by Delicious Carbuncle
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May 7, 2013
Let’s be very clear about this – in my experience, the Wikimedia Foundation (who own Wikipedia and the site’s image repository, Wikimedia Commons) takes the issue of child pornography very seriously. The WMF has no tolerance for explicit images of people who are underage. This may be simply because hosting child pornography is illegal in the jurisdictions where the Wikimedia servers are, but whatever the reason, my reporting of child pornography to WMF employees has always resulted in swift and decisive action. The trouble is that Wikimedia projects are not administrated by WMF employees, they are administrated by volunteers. And some of those volunteers do not share the WMF’s concerns about hosting child pornography.
Meet Matt Buck
Matt Buck is an admin on Wikimedia Commons, where he goes by the clever pseudonym Mattbuck. He’s not the Matt Buck who is a talented illustrator, or the Matt Buck who is a bodybuilder and fitness model. He’s this Matt Buck, who is a maths PhD student at the University of Nottingham.Mattbuck is very active on Commons and one of the more prominent admins there. When someone believes an image on Commons should be deleted for some reason, they start a deletion discussion. Commons editors will discuss the rationale for deleting or keeping the image and an admin will close the discussion (and delete the image if that is the decision reached). Mattbuck is one of a group of editors who tend to appear at deletion discussions about images relating to nudity or sexuality to offer reasons why the image should be kept. Since he is an admin, Mattbuck also closes a lot of these types of discussions. Mattbuck also keeps galleries of “sexuality” and “nudity” images in his userspace, presumably so that he can spot problem images. These pages are generated by a “bot” which scans selected categories for new additions. (I was using this bot to keep track of newly added snapshots of penises – there are already well over 1,000 images of penises on Commons — but the bot owner was prompted to put a stop to that.) Why am I telling you about Mattbuck? So that when you read what follows, you will understand that Mattbuck should know better.
Nipple of left female breast of 16 year old. Bra size 38D
On 17 April 2013, a new user account with the name of (User1234567890) was created and 7 images were uploaded. One of those images caught the attention of Mattbuck, perhaps because it appeared in his aforementioned galleries. It was an image of a woman’s breast, pushed out over the top of a purple bra, with a little bit of what appears to be a soccer shirt visible at the side. It was described by the uploader as “Nipple of left female breast of 16 year old. Bra size 38D”. Instead of deleting this image immediately and asking for it to be deleted from the WMF’s servers (because “deleted” images are not actually deleted and can still be viewed by admins), Mattbuck started a deletion discussion, with the rationale of “Low quality ‘pull down your top and take a photo’ type pic”.
Does a picture of a 16 year-old’s breast count as child pornography? Should Mattbuck have considered this an illegal image? He is in England and I believe that English laws about child pornography are similar to those of the US (see Protection of Children Act 1978). I’m sure there is a case to be made that an image of a 16 year-old’s exposed breast is not covered by that law, but recall that there were 6 other pictures uploaded. They were described as “Female pubic hair of a 16 year old from the UK” or, in one case, just “16 year old pubic hair”. Each of those was a close-up shot of a vulva with fingers spreading the labia. Each appear to be of the same vulva, although taken at different times.
Before anyone suggests that Mattbuck was not aware of the other images, let me tell you that he closed his deletion request as “Kept: Sent to another DR” when another user started a deletion request for all of the images uploaded by User1234567890. So Mattbuck was aware of them. When one image by a new user is put up for discussion, the normal course of action would be to look at that user’s other uploads. I presume that Mattbuck did this.
Are images of the spread labia of a 16 year-old girl considered child pornography in England? I believe they are. Are they considered child pornography in Canada, where Rrburke (the user who started the other deletion request) resides? I believe they are. Are they considered to be child pornography in the US, where the Commons servers are? I believe they are. When I saw these images I reported them to a WMF employee (who deleted them as soon as they were able). Why did Rrburke not report these images? Why did Mattbuck not report these images?
