The below essay (by Review member “Dogbiscuit”) was submitted after Wikipedia Review discovered that Wikia, Inc, the for-profit company founded by Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley, were hosting a Wiki called Spanking Art. This Wiki detailed sexual fetish practices relating to corporal punishment, but also featured numerous sexualized images of children and photographs of minors uploaded in innocence by editors to Wikipedia and the Wiki-Commons.
Our discovery provoked protests against “Spanking Art” on Wikipedia itself. One editor, a representative of the Scouting movement whose uploaded photo of boy scouts had been transported onto the Spanking Sex site without permission, demanded answers on Jimbo Wales’s Wikipedia talk page. Eventually Wales personally deleted material from the Wikia site. Later, the entire Spanking Art site was removed, with an accompanying statement made by a representative of Wikia Inc. :
Thanks for the concern. There have been some outside inquiries about the content of the wiki that were very difficult to deal with in a thoughtful way on a Friday afternoon. We chose to remove the wiki from public view while we work with the both the complainants and the community to make sure that the wiki is focused on its mission of documenting adult sexuality. All parties have been polite and responsive and we hope to have the issue resolved soon.
We do reserve the right to remove access to our wikis on the very rare occasion when we decide it is necessary, but the GFDL license means that the content belongs to the community, and we comply with that license by making backups of all wikis available on a daily basis. We will be happy to provide more information as it becomes available. â€” Catherine (talk) 03:15, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
Dogbiscuit: One of the Review’s ongoing concerns is the subtle manipulation of Wikipedia entries by anonymous people, supported by administrators, often under the guise of supporting a neutral point of view.
What started out as an uncomfortable feeling about what should have been an uncontroversial article soon turned into a child abuse scandal, bringing into stark relief what the true implications of the Creative Commons license really are - and how Jimbo Wales’ Wikia Inc. was hosting a wiki that condoned child abuse.
Wikipedia and Wiki-Commons
On Wikipedia, it is common to find innocent articles such as “Bench furniture” acquiring less common usages. Would your granny really be expecting to find this un-ergonomic design when looking for inspiration for some garden seating? Wikipedia Review had noticed previously that electric carving knives also encouraged some odd usages.
But the extreme level of inappropriate content was brought home by a Wikipedia Review investigation prompted by an observation on the seemingly innocent Wikipedia article “Boy“. Wikipedia Review members noticed some disturbing links once the team had pulled at a loose thread. Why would an encyclopedic article on “boys” prominently link to sexual role playing, BDSM and spanking? Why so many pictures of bare children? Why the frat boys baring their behinds?
Attention turned to the Wikimedia Commons library, the Wikimedia Foundation’s repository of free to use pictures and sounds. It became apparent that pictures uploaded to illustrate articles on topics as mundane as Boy Scouts had been subverted into uses that no reasonable person would have considered. WikiMedia Commons also had a category “Lolita” where someone had gathered together otherwise innocent pictures of young girls into a disturbing collection.
Wikia’s Spanking Art
The loose coverings rapidly unravelled to reveal a disturbing link to the for-profit Wikia Inc hosted wiki called Spanking Art, supported by funding from Amazon.com amongst others. Wikia Inc provides a free hosting service for anyone to set up a Wiki, subject to approval by Wikia Inc. In true Jimbo uncensored style, wikis on cannabis, spanking and nudity sit side by side with wikis on Pokemon and Thomas the Tank Engine - where will the Random Page take Gordon to today, wondered the Fat Controller?
It transpired that the anonymous owner of Spanking Art had plundered both Wikipedia and the Commons library to populate his site, described on its main page as
… containing nonpornographic nudity, sexuality related material and links to external adult websites.
The photographs of children uploaded to Wikipedia by good faith Wikipedians were all legitimately used under the WikiMedia Creative Commons Licensing - together with a collection of naive drawings featuring children being spanked by adults.
The serious implications of releasing under GFDL/CC licensing come home when reviewing the site. What is the text of the Wikipedia Boy Scout article doing in a spanking site? What are the implications of carrying across pictures of boy scouts from Wikipedia to the spanking site - these are real children, clearly identifiable - together with additional contributions such as a picture entitled “Members of a cub scout pack being spanked together.”
Our concern is this: what people may do in the discomfort of their own dungeon is normally their own business, but publicly encouraging smacking children for sexual pleasure goes beyond what we believe is socially acceptable. Even if we set aside what may be the motivations of the people creating the site, we are also mindful that real people may be embarrassed in the real world by being associated with such a site, and such exposure could have serious consequences for those identified to be shown in the context of a spanking site.
Raising the issue on Wikipedia
Having apparently read of these complaints on Wikipedia Review, Wikipedia user John Finlay bravely risked the bear pit of Jimbo Wales’s talk page to raise the issue. After an initial response of “There is no scandal here”, there was the unhelpful but insightful :
“You’re missing a detail here. Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia… …So every photo on Wikipedia can be “twisted and exploited” in the long run. Metros (talk) 03:35, 22 January 2008 (UTC)”
The penny finally dropped and the realisation that this could be a big scandal hit home. Yet at the same time some, certain Wikipedia administrators were pondering a ban for legal threats against those who raised the issue.
The images are removed
A hurried clean up began, albeit with no public statement from Jimbo, though he personally deleted some of the more reprehensible content. The spanking site removed the identifiable pictures of minors. “Category:Lolita” and the accompanying photographs of young girls was deleted from Wiki-Commons. The Spanking Art site introduced a non-violence policy and banned photographs of children (but still did not seem too worried about the rights of adults who might be aggrieved about their image being subverted, or drawings of children being abused).
The fundamental point is this: anything you do to contribute to “Building an encyclopedia” can not only be mercilessly edited, but mercilessly perverted into any project, anywhere on the Internet. Wikia and Wikipedia are not alone in this, Flickr and other media sites are equally prone to this abuse. Those who dream of a world where everyone freely licenses their materials need to be far more responsible about explaining what an irrevocable license really means.
Duty of Care
What was more troubling is that this behaviour, which was certainly condoning and apparently encouraging violence against children, was not happening on some hard core porn site from Russia, but on a site approved of by Wikia Inc. itself and hosted on servers in the USA, sponsored by major corporations including Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America and Pizza Hut, run by someone that Time magazine considered one of the most influential people in the world. As one long time Wikipedia Reviewer put it, Jimbo’s choice was stark: “Either be known for running a site carrying sketches of children being abused amidst a host of gratuitous sado-masochistic imagery, or face reality like everyone else and realize that you are part of society. Either take responsibility to protect the vulnerable in society, or tolerate abuse.”
Within Wikipedia itself, it is clear that there are no control structures to manage any ethical approach to the information presented. Wikipedia contains many “adults only” pages of information, yet there are no systems for controlling or differentiating access based on age, indeed, many of the administrators responsible for controlling inappropriate behaviour are minors themselves.
As the curators of one of the most accessed web sites in the world, isn’t it about time the Wikimedia Foundation stepped up to the plate and accepted its duty of care?
Below is a cached screenshot taken from the defunct site, Spanking Art. The front page featured news updates of the site’s response to our protests against Wikia, including mention of the rapid removal of photographs of children, and two banners, one of which is a link to Wikia’s Pokemon Wiki.