Last month, Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia, founder of competing crowd-sourced encyclopedia Citizendium) reported to the FBI that Wikipedia was hosting images that could be considered child pornography. (Later, Wiki admins noted that they had checked with their legal department and been informed the images did not violate federal law, nor had they heard from the FBI in response to Sanger’s complaint.)
A couple of weeks ago, Fox News picked up the story and began asking corporate donors to the Wikimedia Foundation “if they were aware of the extent of graphic and sexually explicit content on the sites.”
Subsequently, Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales began unilaterally purging possibly-questionable content from the site—including “19th century artworks, diagrams and sketches meant to explain sexual acts, and so on”—and all hell broke loose.
To try to defuse the controversy, Wales voluntarily surrendered most of his editing privileges over Wikipedia. Still, this raises important questions as to what level of ownership and responsibility administrators should have over user-curated media, and to what extent local community standards should be observed.
Community standards are different enough all over the world that practically any given content will be offensive somewhere. Some places, such as China and Australia, are erecting firewalls to try to block “offensive” content out. Others, such as Italy or France, have been known to prosecute or sue foreign companies hosting content they find offensive. Is Wikipedia between a rock and a hard place?