Disgruntled Ex-Wikipedia Guy, Larry Sanger, Accuses Wikipedia Of Distributing Child Porn

from the desperate-much dept

It's no secret that Larry Sanger is no fan of Wikipedia. He's often credited as being a co-founder of the site, though some dispute this. He was involved in the creation of Nupedia, Wikipedia's predecessor, which was more of a traditional expert-edited online encyclopedia. While many involved in Wikipedia these days downplay his role there, Sanger has made a pretty compelling case that he was heavily involved in the early days. Either way, since he left, he's gone way out of his way to distance himself from Wikipedia, while setting up a competitor (again, an expert-edited encyclopedia) that doesn't get much usage. Every few months or so, he seems to find some way to pop up in the news, often using his connection to Wikipedia as the hook for why the press should cover his competitor, which appears to get almost no traffic whatsoever.

His latest tactic is really pretty low. SimonTek points us to a Fox News article all about Sanger calling on the FBI to investigate Wikipedia for distributing child porn. While Fox of course plays up Sanger's Wikipedia credentials, they leave out the fact that he has been working on a failed competitor for years (they mention the company name, but not that it's a competitor). They also leave out much of the animosity between Sanger and Wikipedia.

This story actually got some attention a few weeks ago on Slashdot, where many commenters, rightfully, took Sanger to task. Sanger responded to the criticism by arguing a few points, saying that he was required by law to report his findings to the FBI. To some extent, on that point, he is correct, though it is an issue with the law that focuses on criminalizing even those who accidentally run across questionable material, rather than focusing on those who create and purposely distribute the material (the real problems). However, he does appear to go somewhat out of his way to publicize this claim. He could have just alerted the FBI and been done with it... but he republished his letter to the FBI on a mailing list. That certainly raises some serious questions.

On top of that, his complaint is not about actual photographs of child pornography, but drawings. Indeed, the courts have found that even such depictions count as child pornography -- though many people find that arguable about whether or not a made up drawing exploits a child in any way.

The real problem, of course, is that this (like so many arguments over this stuff) takes away from the real issue: which is stopping those actually responsible for child pornography. Attacking Wikipedia is not the answer and does little to help the issue -- especially when the attack comes from someone with a long history of animosity towards the site, and a failing competitor. Why not focus those resources on actually dealing with the real problem? Wouldn't we all rather that the FBI is focused on actually stopping those involved in the production of child pornography than wasting time going after Wikipedia? Part of the problem is certainly with the way the law is structured today, but it does seem that Sanger went out of his way to try to broadcast this attack when that absolutely was not necessary.

He makes it even worse in the Fox story by claiming that he was doing this to alert educators that Wikipedia is dangerous for school children. That's flat-out ridiculous. For the most part, it is not. It's quite unlikely that anyone is going to accidentally stumble onto those drawings on Wikipedia -- and they're equally as likely to find similar (or worse) stuff elsewhere. To call out all of Wikipedia as being unsuitable because of this is clearly going way too far.

Filed Under: child porn, larry sanger, wikipedia


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  1. identicon
    Larry Sanger, 3 May 2010 @ 2:47pm

    First, see here: http://www.larrysanger.org/ReplyToSlashdot.html and here: http://www.larrysanger.org/MoreAboutWikimedia.html That's all I'm going to say about your facile dismissals of my motives. It also contains some responses to some of the sillier claims in your original blog post.

    "You claim you did this to stop the normalization of pedophilia. But it's not being normalized." Sez you, with no defense of your claim whatsoever; you take a definition position, you should support it. I see a lot of evidence of a movement to normalize pedophilia. Quite a few comments on Slashdot suggested it; there's P.C.-hipness of Judith Levine's book, "Harmful to Minors"; there's the sheer fact that radically lowering age of consent laws is no longer ruled out of court; there's the attempted "scientific" normalization of pedophilia, for example the "personal perspective" viewable here. There's the fact that Wikipedia defends its right to host depictions of child abuse, and then Wikipedia's defenders like you attack me, rather than taking a closer look at their beloved project.

    And, by the way, I did not say that I posted my letter to the FBI in order to stop the normalization of pedophilia. It really had more to do with Wikipedia, in particular--with holding Wikipedia to higher standards, the standards of the rest of the world. I don't have a special concern about stopping child porn, more than other bad things in the world. But it definitely is one of the bad things in the world.

    To Anonymous Coward: my position does not rest on any such notion as that a particular person will be more likely inspired to molest a child after viewing a drawing--not just any drawing, by the way, but a drawing of horrifically disturbing acts, which would be sought out only by people who find nothing wrong with contemplating the molestation of children. My claim, instead (to simplify), is that a society that tolerates the graphic, gross depiction of children being sexually molested, in the interest of "history" or "education" or "reference" or "art" or however you might implausibly try to label it, is probably also going to be more tolerant of actual child molestation. It is part of a slow creep toward the lowering of another taboo, and in this case, a taboo that really should remain taboo. There are things that even you can agree are good that society is intolerant of, that it should be intolerant of, and the intolerance of which we should guard jealously. A society that tolerates these things is, to that extent, less civilized. Racism, slavery, and incest are only the easiest examples. Pedophilia is another. Child porn of all sorts--whether in photographs or in drawings--can appeal only to those who find pedophilic sentiments, if not actions, acceptable in themselves. But a civilized society finds all such sentiments deplorable and intolerable; and, I think, it should not tolerate them. To put it another way, pedophiles need no further encouragement, and they should continue to be shamed and made afraid by the law. Since there are no other consumers of child porn than people who get their kicks from imagining abusing children, banning the material by law is a perfectly justified way to do this.

    I know one response: lolicon is legal in Japan, and they don't have so much abuse. There are at least a couple of points here. First, as far as I can tell (I admit I don't know much about it), "lolicon" refers to cutesy cartoon characters, of young-looking but indefinite age, having sex. This may or may not be easily labelled as depictions of child molestation. If it is--well, I think Japan should ban it. Second, Japan has less crime period. The question is whether they would reduce the amount of pedophilia, over the long run, if they were to get rid of depictions of child molestation. Furthermore, in a society that tolerates stories of children being raped, I would have serious doubts about crime statistics--there is a deep shame culture in Japan, which would make reports of child molestation a much more damaging. So I would not be at all surprised if it were grossly under-reported. For this and other reasons, I very much doubt that the child molestation statistics of the U.S. and Japan could easily be compared.

    There is a lot more to say, but I'm going to have to leave it at that. At some point in the future I might publish an essay explaining my views on such things more fully.

    I'm guessing you don't have children, Masnick. I don't know if you're married. If you are married, I wonder what your wife says about this. She might be able to explain it to you better, or at least more convincingly, than I can. I notice that there are precious few females the people who criticized me for reporting WMF to the FBI. I wonder why...

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