[Foundation-l] Letter to the community on Controversial Content
tchen at wikimedia.org
Sun Oct 9 12:55:49 UTC 2011
Dear Wikimedia community,
First, I want to thank the 24,000 editors who participated in the
Wikimedia Foundation's referendum on the proposed personal image hiding
feature. We are particularly grateful to the nearly seven thousand
people who took the time to write in detailed and thoughtful comments.
Although the Board did not commission the referendum (it was
commissioned by our Executive Director), we have read the results and
followed the discussions afterwards with great interest. We discussed
them at our Board meeting in San Francisco, in October. We are
listening, and we are hearing you.
The referendum results show that there is significant division inside
the Wikimedia community about the potential value and impact of an image
The majority of editors who responded to the referendum are not opposed
to the feature. However, a significant minority is opposed. Some of
those people say there is no problem, and that anyone who is offended is
wrong and should be ignored. Some say that regardless of whether there
is a problem, it's not ours to solve: our job is to make knowledge
available to everyone, not to participate in screening or filtering it.
And some say that even if there is a problem, a category-based image
hiding feature is the wrong solution, because it would enable censorship
by third parties, and would also create significant new work for editors
in creating and maintaining categories. Some of you say these are
editorial issues, and the Wikimedia Foundation has no business being
involved with them.
I, and the other Board members, and Sue, are paying attention to what
you've told us.
We believe there is a problem. The purpose of the Wikimedia movement is
to make information freely available to people all around the world, and
when material on the projects causes grave offence, those offended don't
benefit from our work. We believe that exercising editorial judgment to
mitigate that offence is not censorship. We believe we need, and should
want, to treat readers with respect. Their opinions and preferences are
as legitimate as our own, and deliberately offending or provoking them
is not respectful, and is not okay.
We are not going to revisit the resolution from May, for the moment: we
let that resolution stand unchanged.
But, we are asking Sue and the staff to continue the conversation with
editors, and to find a solution that strikes the best balance between
serving our readers, empowering and supporting editors, and dedicating
an appropriate amount of effort to the problem. I believe that is
possible within the language of the resolution the Board already passed,
which leaves open most details of how implementation should be achieved.
We realize this is an important issue for the Wikimedia movement, and in
many ways it goes to the heart of who we are. I think church.of.emacs
expressed this fairly well on foundation-l, when he described this as a
conflict between two visions of our work: “a project of pure
enlightenment, which ignores the biased/prejudiced reader and accepts
the resulting limited distribution” versus “a project of praxis, which
seeks a balance between the goals of enlightenment and the reader's
interests, aiming at a high distribution.” I would quibble with some of
his choice of words, but I agree with the general gist of what he said.
I believe we can find an answer that is right for us. I ask you to work
with us, to do that.
Member of the Board of Trustees
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
E-Mail: tchen at wikimedia.org
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