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

Andreas Kolbe jayen466 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 10 11:16:21 UTC 2011

Taking a step back, to look at the bigger picture -- one thing that has always struck me 

as odd is how different our approach to text and illustrations is.

For text, we are incredibly "censorious", insisting that any material presented to the reader 

must reflect what is found in reliable sources. Anything unsourceable is deleted. No one in 

the community has a problem with that. The occasional newbie who complains that their

original research has been "censored" generally gets very short shrift.

But when it comes to discussing whether a specific illustration or media file should be added 

to an article, the one criterion nobody seems to raise is whether this is the type of image or 

video a reliably published educational source would include. Instead, we often hear that 

because Wikipedia is not censored, we *must* keep an image or media file in the article, 

*especially so* if it is controversial.

The underlying assumption seems to be that reliable sources somehow *are* censored when 

it comes to illustrations, and we are not. But if we assume that about illustrations, why don't 

we assume it about text? It doesn't make sense.

The whole of Wikipedia is built on the premise that its text should reflect the editorial 

judgment of reliable sources. It's not built on the premise of forging ahead of reliable sources, 

of breaking new ground, or of being a subversive force in society (beyond the arguably 

subversive idea of presenting a free summary of the world's knowledge, as collected in 

reliable sources).

The logical thing to do would be to take more of a lead from reliable sources in choosing a 

style of illustration. And given that reliable sources differ in their editorial standards depending 

on region, philosophical stance, intended audience, etc., an optional image filter, used or not 

used at the discretion of the reader, would be a useful complement to adjust to these differences.


From: phoebe ayers <phoebe.wiki at gmail.com>
To: Wikimedia Foundation Mailing List <foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org>
Sent: Monday, 10 October 2011, 4:47
Subject: Re: [Foundation-l] Letter to the community on Controversial Content

On Sun, Oct 9, 2011 at 9:10 AM, MZMcBride <z at mzmcbride.com> wrote:
> David Gerard wrote:
>> On 9 October 2011 14:18, Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> On 9 October 2011 13:55, Ting Chen <tchen at wikimedia.org> wrote:
>>>> The majority of editors who responded to the referendum are not opposed
>>>> to the feature. However, a significant minority is opposed.
>>> How do you know? The "referendum" didn't ask whether people were opposed or
>>> not.
>> I fear this point will need restating every time someone claims the
>> "referendum" shows support.
> I wonder what the image filter referendum results would have had to look
> like in order to get anything other than a rambling "we march forward,
> unabated!" letter from the Board.
> MZMcBride

Hi MZM and all! Greetings from the end of a long -- but productive and
inspiring -- meeting weekend.

"Marching forward unabated" is not, in fact, what we are saying. The
board, and individual members of the board, are quite aware of all of
the criticisms from the vote and from the conversations on and off
list -- believe me. This is not an official report on behalf of the
board, but here is what we discussed doing:

* not going ahead with the category-based design that was proposed in
the mockups; it is clear there are too many substantive problems that
have been raised with this. Although this design (or any other) was
actually not specified in the resolution, it is obvious that many of
the critical comments were about using categorization in particular,
and we hear that.
* we are asking the staff to explore alternative designs, e.g. for a
way for readers to flag images for themselves, and collapse individual
images. This isn't fixed yet because it shouldn't be: we need to have
a further period of iterative community & technical design.
* not changing or revoking the Board resolution, because we do still
think that there is a problem with our handling of potentially
controversial content that needs to be addressed. We don't want to
ignore the criticism, and we *also* don't want to ignore the positive
comments from those who identified a problem and thought such a tool
would be helpful and useful in addressing it. Our view is holistic.
The Board discussed amending the resolution (we think, in particular,
that the word 'filter' has led to many assumptions about design), but
decided that for now the language of the resolution is broad enough
that it leaves room for alternative solutions. And we also do not want
to ignore the rest of the resolution -- the parts that call for better
tools for commons, and that lay out that we respect the principle of
least astonishment.

The speculation on this list the last few weeks about what individual
board members think and want has generally been wildly, hilariously
off base -- I have seen many statements about board member motivations
that couldn't have been more wrong -- but so has the speculation that
we don't care and have not been paying attention. My own views on
whether a filter as proposed is workable have changed over the past
couple of months. I appreciate especially the reasoned comments I have
seen from people who have taken the time to think it through and who
have wondered if a design as proposed would even work for readers, or
would be implementable. And I have been gratified to see people dig up
things like library statements of principle; as foundational documents
these are a good place to start from (as someone who has always seen
herself as a free speech advocate inside and outside of the library
world, this tactic has made me glad, even if we may differ on
interpretation). I also am glad for those comments that took the time
to look critically at the vote process -- we did make a lot of
mistakes, but we did learn a lot, and I hope with the help of all of
this input we can do a better job next time we have a broad-scale vote
(did you know that this was the single largest participatory exercise
in wikimedia's history? I could not have imagined that at the
beginning of this summer).

None of us on the board have any intention of being censors; that is
no one's desire and within no one's tolerance. I do think the
resolution principles (neutrality, principle of least astonishment)
that we laid out as guidelines for the tool are still good, strong
principles; and I wouldn't have voted for the resolution in the first
place if I thought what we were proposing encompassed or enabled
censorship. And what hasn't changed for me is the impetus behind the
resolution: a desire to work on behalf of *both* the editing community
and our broad (up to 7 billion!) community of readers, and a desire to
get perspectives from outside our own sometimes narrow conversational
community on the mailing lists and wikis.

We know there are a lot of questions that have been resolved over the
last few weeks about releasing vote data and so on that aren't
addressed in this letter; we did not address everything in our board
meeting either. As a board, we trust Sue to continue to implement the
resolution; that means both managing the vote and its results, and
design issues as well. And while we all of course are coming from
different backgrounds and have different opinions, I think we are all
on the same page about wanting to build helpful things for both our
readers and our editors, and in wanting to treat minority views in our
community as well as we treat majority ones.


foundation-l mailing list
foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org
Unsubscribe: https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/foundation-l

More information about the foundation-l mailing list