Censorship of WP in the UK Dec 2008QA

See the WMF Press Release on the issue here.

What is going on here?

On Saturday, December 6, the Wikimedia Foundation started hearing from its UK-based volunteer editors that they could suddenly no longer edit Wikipedia, nor could they access the Wikipedia article about the 1976 record album titled Virgin Killer. Based on bits of information editors had pieced together, they believed that the Internet Watch Foundation had blocked access to the article inside the UK, which additionally had the unintended consequence of blocking UK internet users' ability to edit Wikipedia. On Sunday, the Wikimedia Foundation made contact with the Internet Watch Foundation, which confirmed to Wikimedia that it had blocked the Virgin Killer article. The IWF confirmed that it intended to maintain the block.

Who is the Internet Watch Foundation?

The Internet Watch Foundation is a UK-based non-profit which is funded mainly by UK internet service providers. It sees its role as protecting people in the UK from illegal material online, by providing a mechanism for the public to report material, and by providing a blacklist for material it deems problematic, which internet service providers voluntarily adhere to. It is not a government agency nor does it act with the authority of the police, and its accountabilities and responsibilities are unclear.

When did the Internet Watch Foundation put the block in place?

We don't know. The first we heard about the block was when our editors told us about it, on Saturday, December 6, 2008.

Who is unable to see the blocked material?

The Internet Watch Foundation says that its blacklist affects 95% of residential UK internet users. It does not affect people in the UK who are accessing the internet through non-residential means such as at their place of employment. It presumably also does not apply to all mobile users.

What explanation has been given for the block?

In the statement on its website, the Internet Watch Foundation says the image in question “is considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image.”

Is this the first time this has happened to Wikipedia in the UK?

Yes. To our knowledge, this is the first time Wikipedia has ever been censored in the UK.

Is this the first time it has happened to Wikipedia anywhere?

No. Wikipedia has been banned, blocked and filtered to various degrees by several countries. For example, it has frequently been blocked in China, although it is not currently. We believe it has also been intermittently blocked in Syria and Iran.

How did UK-based Wikipedia editors end up being unable to edit?

Normally, the IWF blacklist would have the effect of making it impossible for UK internet users to view the page in question. However, in the case of Wikipedia, the block has had the additional -and extremely damaging- side effect of disenfranchising UK-based Wikipedia editors, by making it impossible for them to edit the encyclopedia. Here's how that happened: Once Wikipedia was added to the IWF blacklist, access to Wikipedia through participating UK-based ISPs began being routed through a transparent proxy server, which means that different internet users in the UK could then no longer be distinguished from each other by IP address. (They all appear, to a site like Wikipedia, to be the same person.) As a consequence of all UK visitors now appearing indistinguishable to Wikipedia, Wikipedia's protective mechanisms against abusive editing are inevitably triggered, and all UK visitors from blacklist-affected ISPs are indiscriminately unable to edit Wikipedia.

How many editors are affected, and how big a problem is this for Wikipedia?

It is a huge problem. There are tens of thousands of people in the UK who regularly edit Wikipedia: roughly one quarter of all edits to the English Wikipedia are made from inside the UK. The Wikimedia Foundation is dependent upon the contributions of volunteer editors in order to fulfill its educational mission. It cannot afford to have UK-based editors excluded from participation in the encyclopedia.

Have the IWF and Wikimedia been in communication?

Yes. The IWF told Wikimedia it intends to stand behind the block.

The IWF says the image in question is illegal, or potentially illegal. What does the Wikimedia Foundation say?

We have no reason to believe the image has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world. We believe it's worth noting that the image is currently visible on Amazon, where the album can be freely purchased and shipped to by UK residents. The image is also available on many other web sites accessed by UK residents. We have no reason to believe that the availability of the image to UK residents breaks any UK law.

What is the Wikimedia Foundation's position on the issue of having been blocked by the IWF?

We are frankly baffled as to why the IWF would choose to target Wikipedia -an encyclopedia, run by a charitable organization, which has been repeatedly gauged as equivalent in quality to conventional encyclopedias- for censorship. And we are particularly displeased that the IWF chose to censor not solely the image, but also the explanatory article text which described and contextualized the controversy surrounding the image, in a neutral and educational fashion.
Last modified on 25 March 2013, at 15:45