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

Andreas Kolbe jayen466 at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 12 14:14:31 UTC 2011

From: David Levy <lifeisunfair at gmail.com>
>> You assume here that there is any kind of neutrality in Wikipedia that is
>> not defined by reliable sources.
>> There isn't.
>Again, you're conflating two separate concepts.
>In most cases, we can objectively determine, based on information from
>reliable sources, that an image depicts x.  This is comparable to
>confirming written facts via the same sources.
>If a reliable source declines to include an image because it's
>considered "offensive," that's analogous to censoring a word (e.g.
>replacing "fuck" with "f**k") for the same reason.
>"Include suitably licensed images illustrating their subjects" is a
>neutral pursuit.  

Well, you need to be clear that you're using the word "neutral" here with a 
different meaning than the one ascribed to it in NPOV policy.

Neutrality is not abstractly defined: like notability or verifiability, it has a
very specific meaning within Wikipedia policy. That meaning is irrevocably
tied to reliable sources.

Neutrality consists in our reflecting fairly, proportionately, and without bias,
how reliable sources treat a subject.

"Including suitably licensed images illustrating their subjects" can easily *not*
be a neutral pursuit. For example, if we end up featuring more female nudity
than reliable sources do, and in places where reliable sources would eschew
it, we are not being neutral, even if each image illustrates its subject.

(Debates arise regarding images' utility — just as
>they do regarding text — but the goal is neutral.)  "Include suitably
>licensed images illustrating their subjects, provided that they aren't
>upsetting" is *not* neutral, just as "include properly sourced
>information, provided that it isn't upsetting" is not.

Your assumption that reliably published sources do not publish the
images you have in mind here because they do not wish to upset people
is unexamined, and disregards other considerations – of aesthetics, 
didactics, psychology, professionalism, educational value, quality of 
execution, and others.

It also disregards the possibility that Wikipedians may wish to include images
for other reasons than simply to educate the reader – because they like 
the images, find them attractive, wish to shock, and so forth.

Basically, you are positing that whatever you like, or the community likes, 
is neutral. :) That is an approach that would not fly for text, and it disregards
our demographic imbalance. 

> If I go along with your statement that reliable sources avoid upsetting their
>> readers, why would we be more "neutral" by deciding to depart from reliable
>> sources' judgment, and consciously upsetting our readers in a way reliable
>> sources do not?
>"This is an image of x" (corroborated by information from reliable
>sources) is a neutral statement.  "This image is upsetting" is not.

Here I need to remind you that it was you who expressed the belief that 
reliable sources choose not to publish imagery because it might "upset" people. 
As I said above, this is an unexamined assumption that discards other 

Our approach to illustration should follow that embraced by reliable sources,
and just as we should not second-guess why sources say what they do, and
whether they omitted to say important things for fear of upsetting readers, we 
should not second-guess their approach to illustration either, but simply follow it.

What we *should* second-guess is the motivation of Wikipedians who wish
to depart from that approach.

In an earlier reply, I cited ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspapers and
>magazines that refuse to publish photographs of women.  If this were a
>mainstream policy, would that make it "neutral"?
>As I noted previously, to emulate such a standard would be to adopt a
>value judgement as our own (analogous to stating as fact that "x is
>bad" because most reputable sources agree that it is).

You said in an earlier mail that in writing our texts, our job is to neutrally 
reflect the real-world balance, *including* any presumed biases. I agree
with that. 

My argument is that the same applies to illustration, for exactly the same 

We seem to be agreeing on one thing: that Wikipedia's approach to
illustration differs from that in our sources. You seem to be saying that is 
a good thing; I say it isn't, or at least that we may have a little too much of a 
good thing.


> > Likewise, if most publications decide that it would be bad to publish
>> > illustrations alongside their coverage of a subject (on the basis that such
>> > images are likely to offend), we might address this determination via prose,
>> > but won't adopt it as *our* position.
>> That exact same argument could be made about text as well:
>> "Likewise, if most publications decide that it would be bad to publish that X
>> is a scoundrel (on the basis that it would be likely to offend), we might
>> address this determination via prose, but won't adopt it as *our* position."
>> So then we would have articles saying, "No newspaper has reported that X is a
>> scoundrel, but he is, because –."
>"X is a scoundrel" is a statement of opinion.  "X is a photograph of
>y" (corroborated by information from reliable sources) is a statement
>of fact.
>And as noted earlier, this is tangential to the image filter discussion.
>David Levy
>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