[Foundation-l] Letter to the community on Controversial Content

Ting Chen 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. 
Thank you.

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 
hiding feature.

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.

Ting Chen

Ting Chen
Member of the Board of Trustees
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
E-Mail: tchen at wikimedia.org

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