As covered in last week's Signpost, the Acehnese Wikipedia has erupted in controversy over images of Muhammad hosted on Commons.
This is by no means a new debate. In 2006, the article on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy was featured on the main page, and caused significant controversy for including the cartoons. In 2008, a petition to delete images of Muhammad circulated. However, as long-standing policy stated, like Wikipedia itself, our image host, Wikimedia Commons, is not censored. That it could cause offense was not sufficient to remove an image.
Amongst those advocating for this view was Jimbo Wales. cited his free speech advocacy, and stated that "we can not deviate from our goals to accommodate [those governments who would force Wikipedia to be censored]."
However, the current petition comes after we have lost some of the moral authority we once had.
Jimbo Wales, out of fear of a media attack, led by Fox News, about allegations of pornography on Wikipedia, instituted a massive deletion of content from Commons, including many examples of artwork by notable artists. For example, the artwork to the right, by Franz von Bayros, was personally deleted by Jimbo, who even edit warred to keep it deleted. On being challenged about this deletion, Wales wrote:
|“||...I think a perfectly legitimate position for us to take is that we don't have visual depictions of explicit sexual activity here. I think it's a perfectly fine thing to have people collecting classic pornography – on their own servers, separate from Wikimedia completely.||”|
He also deleted several works by major artists, for example, File:Félicien_Rops_-_Sainte-Thérèse.png by Félicien Rops, and numerous line art illustrations used to illustrate articles on sexual content.
Only long after these deletions were done did he state his reasons:
|“||We were about to be smeared in all media as hosting hardcore pornography and doing nothing about it. Now, the correct storyline is that we are cleaning up. I'm proud to have made sure that storyline broke the way it did, and I'm sorry I had to step on some toes to make it happen.||”|
It wasn't even effective: Fox News shortly thereafter posted an article attacking Wikipedia.
If Wikipedia is going to sacrifice its moral high ground and neutrality – for saying that things offensive to Fox News are worth mass deletion sprees including historic artwork, but that the complaints of Muslims are not, is highly non-neutral – we should not sell ourselves cheap. We recently did, and only the effective loss of all Jimbo Wales' powers over his actions leaves us any moral high ground at all. This petition is much harder to deal with, as we have shown that, yes, we will give into pressure – but only if it comes from our mainstream Western culture.
|“||Various media reported on comments made by Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales on a recent visit to Malaysia. AFP ("Wikipedia founder says Malaysia should ditch censorship") quoted him as saying that "a very open flow of information" was important in "making sure that the people have the information they need" and that "I want to write that information (on sites like user-generated Wikipedia) so that my fellow citizens have the knowledge they need so they can't be oppressed."||”|