Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2009-01-03/Virgin Killer

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By phoebe, Cryptic C62 and Pretzels

Wikipedia blocked over concerns of child pornography[edit]

Many Wikipedia users in the United Kingdom were blocked from editing for almost a week early in December 2008, when the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) classified an image on the site as child abuse. A self-regulating body, the UK-based IWF maintains a blacklist of sites containing child abuse images which it claims is used by 95% of UK-based residential ISPs; providers affected included BT, Vodafone, Virgin Media/Tesco.net, Be/O2, EasyNet/UK Online/Sky Broadband, Orange, Demon, and TalkTalk (Opal Telecom). Users attempting to access the Virgin Killer article or image were either served with fake 404 errors, a notification of the block, a refused connection, or simply a blank page.

While the IWF only intended to block access to the single article, British users found that they were unable to edit other parts of Wikipedia due to a complication involving proxies. Sarah Robertson, a spokesperson for the IWF, could not explain this interference, claiming "There shouldn't have been any collateral damage." Wikipedia users quickly determined that traffic to sites on the IWF's blacklist was being routed through a small number of proxy servers, resulting in all users from each affected ISP sharing an IP address. These shared IP addresses were soon blocked by Wikipedia administrators, as vandals could not be distinguished from regular contributors. After a few days of negotiations, some ISPs added X-Forwarded-For headers to their server configurations, meaning the true IP address could once again be read by Wikipedia's servers.

The image in question was the cover of a 1976 album Virgin Killer by Scorpions, which featured a photograph of a nude, 10-year-old girl, with a crack in a pane of glass obscuring her genitals. It has been the subject of several deletion discussions in the past, but Wikipedians cited WP:NOTCENSORED and that the cover was notable for its use, in the words of the band's guitarist, "only to get attention". Mike Godwin, general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), stated, "We have no reason to believe the article, or the image contained in the article, has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world."[1] The album has been readily available for purchase in the UK and abroad since its release over 30 years ago.

On December 9, the IWF reversed its decision, citing widespread access to the image outside of Wikipedia and "contextual issues," a decision that eventually restored editing access to Wikipedia in the UK (although some ISPs were considerably slow to remove the block) and was applauded by the WMF[2]. The IWF apologized for its actions, stating "IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect."[3], this being a likely reference to the pageview statistics for the article since the block came into place; Virgin Killer was the most viewed article on en.wiki for most of the week, and traffic increased over 200-fold to over 371,900 hits at its peak.

The story attracted remarkable media coverage, including a live interview with the IWF Chief Executive on the UK's national Channel 4 News, and multiple appearances on BBC Radio stations. It was also featured in national newspapers including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and almost all major technology news publications. It was the third most dugg story on Digg on the 8th December[4], and the most read article worldwide on BBC News Online for seven hours.

For more on the block and subsequent un-blocking, see Internet Watch Foundation and Wikipedia, and Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/2008 IWF action. The Signpost covered an earlier controversy over Wikipedia's hosting of the Virgin Killer image in May 2008: Explicit sexual content draws fire.



Also this week:

From the editor — ArbCom elections — Virgin Killer — Editing stats — Drug comparison — News and notes — Dispatches — In the news — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Arbitration report


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