Taiwanese People erection 17-year-old 16CM
On 15 February 2013, User:Sn890601, an account that had never previously made any uploads or edits on Commons uploaded 3 images. All were somewhat blurry images of an erect penis. Two of the images were described as “Taiwanese People erection 17-year-old 16CM”; the other as “Taiwanese People erection”. Mattbuck started deletion discussions for two of these images. In one, he wrote ”Low quality penis photo of an under-18″ as the reason to discuss deleting the image. So Mattbuck acknowledges that the person who uploaded the image has identified the subject as being underage. Are images of the erect penis of a 17-year-old considered child pornography in England and the US? I believe they are.
When I saw these images, I looked to see if there were any Commons admins online. Howcheng seemed to be active. Howcheng is an admin on Commons and the English-language Wikipedia, and he also has access to the private OTRS facility which is used to confirm copyright permissions and respond to user complaints. I used Common’s email facility to alert him to these images, and asked him to delete them immediately. I left a note on his talk page telling him to check his email. Although Howcheng continued to make edits on Commons, he did not delete the images or respond to my email. Are images of the erect penis of a 17 year-old considered child pornography in California where Howcheng lives? I believe they are.
When my first attempt at having these images deleted failed, I contacted a WMF employee. I also told them about Howcheng’s apparent lack of action. I made a point of asking that they tell the WMF’s legal department about Mattbuck’s action. Howcheng may not have bothered to read my email until the images had been deleted, but Mattbuck had no excuse for not deleting the images. The images were deleted almost immediately. Mattbuck and Howcheng are both still admins and, as far as I know, no one from the WMF has spoken to them about their involvement in this case. Clearly, Mattbuck has not changed how they deal with such images.
A known problem
I have reported similar underage images to Commons admins and have had them swiftly and quietly deleted, but there are only a few Commons admins that I trust to do the right thing without drawing more attention to the images. I know that if I report such images to a particular WMF employee, they will be dealt with as swiftly as that employee is able, but they are only one person. There should be an email address that is monitored 24 hour a day, 7 days a week to receive these kind of reports.
The WMF is careful not to get involved with content on its projects, because they might open themselves up to legal liability for that content. On the other hand, it would not look good if they are charged with having child pornography on their servers, so they need to take action to remove it when they are notified. What about when they are not notified? Who is keeping Wikipedia and Commons free from child pornography? Volunteers. Volunteers are supposed to bring this to the attention of admins, who then deal with it. And admins are just volunteers who have the ability to do a few more things, but no training in the law, copyright, or anything else. They can delete an image, but will they report it to the WMF? Will they report it to the police? Will they make sure the image is actually deleted from the servers or just “deleted” so that normal users can’t see it but admins can? There are over 270 admins on Commons. Some of them are under 18. In some countries, they are breaking the law by looking at some of the images on Commons, even ignoring the occasional upload of child pornography. And how would the law deal with someone viewing child pornography because they have a volunteer admin position (which doesn’t let them actually delete the images)?
In April 2010, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger wrote a letter to the FBI asking them to investigate the presence of child pornography on Commons. Fox News quoted the WMF’s response as saying:
Our community of volunteer editors takes action to remove illegal material when such material is brought to its attention. The Wikimedia Foundation is proud of the Wikimedia editors who zealously work to keep the projects free of illegal material. 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.
Jack Stuef referenced Sanger’s letter in an April 2012 article on Buzzfeed entitled “Wikipedia’s Kiddie Porn Problem“. Stuef recounted his experiences identifying probable child pornography on Commons and asking for it to be deleted. Another year on and you can see that the Commons volunteer system still leaves a lot to be desired. The unpaid “editors”, “administrators” and “bureaucrats” that the WMF is proud of are people like Mattbuck, Rrburke, Howcheng, and others. The volunteers that the WMF relies on have received no training regarding child pornography legislation. Having dealt with this problem for years now, I am sure that some of them disagree with the laws and are unlikely to delete images that they feel are acceptable even if the law states they are not.
Time for Mattbuck to go
If a volunteer admin on Commons fails to act when they discover child pornography, are they not placing the WMF in legal jeopardy? Mattbuck not only fails to act, but actually exposes more people to these images by starting public deletion discussions for images which he should know are in violation of the applicable laws. For the time being I will continue to report such images to the WMF, but if there is no indication soon that they are working to address the obvious shortcomings in how uploads of child pornography are being dealt with, I will start reporting these images directly to the appropriate authorities. I am sure that they will, in turn, contact the WMF.