News and notes
Sex and drug tourism—Wikivoyage's soft underbelly?
Prostitution ... apparently a prevalent motivation for male tourists as reflected in some parts of the Foundation's new site, Wikivoyage.
This picture and the one above are at Commons, but neither actually appears in Wikivoyage; they illustrate two problematic themes in Wikivoyage.
- Wikivoyage on Tijuana, Mexico: "The primary purpose of most visits to the Zona Norte involves prostitution. ... The usual rate is 200 Mexican pesos (sometimes 150 pesos, especially for locals) for a 20-minute session, with rooms costing 40-70 Mexican pesos. ... [The Hong Kong bar's] major attraction (besides the ladies themselves) is that they regularly have shows where two ladies perform lesbian acts while covered in shaving cream. Occasionally there will also be a show where a male audience member is brought onto the stage where two ladies perform sex acts on him."
- Wikivoyage on Vietnam: "prostitution is abundant in Vietnam, ... Many massage parlours and other businesses provide sex services at very low rates".
- Wikivoyage on Cambodia: "Heroin is very high grade in SE Asia and foreigners requesting cocaine are sometimes provided with it instead. ... enforcement tends to be on the lax side and many guesthouses are permanently shrouded in purple haze ... Marijuana in Cambodia is also often of much higher quality than elsewhere in SE Asia and sold for extremely low prices. While not overtly advertised, a quick ask at most bars, restaurants, or guest houses can generally get you what you need with little hassle."
- Wikivoyage on the Netherlands: "alcohol and weed can be a very nice and trippy experience, especially for people who don't feel enough from just smoking weed."
- Wikivoyage on Amsterdam: "Regardless of the strength, your first experience [with cannabis] can be quite a sensation at first, but will quickly decrease in intensity. You may want to plan to return to your hotel and "hole up" for a couple hours until you become comfortable with the feeling. ... The first time you try [magic mushrooms] should always be in a familiar and trusted environment, not on the streets of an unfamiliar city. Never take more than one packet of mushrooms—usually half is good for your first time."
The Signpost has frequently covered the Wikimedia Foundation's newest sister project, Wikivoyage. Among the coverage have been reports on the complicated and expensive migration of the site from the commercialised WikiTravel.org site and the non-profit German site that forked from it, which has given its name to the new WMF project. We have brought to you reports on the legal action taken by the corporate owners of WikiTravel.org, Internet Brands, against two editors (also covered in the mainstream press), and the Foundation's legal "victory" in the matter. Wikivoyage now has 15 language sites, although all but the English and German versions are small and only marginally active.
In January we raised several potentially troublesome issues for the Wikimedia movement in taking on Wikivoyage, including the apparent inadequacy of the English Wikivoyage sex-tourism policy, hurriedly strengthened against mention of child sex after our inquiries. However, both sex-tourism and illegal-activities policies remain equivocal about how the site should treat entries about sex tourism more generally, and drugs that are classed as illicit in almost every country. The Signpost has found it remarkably easy to locate material in Wikivoyage that violates both the spirit and the letter of these policies.
Two relevant policies
The sex-tourism policy states:
||we prefer not to include information on purchased sexual services on Wikivoyage, including: locations or listings of brothels or bars that sell sexual services; pricing info for prostitution; tips for picking up prostitutes; "quality" information on prostitutes in different destinations.” This is followed by text that cannot help but send ambivalent messages: "Writers are welcome to describe other kinds of sex-related venues on Wikivoyage … such as: strip clubs, adult-oriented stores, pornographic cinemas, fetish clubs, LGBT venues ... Descriptions of locations or areas where prostitutes may be found—so-called "red light districts"—may be useful to non-sex tourists. ... This applies whether or not prostitution is legal in the destination. ... Do not use euphemisms for sex or prostitution ... in favour of direct language. ... [Reformatted here to save space]
Back in January, Wikivoyager Pashley told the Signpost that these policy areas are "tricky", that Evan Prodromou "was really uneasy about allowing this sort of material on the site at all" when he came up with the sex-tourism policy ten years ago. "There have been arguments for both a looser and a stricter policy." DerFussi, chairman of the German non-profit that hosted Wikivoyage until two years ago, told us: "The community has an eye on all edits."
