On dealing with the press.

When Wikipedia was little (when I started in early 2004, we were #500 in the world. I was seriously impressed), and I was just someone who volunteered to answer a UK press enquiry then another one, we were in the technical press a lot.

The trouble with the technical press is that they are whores. Cheap diseased ones. (The press in general arguably is, but the tech press are so blatant.) Previously whores to print advertisers, now whores to ad-banner trolling. So unsubstantiable bullshit is the order of the day, because IT GETS THE CLICKS.

Some of you aren’t whores, but you know damn well you’re few and far between. The rest can fuck off, thanks.

Wikipedia should have ignored the tech press from the start. You should too. Taking someone seriously just because they pay you attention is not a good idea.

It’s so much nicer dealing with the mainstream press — at least they can spell “journalism.” They can’t work computers, but anything you can’t explain in a difficult-to-corrupt soundbite you can’t explain.


Channel 4 was fun. I recorded a sequence of soundbites for them to pick’n’choose from. News story with video — their Flash player is crappy, crappy, crappy shit and doesn’t buffer. I look dead. “UNBLOCK WIKIPEDIA OR TEH INTARWEB ZOMBIES WILL EAT YOUR BRAINS.” The IWF head came across as a curtain-twitching weasel.

A small amount of gleeful dancing on the skulls of the IWF today. Next trick is to get a better UK press corps together for Wikimedia. Mostly it’s reserve duty. I’m really annoyed we didn’t have someone spare for Sky News (I was doing Channel 4 at the same time) as the reporter was actually technically clueful. Any Wikipedia editors here who think they could talk in soundbites on telly if needed?

By the way, the really massive IWF fail, which didn’t come out in the press coverage: they blocked the page about the album, and they blocked the page for the image, but they didn’t block the image itself.

The next question is what happens next. The filtering infrastructure melted when faced with filtering a top 10 site; they’re not going to give up and go away, so I expect them to (a) beef it up (b) make it less evident — we spotted this by the collateral damage.

I also predict a flood of helpful citizenry going to the IWF reporting page and entering any image on any top 10 website that might be “potentially illegal.” Much as the head of the IWF is “potentially a fabulous drag queen.”

I wasn’t aware before going on it just how important Radio 4 Today is. In fact, I’d barely heard of it. Do I get deported now?

Today show transcript

Right-click, download mp3 here. MP3 and transcript below (by TRS-80, cheers!) are copyright BBC; if they object I’m sure they’ll let me know.

I’m on Channel 4 News and More4 News tonight, possibly another thing too. HOLY CRAP.

Broadcast on 2008-12-08, on BBC Radio 4‘s The Today Programme between 08:54:11–08:59:56 (UTC)

