship. But it is a lot of the matter, who has final control about the content of the article shown. Right now, control is exerted through the community. With a working image filter it will be exerted by the reader. Or, maybe, by some middle-man institution (school, library, governmental..) which may have an agenda different both from the community and from the reader.

For Germans it is not about repairing a system "we aren’t handling [...] well". It is about replacing a working system with another system of dubious merits. The system right now works. It is based on strong moral convictions close to the five pillars. Will the new control system be the same?

Playing Lambs 01
No playing around in de.wp

As long as I spend a lot of time, intellectual rigor, effort and work doing research, and writing articles, I want community control about them. As these contents are under a free license, I cannot complain if religious, governmental or other institutions want to change them. But as someone devoted to the best encyclopedia that ever was, I think it is strange, when my own organisation makes efforts to give the final control of this encyclopedia to people with much less enlightened and much less pure goals.

So are we trying to write the best encyclopedia or the encyclopedia which can reach the most people in a good way? And who controls its final face: a bunch of educated men with too much time on their hands? Or some institution far away which cares much more for morals than for encyclopedias?

Of course, the brute-force-enlightenment a la German Wikipedia is a one-sided worldview. But it's the same worldview that produces rigorous editorial standards and a large trustworthy encyclopedia. I am not sure how one can have one without the other.

20 Kommentare:

David Gerard hat gesagt…

What do you think the de:wp community will do if the filter is imposed?

What do you think the de:wp community will do if the filter is imposed on en:wp but not on de:wp?

Torsten hat gesagt…

Die Haltung der WMF dazu ist (ich übertreibe jetzt maßlos):

Ja, das war die erste Generation der Wikipedianer. Wenn wir unserer Mission Wissen nach Afrika und Indien zu bringen näher kommen wollen, müssen wir zur Not auf diese Leute verzichten.

Torsten hat gesagt…

David Gerard: Some Wikipedians will quit.

Some will sabotage the categorisation process for years.

Nobody will use the filter.

dirk franke hat gesagt…


(1) the community won't accept it. I can't predict how far resistance will go, but some people will leave, some will sabotage and almost all of them won't cooperate with the foundation for a long time.

(2) In the long run: probably decide that Americans are strange people with strange convictions anyway, and we can safely ignore them again.

(3) Really not sure about commons. On the one hand, it's filter on a project used by Germans. On the other: those mobile-phone penis pictures would be deleted on de.wp in minutes.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Habe dazu jetzt einfach auch mal was geschrieben:

Anonym hat gesagt…

Dirk, Danke für diesen Beitrag.

Marcus Cyron hat gesagt…

Danke euch Beiden - zumal ihr netter seid als ich es wäre. Ich kann nur an Rücktrittsforderungen für Frau Gardner denken.

Cimon Avaro hat gesagt…

Sorry. Just really sorry. I got really horny looking at all those sheep.

H-stt hat gesagt…

David, I'm totally convinced that the de-community will not enforce any such filter resolution. And you know what happens without enforcement.

But the discussion is missing one important theater: Commons. The filter concept depend on categorizing images into nudity3 or islam1 - there will inevitably honest debates and huge amounts of POV-warring over playing those categories on commons. But commons does not have a community that is able to deal with these issues.

The single point of failure of the filter concept is not in the Wikipedias but on Commons.

Matthias hat gesagt…

Actually the filter is intended to work with Commons' categories. People will have to categorize those pictures. So far on Commons there never was a big deal with edit warring and POV. Implementing that you'll see edit warring on Commons on many, many images.

And, David, you certainly will see bots decategorizing the images from those filter categories. Okay, let's block them. Well, take another IP, start again. Image filter censors never will keep up with those de-categorizing. Filter censors very soon will lose interest in doing that sisyphos work because of there's actually no counter measure, except from blocking the files entirely.

What next? Reuploading them with another filename, with other categories. Rename the file in the specific Wikipedias and the filter is circumvented. Commons and Wikipedia are open systems. The filter system will never work as wished. It's only a waste, such a big wast of time, of ressource and of money people are funding. See, I saw a school girl sending some 4 € or so during the last fund raiser, commenting she could not effort to send more but she did do at least that because she wanted to thank Wikipedia for helping her to manage her classes. I think spending of only one buck in devellopping an image filter is a slap in the face of that school girl. It's a slap into the face of people sending money because they want to support the thought of a free encyclopedia. (Indeed, I hope people will react to the image filter by not spending any money to the foundation and I hope the coming fundraiser will be much worse than the last.)

Inventing an image filter is a betrayal of the thought of free information for all. And every supporter of the image filter within the WMF board is snitching what Wikipedia was standing for within its first decade.

It's obviously that Sue Gardner isn't aware what's Wikipedia's role in our world. She's definitely the wrong person on the post. She did damage to the project. The trust into the foundation is gone. Sue Gardner should quit immidiately, actually yesterday it was already too late.

AndreasPraefcke hat gesagt…

This may be the last blow we need to finally quit the international Commons project and invent or own fork. At some point, this would have been necessary anyway: as soon as Wikimedia decides to enforce the silly URAA copyright legislature.

We need a project that automatically imports all uploads to the international Commons with an include/exclude option for "European Commons" (or even better, single country Commons projcets) for trusted users, maybe automatically including those that are non-controversial.

Uploads to the new Commons fork should also be uploaded more or less automatically Old Censored Commons.

In so many years with millions to spend, Wikimedia hasn't even managed to make Commons categories multilingual. Why should we think that those people are even interested in any non-US point of view? Wikimedia Foundation is ruled by people who have lost touch to the community (or never had any).

Russ Nelson hat gesagt…

The problem, simply enough, is that the photo is tasteless. Sex has nothing to do with people's objections to it. Do you want to see a picture of a gaping wound, or the road rash that I got three weeks ago? Maybe you do, but ONLY in context. Certainly NOT on the front page!

"Would you show your mother this picture at the breakfast table?" If you hesitate before answering, then that photo should not be promoted out of context (and the front page of de.wp.o is definitely out of context).

H-stt hat gesagt…


Is this out of context?

Russ Nelson hat gesagt…

Kinda not out of context given that we're discussing it, but I notice that you didn't link to it inline.

Cirdan hat gesagt…

"Would you show your mother this picture at the breakfast table?"

Umm, yes! Why not? Seriously, it's neither gross nor shocking in any way.

Liesel hat gesagt…

Kellerkind hat gesagt…

Sie wurden in einem französischen Meinungsbild erwähnt ;-)

dirk franke hat gesagt…

@Kellerkind: danke für den Hinweis.

@Cimon Avaro. Hey, wow, the great Cimon hilmself! The one I voted in any Board-election I could. Wow!

@Russ Nelson: Don't you think it is a but unfortunate to equate a Vulva (a body part half of humanity has) with a "gaping wound" - something pathological, no one wants to have. A Vulva is no sign of sickness, and - differently from a gaping wound - a Vulva is something inherently good.

So there is the other question. You put taste against reason. But what is more culturally determined, what less to decide on an abstract basis than - good and bad - taste? To editorially judge taste (and not content) is always probelmatic, and in my opinion, cross-cultural, it is almost impossible.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Do you think anyone will be champion of Euro 2012?

dirk franke hat gesagt…

I am sure there will be some candidates, who try to be. I wonder if the Europeans can coordinate themselves to push one of those. I sure hope so.

Maybe we should start already to form a loose network with this goal.