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Censorship on wikimedia projects

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
see also Wikimedia_projects_blocks.

Talking about censorship and the wikimedia projects is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous because it touches the very essence of what our projects are about. Our projects are about providing all knowledge to everyone freely.

When we start to limit the information that we provide, our projects start to loose credibility. Our projects become less functional in providing a neutral point of view. When suppressing information the view that is suppressed is not available to counteract other views. By allowing for censorship we act against what we aim to achieve.

The consequence is that we have problems with controversial topics. Some of these topics are controversial because they deal with religion, some deal with politics, some deal with science and some deal with morals. When we write about these subjects, we try to provide information in a neutral and objective manner. This will not make controversial topics less controversial. A scientology church does not like to be discussed. Some politicians have been proven to be corrupt or have killed their opponents. The evolution theory cannot be accepted by some because of their faith. Some do accept endless killing on TV but a bare female breast is enough to write to the authorities.

When we write our articles, there are some basic guidelines: in Wikipedia we work on an encyclopedia. Articles should be short and to the point. No original research. Illustrations should illustrate.

When a controversial topic is written, the editorial process is made more difficult when people start pushing their particular point of view. The result can be that a group can distort a balanced neutral article. This is a process where a sysop may find a need to protect a page and prevent an edit war. This is also where sometimes pictures are removed because they do not illustrate but distract from the content. This is all done in an editorial process. An example is the tug of war between people who want to include goatse or autofelatio pictures and people who say that this is not necessary for the topic. This is editing our content, this is not censorship.

Censorship comes in when mechanisms are introduced that prevent content to be seen or read. It is censorship because it negates the editorial process and limits what should be available. Censorship can be done in several ways. It can be an organization that completely prevents access to resources. It can be a filter that looks for the "hot" words.

Software to censor content can be installed in many places in the chain from the data deliveror to the data recipient. Countries, ISP's, companies, schools, libraries and parents on occasion all put themselves into the role of a censor. They do this by making use of more or less sophisticated mechanisms. When the data provides hooks to use for these censoring mechanisms, they will be used. These hooks will definitely be used if one of the information suppliers provide these hooks.

With the introduction of End-user image suppression, it is proposed to tag pictures with labels that can be used to either prevent images totally from being seen or to make them one click away. In essence it negates the editorial process and it allows for self censorship. As the editorial process is there to produce quality information, images are an essential element of this information. A picture paints a thousand words.

When we allow for the suppression of images, there is no moral reason why we would not allow for the censorship of written content. When people, organizations feel that something is not good for others to see, they will have arguments why this should be and why they have the right to demand this.

It is much better to rely on our editorial process and on occasion the intervention of his Jimboness for what should be or should not be in our projects. There is one situation where we could have more stringent rules for what to include. This would be when we have a project explicitly targeted for schoolchildren. The way articles are written for kids is different.