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.