Clarifying recent coverage of Wikipedia

Late last week Fox News ran a news story about Wikimedia projects, focusing on Jimmy Wales, which included quite a bit of false information. We would like to clarify some of those details

Jimmy is the founder of Wikipedia and of the Wikimedia Foundation. He plays a key editorial role in our projects, by virtue of his special status as our founder, and due to his continued active engagement in the projects. Jimmy is not the President of the Wikimedia Foundation nor is he President of Wikipedia: there are no such roles. The chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees is Michael Snow, and the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation is Sue Gardner. They have both been in those positions for several years. Jimmy is Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees, as he has been for several years now.

Last weekend Jimmy voluntarily relinquished some technical user-account privileges he has historically held, but that in no way affects his official status with Wikimedia, nor his editorial position. It was false to claim that Jimmy ever held final editorial control on our projects — his decision to change the technical details of his user account should not be interpreted as changes to his status in general.  Jimmy is actively engaged in discussions with other Wikimedia editors about sexually-explicit materials on Wikimedia Commons: discussions like that are part of his normal role, and are part of the normal work of being an active volunteer. He is a thought leader in the Wikimedia projects, and although the discussions over the past week have been unusually intense, we don’t consider them problematic. Discussion is how Wikimedians work through policy development and policy interpretation: active argument and debate are normal for us — they are how we do our work. The Wikimedia Foundation is grateful for Jimmy’s involvement, and we’re glad he continues to be an important part of the Wikimedia movement.

Jay Walsh, Communications

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20 Comments on Clarifying recent coverage of Wikipedia

A little insignificant 4 years

In response to Beth, there are tools in place so that individual Wikipedia readers can determine which images will be viewed on their monitor, among other things. We don’t censor for the sake of only a certain number of readers.

Resolute 4 years

@ Beth – I wonder if you grasp the irony of a teacher failing to educate herself on what actions were taken, what really was deleted and why the community was so upset. I really fear for the children you teach if your own education comes from Fox News.

And there are not enough +1’s in the world for Vicki’s point. Jimmy and the foundation need to decide if they really are the world’s encyclopedia, or just America’s. Don’t be so arrogant as to think the rest of the world believes as the extreme right wing of America does.

Angr 4 years

@Beth: Jimmy did nothing to protect your kids, because your kids were never in danger. Even before this purge, there was no child pornography – or even adult pornography – at Commons. Not all pictures of naked people are pornography, and the images that were deleted were far milder than things your kids can easily find elsewhere on the Net. The deletion was a cowardly knee-jerk reaction intended to appease troublemakers rather than stand up to them.

Beth 4 years

I’m a high school teacher. Many of my students use wikipedia to do research for their projects. I appreciate that Jimmy Wales took action to protect my kids. Shame on your editors for defending child pornography. Our speech is free, but that doesn’t mean it should be accessible to all.

leQ 4 years

i couldn’t have put it any better than what you’ve done already. let fox be treated like they deserve to be treated: with fascination.

Vicki Reitta 4 years

Perhaps even Jimmy Walsh should understand that Wikimedia’s projects, and esp. Wikipedia, are international projects. This is esp. true for the English version. The English version is NOT an US-version. And while it is quite understandable that people are interested in their domestic politics, this is no excuse to involve other parties, who are not at all involved or interested in local US-politics.

Perhaps this is too hard to understand? And you might say: “Well you’re right in principle – but when Fox News…!”

Then this episode seems to be symptomatic. We then just have to reconsider the structure of Wikimedia’s projects. And the result might be different projects for different cultures. After all this is how the real world looks like. And if you want to react to US media, the whole “global encyplopaedia” stuff was just a nice pipe dream – but not more.

This is the decision we have to make as you shouldn’t count on people in e.g. Europe willing to tolerate censorship by religious fundamentalists, Christian or any other kind.

James 4 years

@Lyn – yes, Jimmy’s deletions were way more catastrophic that it seems.

When he deleted an image, it got removed from every single project. Every click removed an image not just from the English Wikipedia, but from EVERY language automatically.

Normally, when somebody starts deleting without discussion, we quickly block them. But since it was the founder, our administrators were effectively powerless to stop him.

Lyn 4 years

Are Jimmy’s deletions any more or less permanent or catastrophic than mine?
I’ve deleted material in the past without any authority from anyone else, and Fox never did a report on me!

Casey Brown 4 years

@Fletcher Commons (#10): It actually is a British English/American English difference (compare focusing and focussing), but I’ve changed it to reduce the confusion.

Fletcher Commons 4 years

Uh, “focussing”? Is this some BrE/AmE difference, or just a typo? o_O

J. Duquette 4 years

Congratulations to Jimmy he grasped the political import of a right wing attack before the right wing media “echochamber” could convince every American parent that Wikipedia was too dangerous for children. “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” -Goethe

Kim Bruning 4 years

Jimmy is discussing now though, as is the rest of the community. Much of the heat has dissipated now that most people have the full analysis, and folks are now mostly back to generating more light than heat. :-)

James 4 years

“It was false to claim that Jimmy ever held final editorial control on our projects”

If only they had told Jimmy this back before he started deleting everything on his own authority.

filceolaire 4 years

Pieter

What Jimmy did was a unilateral deletion that could be undone by any editor. That’s one way of starting a discussion and it appears to have been quite successful in attracting community attention to an area which is a little used alley that was about to be visited by an army of 24hour news vampires.

Jimmy’s action was extraordinarily effective in defusing the situation turning “WIKIPEDIA HAS KIDDY PORN!!!” into “Jimmy Wales and the wikifiddlers are discussing policies for zzzzzzzzz”.

The press release above is pitched just right, concentrating on the details of titles and roles, putting the record straight but keeping it really boring.

Move along please; nothing happening here.

Casey Brown 4 years

@User:Revolus (#3): As far as I know, he would need a steward to re-grant himself the privileges.

Roger Hogsky 4 years

Jimmy is the “founder” of Wikipedia? Was it his idea to implement the wiki software and architecture? Did he name it “Wikipedia”? Did he send out the first announcement inviting editors to give it a try? I didn’t know all that.

By the way, Jay… the Wikipedia page about “Jimmy Wales” says he is the Chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation (in the infobox). But you say this hasn’t been the case for “several years now”.

Thank you for clarifying.

User:Revolus 4 years

One question: Could Mr. Wales re-grant himself his former user-account privileges or would he need a steward for that?

Pieter De Praetere 4 years

I’m sorry, but this is utter nonsense. Jimmy wasn’t “discussing” and what he did was not a “discussion”, but a unilateral deletion, without discussion and even threatening to desysop any administrator that disagreed, of images he thought were “too sexual”. There was no discussion, and frankly “don’t consider them problematic” is a slap in the face of the community, who made Wikipedia to what it is, and were blatantly ignored by Jimmy in his actions. It seems that the foundation still does not understand the problem.

Torsten 4 years

The user account privileges might have been technical, the issue was not. Relinquishing the rights was part of redefining the role of Jimbo in Wikimedia projects.

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