The companion piece to Wikivoyage's sex-tourism policy is its illegal-activities policy:
||articles should not give advice for: ... obtaining, transporting, providing or consuming alcohol, narcotics, medication or other substances in violation of local law. ... / ... "If travellers are likely to encounter illegal activity by others, and knowing about this would be useful to them, information should be provided on in the Understand or Stay safe section of the destination guide. Examples include: ... warnings about areas where travellers might encounter the illegal drug trade, and other illicit business. ... supply [such information] if it is likely to be useful to a traveller. ... a Wikivoyage article should discuss illegal activities where [they are] an important or integral part of the reason people visit the destination, such as destinations famed for their drug supply.
The policy concedes that the site "needs to tread a fine line about giving information. The test is that information should be provided for a traveller's safety, rather than solely to promote illegal activities. When writing about safety issues with illegal activities, Wikivoyage articles must always emphasise that that activity is a crime when mentioning safety issues. ... Wikivoyage articles should avoid giving information about illegal activities that is useful only to those seeking it and which is not motivated by safety concerns."
The policies themselves reflect the sometimes contradictory aims of the travel site to provide free, balanced information to people in a wide range of demographics who are engaged in a highly consumerist leisure pursuit. The ambiguity underlines the blurred interface between informing, warning, and encouraging on the site. Whether by design or accident, many edits appear to introduce information about prostitution and drugs with a formulaic "warning" added. Random examples of the mixed messages that result are:
- "Always ask for an ID from the prostitute to confirm her age." "... If you intend to be a patron of the Red Light District, be wary of women who beckon you towards their kamers and invite you in without discussing a price." (Antwerp)
- Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam. The age of consent is 18. Vietnamese penal law proscribes penalties of up to 20 years in prison for sexually exploiting women or children", but then, "prostitution is abundant in Vietnam, ... Many massage parlours and other businesses provide sex services at very low rates." (Vietnam)
- "As with any other sex destination, there are some tourists that hire minors. Prostitution with minors (less than 18 years old) is considered a crime in Costa Rica." (Costa Rica)
- "The age of consent in Cambodia is 15. Prostitution is theoretically illegal but widespread. ... Cambodia has gained some notoriety as a destination for paedophiles", but then, "under Cambodian law the penalty for sex with minors can be up to 30 years in prison" (Cambodia)
- "Too much alcohol or 'special' or 'happy' shakes which can contain cannabis, magic mushrooms or any manner of substance are not a good idea if you plan on going back in the river. ... Consuming these drugs on the premises is fairly safe, although drugs are illegal in Laos and nothing is totally safe. ... Aside from the drugs already mentioned it is inadvisable to attempt to purchase any other substances not freely available on the 'magic menus' around town. The dangers of most drugs should be well known to travelers, and additionally there is also a police presence." But then: "Southeast Asian 'crystal meth' is known as yabba and is available in both pill and smokeable forms. ... Yabba is an epidemic due to its highly addictive qualities. Manufactured locally, the drug can be cut with any number of substances." (Vang Vieng, Laos)
- "Cannabis possession in this city outside of University of Michigan property is only a 25 dollar fine, making this one of the most liberal cities in Michigan." (Detroit)
- "The scenery is best experienced while not high on cannabis ..." (Monahans, Texas)
It is an open question whether these warnings actually function to caution travellers' behaviour beyond providing eligibility for inclusion under the policies.
Depictions of women
Another issue raised by the material is its potential to be perceived as treating women with a casual objectification, under an implicit assumption that readers are not women ("Classy little hostess bar ... A place for single men and loose ladies ... no pool table or food to distract you from the lovely ladies" ... "There are dozens of girlie bars ... Freelance girls are picked up at establishments like [several names provided]").
