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Is Wikipedia Distributing Child Pornography?

April 29, 2010

A co-founder of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia is accusing the website of knowingly posting pornographic cartoons or illustrations of underage children.

In a letter written to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) earlier this month, Larry Sanger, who helped create Wikipedia but left the organization in 2002, specifically mentioned two entries–’pedophilia’ and ‘lolicon’–in the Wikipedia Commons section of the encyclopedia that are filled with at least 25 different explicit drawings of underage children engaging in sexual acts. According to FoxNews.com, Sanger told the FBI that he believes the entries violate federal obscenity laws.

“I wasn’t shocked that it was online, but I was shocked that it was on a Wikimedia Foundation site that purports to be a reference site,” Sanger told Jana Winters of Fox News on Tuesday.

“I think a lot of teachers and education technologists responsible for the filters at public schools don’t realize how much and what level of pornography there is in the system,” he added. “I’m quite sure that if they knew there were pages devoted to pedophilia, it might make them think twice about giving students unrestricted access in schools.”

Sanger, who now works with educational websites, told Winters that he originally started searching for explicit content on Wikipedia and its sister sites after learning from teachers that they were unaware Wikipedia could contain inappropriate content for students. He later learned that, under federal law, failing to report obscene content is a criminal offense, so he contacted the FBI.

On Wednesday, Sanger backed off of the “child pornography” charge, telling the AFP that it could be “misleading” and that “It didn’t occur to me until afterward that many people restrict ‘child pornography’ to mean photographs of real children. If I had realized this sooner, I would have used ‘depictions of child sexual abuse’ instead.”

Officials from the online encyclopedia are denying the accusations.

“Our community abhors issues around pornography and pedophilia and they don’t want to provide opportunities for these things to take place,” Wikipedia spokesman Jay Walsh told AFP on Wednesday. “We don’t have material we would deem to be illegal. If we did, we would remove it.”

Furthermore, in an online response, the Wikimedia Foundation–Wikipedia’s parent company–emphasized that the organization “obeys the law” and that they had “not been contacted by the FBI or any other law-enforcement agency with regard to allegedly illegal content on any Wikimedia projects.”

“Our community of volunteer editors takes action to remove illegal material when such material is brought to its attention,” the statement continued. “If and when we are informed by law enforcement agencies of illegal content that has not already been removed through self-policing, we will take quick action to delete it.”

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