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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    Is there any evidence that the FBI is investigating?

    We only have the word of the originators of the complaint that the FBI is investigating. Just because they've filed a complaint with the FBI doesn't mean there is an active investigation. And the newspaper's claim that anything the FBI investigates should come down makes me wonder what would happen if somebody filed a bogus FBI complaint against any of their content. Corvus cornixtalk 18:07, 16 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    There is not, as far as I've seen, any evidence beyond Schilling's stories and their derivatives. The claim was probably nominally true at some point, in that someone called the FBI and described the situation, and they said they'd take a look. No doubt it would take an FBI agent about 2 minutes to see that isn't worth their time and that the Virgin Killer image (I would guess) doesn't meet their definition of child pornography.--ragesoss (talk) 18:32, 16 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Interestingly, the Colorado Springs Gazette published the WorldNetDaily piece without attribution. Corvus cornixtalk 21:07, 16 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]


    On the whole, now has lost it's reputation. Forget the whole "not censored for kids" thing because it should be. The way it is is rubbish,complete rubbish. Britishrailclass91 (talk) 15:01, 17 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    I totally agree with you. This article shatters any hope of making Wikipedia a respectable encyclopedia and a reference in the academic world. Just take a look at these articles. Totally disgusting!! Eklipse (talk) 07:22, 18 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    To paraphrase what others have said: There are roughly six billion (6,000,000,000) people in this world. That means, very roughly, that we have six billion different ideas of what is "disgusting" or "offensive" or any other adjective you care to name. Those billions of people will have wildly different moral/social/cultural backgrounds. For example: Not all cultures have nudity taboo or sex taboos, for example, and may find someone else's apprehension quite puzzling. Others might object quite strongly to the open presentation of political views put forward in articles about things like freedom of speech. There is no objective standard to follow. —DragonHawk (talk|hist) 18:07, 18 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    Hear hear. A significant part of Wikipedia's value is its inclusion of material other reference works exclude. Sex is a topic of very wide interest, so it's completely appropriate for Wikipedia to cover it in depth. (talk) 21:03, 21 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    Just because certain segments of the population find something objectionable doesn't mean that a) it's not a valid topic of inquiry and b) that information about it shouldn't be available. I'm not exactly sure what about penises is so shocking, considering that 49% of humans have one. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica has articles about sex, masturbation, penis, and other "disgusting" things. Where do we put research by physiologists and psychologists about human sexuality if not in these sorts of articles.
    Censorship of this sort of material does have a detrimental effect on Wikipedia's reputation. Just ask Szfski about trying to add referenced information about the mere existence of a female orgasm to the Arabic encyclopedia. --Gimme danger (talk) 19:52, 19 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Content control HTTP Headers

    We can introduce new custom HTTP header, for example, X-Wikipedia-Categories and include all of categories for concrete images and articles (for articles need some little modifying MediaWiki software, for images — web server software). Content control software will easily catch it and filter banned words.

    We also can add self-censor HTTP-header, for example X-Censored-Content with community defined religious or parental content types. May be we should come to an agreement with W3C, IETF and Content control software suppliers about censored content types.-- (talk) 15:30, 23 May 2008 (UTC)[reply]


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