James Naughtie
The time is six minutes to nine. Another curious story about censorship is spreading across the internet, it’s all about a page on the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, about a heavy metal band of 25 or 30 years ago, The Scorpions. The image at the centre of the story is a record cover from an album of the early eighties featuring a picture of a naked child, which the Internet Watch Foundation says could be illegal. Now the foundation is a watchdog funded by the internet services industry, but Wikipedia says that it’s unacceptable censorship. Susan Robertson speaks for the Internet Watch Foundation, and David Gerard is here, he’s a volunteer media spokesman for Wikipedia in this country. Susan Robertson, now what is it that’s lead you to think that this, which after all appeared in a publicly available album cover 35, 25 years ago, is now illegal?
Susan Robertson
Good morning. We received this report last week at the Internet Watch Foundation and then assessed it according to our normal channels, which is it’s reviewed by our team of analysts, in conjunction UK law enforcement.
So somebody simply said “Have a look at this, because it looks to me as if it’s over the top” ?
Exactly, the Internet Watch Foundation is the UK hotline providing just that service; if the public are worried they’ve stumbled across content which might be illegal, they can report it to us. Our job then is to assess that content then and trace it and indeed our assessment last week was that the image in question was indeed a potentially illegal child-sexual abuse image.
So, which law would it contravene?
It’s the Protection of Children Act 1978.
Right. So, in fact would it have been illegal, do you think, if someone had complained at the time? …I can’t remember when that album came out specifically…
Yeah, I under the album came out before that date, of course it’s an important issue—we’re applying today’s standards and today’s legislation to the reports we’re receiving today. Obviously, y’know, this is an old image.
David Gerard, speaking for Wikipedia, what do you make of that?
David Gerard
The album was issued in 1976, it’s been available continuously for 32 years. The album cover was changed because some various people told the band “this is a stupid and crass image”, which it is, and I’m not questioning it’s a tasteless image, but that’s quite different from illegal. You can still buy the record with this image in The Scorpions box set, in any high street. There are many other record covers available; Blind Faith by Eric Clapton, Houses of the Holy by Led Zepplin, Nevermind by Nirvana which feature naked underage people. None of these albums are illegal, you can go into high-street record shop and buy them. You can see this image—the image of the album Virgin Killer by The Scorpions—on the Amazon website right now. When we asked the Internet Watch Foundation why they blocked Wikipedia and not Amazon, apparently their decision was quote “pragmatic” unquote, which-
-we think means that Amazon have money and would sue them, whereas we’re an educational charity and-
Well Susan Robertson, can I just put that point to you; if it’s proper to block Wikipedia, it’s proper to block Amazon?
Absolutely; we only act on the reports we receive, and as I understand it, the only report we received regarding this content as of Friday was the content on Wikipedia-
So you’ll go for Amazon will you?
We need to take a view today, obviously we need to look at the reports that have come in over the weekend, I know there’s been a lot of activity as you’ve said on the internet. We need to take a view with our analysts here and with our police partners.
Yes, indeed, but you confirm it isn’t a question of how much money somebody’s got, if it’s a principle, it’s a principle and it applies to Amazon as well as to Wikipedia.
Absolutely. We process about 35,000 reports every year, only about a third of those are confirmed to be potentially illegal, as such they’re all treated the same.
What can you do, many people are concerned about you know, the consequences of the freedom which they value on the internet, and a lot of people think that the Internet Watch Foundation is a sort of guardian for them, but what can you actually do?
What we do do is do our very best to ensure that the only content that is inaccessible is the specific content, including illegal images, so how we block… I mean, our main function is a hotline—we’re also a take-down body for illegal content when it’s hosted in the UK. But if it’s hosted abroad-
There’s nothing you can do.
There is, and our industry members have asked us to provide them with a list of specific URLs, which we do. All the URLs, which as an individual webpage are live, and they’re depicting child-sexual abuse images.
David Gerard, everyone will know, most people will know if they use the internet, about Wikipedia, and how it works and what source of information—occasionally disinformation—it is. Do you object to the idea that there is someone out there, funded by the industry, who can take down something which is regarded as so offensive, or potentially illegal that it goes beyond the boundaries.
Nobody objects to the IWF blocking actually illegal content; that’s what it’s for. What they object to in this case is they blocked an image that is not illegal, that has not been found illegal anywhere in the world, that has been …it was investigated in America by the FBI in May after a complaint by a fundamentalist Christian group, who told them to go away. The IWF also censored the text—what the issue in this case is they censored encyclopaedia text on the number four website in the world. This is the biggest website the IWF has ever blocked, and we think it was an experiment to see what they could get away with, without people noticing.
From IWF point of view, last world Susan Robertson, was it an attempt to see what you could get away with?
It was absolutely not an experiment, we don’t experiment. Look, we do our job in good faith, we apply the Protection of Children Act, and the UK sentencing guidelines-
-Blocking text?
We’ve only blocked the URL that contains the page-, the image.
Susan Robertson, David Gerard, thank you both.

UK censorship of Virgin Killer sleeve and page on Wikipedia

Facebook group against this; Pledgebank ISP boycott; Wikinews story

I’m going to be on the BBC Radio 4 Today show tomorrow at 8:20am about this. IWF people present.

The technical press are swarming. The story’s being touted to the national press.

The IWF apparently sought the advice of police before blocking. Now, the police in the UK are notorious for trying it on with censorship cases, so that doesn’t mean the image is illegal.

The album was released in 1976; child porn was illegalised in the UK in 1978. If the album was distributed in the UK since 1978 with that cover, it’s probably legal.

The album cover has been reprinted in many books. Most of those books are in the Briitsh Library. Are those now obscene?

Question for all: Has this precise image ever come to court? In the UK, in the world?

The IWF had it pointed out that they were censoring encyclopedia text, which was clearly not illegal. The IWF responded that they needed to block the page to block the image effectively. This is of course utterly ludicrous bollocks, but apparently that’s the advice the IWF have received.

They were also asked if they’d be censoring Amazon as well. They said they’d have to get back on that one.

It’s the clbuttic error, but this time on a top-10 site for everyone.

Oh, and Blind Faith by Blind Faith, Houses of the Holy by Led Zeppelin and Nevermind by Nirvana, also depicting nude underage persons, are still readily available in any high street CD store in the UK.

It is clearly false that all images of an unclothed person under the 18 is automatically child porn and illegal in the UK. However, that’s the rule the IWF works to.

Like DRM, if anyone works out there’s an IWF and how it works, then they’ve already lost. They’re tolerated precisely as long as they target only clearly illegal material. Here, they’re expanding their remit.

Disclaimer: I do press for Wikipedia/Wikimedia in the UK as a volunteer (and I’ve been on my email and phone all last night to about 2am and today since 9am). However, I am not a WMF employee and cannot legally claim to speak for them, only as a volunteer editor.