There is occasionally evidence that some contributors have taken offence, and that there has been an element of push and pull over the years about the inclusion of sexual content (e.g. "Sorry, but I thought the comment comparing Downtown Eastside prostitutes to cheap parking prices was a little offensive. I didn't realize this article was a guide for sex tourists"; and "Isn't there a Wikivoyage policy against including 'sex tourism' related topics on Wikivoyage? If so, why is there a section of this article titled, 'Prostitution'?").
However, on the other side, as one Wikivoyage administrator wrote in February: "Policing travelers' personal moral choices is not one of Wikivoyage's goals". The Signpost believes that there are only two or three female editors on the English Wikivoyage, not all of them active.
A number of articles link to external pages that deal explicitly with drugs such as cannabis. Among these are Utrecht where "mainly psychedelics, cannabis and energetic herbs" in the "Buy" section contains a link to a Dutch-language advertisement "Cooking with dope". Seattle gives good airtime to the annual two-day cannabis festival, with an external link that beckons readers to "become a member" and "party with hempfest all year!" Similarly, Ann Arbor provides an external link for its annual Hashbash that advertises ancillary products and asks for political donations.
Editorial resources and the competition
Whether directly in breach of the site’s policies or just deserving of deep community discussion, some material on the English Wikivoyage suggests that—contrary to Fussi's claim—Wikivoyagers don't "have their eye on all edits". But does Wikivoyage have the editorial resources to police the input of sex- and drug-related information? And just as central to the site's use of the Wikimedia Foundation's trademark and brand reputation is its ability to monitor commercial spamming. Of 56 listed admins who migrated from WikiTravel at the start of the year, only 23 are active; the list includes seven bureaucrats, of whom only two are active. Edits to Wikivoyage have declined by almost a third since June, from more than 34,000 to just over 18,000 in October (the latter figure is the Signpost's estimate from sampling the "Recent changes" list. This compares with more than 25,000 for Wikitravel.
One editor, who spoke to the Signpost on condition of anonymity, said:
||The readership is actually static with rolling hills and troughs. It's just that it should be topping Wikitravel—that will never happen unless and until they adopt proper search engine optimisation. ... At Wikitravel the automated spam attacks have reached truly appalling dimensions. The result is that WV is relatively free of spam bot attacks because our readership is so tiny compared to Wikitravel.
The Signpost has noted an upswing in the creation of increasingly strange articles at Wikitravel, still a heavily commercial site in which google advertisements appear as side-bars on every article. Recent examples of such articles, which display thematically related advertisements, are Hair dryer tips and tricks for problematic hair, Bridging loans and its advantages [sic], and Jailbreak iPhone and its benefits. There are virtually no active admins on WikiTravel. Despite the lack of proper administration and evidence of the fusing of editorial and commercial content, WikiTravel is now ranked 2417 globally, up from 3162 in late July. Wikivoyage is a disappointing 20,451, even though up from 32,586 in late July. Its page views have dropped 12% from the levels in January when the new site was launched. Yet given the poverty of the competition, there appear to be many opportunities for Wikivoyage to boost its presence in the crowded market for online travel advice.
- Bounty, Reward boards: The English Wikipedia's long-lasting Bounty and Reward boards have been proposed for deletion.
- Wikimedia LGBT: A proposed thematic organization that would revolve around content of interest to the LGBT community is currently canvassing for members, although the invitation was initially removed from the Wikimedia Ukraine page by Ahonc. Ahonc, who is an administrator and OTRS agent on the Wikimedia Commons, gave as his edit summary "у нас ніби всі нормальні". By a rough Google Translate, that comes across as "we all like normal."
- Foundation report: The Wikimedia Foundation's monthly report for September 2013 has been published on Meta.
- Wikimedia contributor's Kickstarter: A prolific photo contributor to the Wikimedia Commons has been given coverage for his attempt to use Kickstarter to fund his exploits, which include many of the top-listed images of video game consoles.
- Wikimania jury: Applicants are needed for the Wikimania 2015 jury, which will decide where the conference will be held.
Check back for the next Signpost on July 28.