Explicit sexual content draws fire
A story from conservative news website WorldNetDaily has sparked media scrutiny of Wikipedia's sexually explicit content—and reportedly attracted FBI attention as well. Most of the images and media remain available, including the most controversial image, the cover of the album Virgin Killer.
WorldNetDaily published "Is Wikipedia wicked porn? - Online encyclopedia proudly posts graphic sexual images kids can see", by Chelsea Schilling, on May 6. Schilling's piece gives a brief account of the range of sex coverage on Wikipedia and some of the associated images and media, such as the photographs illustrating the articles "fluffing", "striptease" and "masturbation".
The WorldNetDaily article also quotes Matt Barber, a lawyer and "Policy Director for Cultural Issues" of the anti-pornography group Concerned Women for America, expressing outrage that Wikipedia allows children "to bypass [school and home] filtering devices and view hard-core, vile pornography." Barber was reportedly preparing to contact the United States Department of Justice and the office of the United States Attorneys, "to determine whether Wikipedia may be engaging in the dissemination of illegal obscenity."
The reaction among Wikipedians has largely been to resist any effort to self-censor Wikipedia. However, three audio files alluded to in the article—recordings described by their uploader as "a Woman experiencing an orgasm"—were deleted due to lack of proper permissions from all recorded parties. Editors are also discussing whether fluffing should be a disambiguation page.
Virgin Killer album cover
The image mentioned by Schilling that has generated the most media—and Wikipedian—attention is the original cover of Virgin Killer, a 1976 album by the German heavy metal band Scorpions. The cover, which features a naked, provocatively-posed pre-pubescent girl with bare breasts and obscured genitals, generated controversy in the United States and elsewhere; the album was subsequently released with a different cover. Schilling's article, and many Internet sites, claim the original cover was banned in the United States, although the contributors to Wikipedia's newly-expanded article on the topic have not been able to confirm such a ban.
Schilling reported on May 7 that "the FBI is now reviewing a Wikipedia photo of a nude adolescent that could violate federal child-pornography laws." Representatives from the Wikimedia Foundation and the English Wikipedia community reiterated to Schilling the relevant content policies and community practices: Wikipedia is not censored, and barring a legal imperative the decision to display or remove the offensive image rests with Wikipedia's users.
The media coverage prompted a deletion discussion for the offending image, Image:Virgin Killer.jpg (which had undergone a previous deletion discussion in November 2007). The large majority of participants in the discussion favored keeping the image, which most judged to be neither pornographic nor illegal under U.S. laws. In spite of this near-consensus, the result of the debate was deletion; the administrator closing the discussion argued that use of the image did not satisfy Wikipedia's non-free content criteria—in particular the requirement that "Non-free content is used only if its presence would significantly increase readers' understanding of the topic, and its omission would be detrimental to that understanding." The deleted image was quickly restored by another administrator, while a deletion review formalized the consensus to overturn the deletion.
The Gazette of Colorado Springs ran an opinion column on May 10 arguing that, regardless of whether the FBI decides it to be illegal, the Virgin Killer image should be removed. "For Wikipedia administrators," the column says, "the mere fact that FBI investigators have launched an investigation should tell them it's beneath their standards."
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