Wales Says Wikipedia Role Unchanged, But Editorial Power Has Been Curbed

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales says that despite widespread reports to the contrary, he is “not stepping down from anything,” and is maintaining his role with the user-edited encyclopedia, although he says he has voluntarily relinquished certain editing privileges he had as a co-founder of the site, after a disagreement with other Wikipedia editors. The dispute arose after Wales used his founder’s editing rights to remove a number of images from Wikimedia Commons — a related image-hosting service — that he felt were not appropriate, and that some critics said depicted child abuse and child pornography. Fox News reported that Wales’ deletion of the images led to a “shakeup at Wikipedia” and that the co-founder had been removed from having any ability to edit the site, but Wales called these reports “nonsense” in comments on Twitter, and expanded on those remarks in an email:

The Founder flag is a purely technical matter of little importance – which was precisely my reason for changing its rights – to eliminate an argument about it that wasn’t about what I regard as the core leadership values within our community. I have never led the community through authoritarian methods, and so when people started to focus on technical powers, I wanted to say clearly: not the point, folks.

Wales said that apart from dropping the founder’s editing privileges, which among other things allowed him to delete content without the consent of other editors, his role within Wikipedia today is “no different than it ever was” and that he is still actively editing articles just like any other user. Wales reiterated that he’s also still president of Wikia Inc. — a for-profit sister company — and chairman emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation, and he still has special powers as the co-founder, including the ability to ban users and appoint members of the arbitration committee. When asked if he regretted deleting the images in question, Wales said: “I am proud to have put this issue on the table in a big way, and positive change will come from it – and already has, to a significant extent, though there is much work left to do.”

The Wikipedia community has come under fire recently from co-founder Larry Sanger over some of the images hosted by the related Wikimedia site (both are run by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation). Sanger, who has fought with Wikipedia in the past and also started a competitor called Citizendium, says the images constitute child pornography, and he has written a letter to the FBI asking them to take action. That in turn sparked a series of reports on Fox News about Wikipedia hosting child porn.

One Wikipedia insider, who asked not to be identified, said that there was a heated debate about the way that Wales deleted the images, but that the issue has more or less died down, although discussion continues in a variety of Wikipedia forums and mailing lists about which (if any) images should be deleted, and what the site’s role should be in hosting either objectionable or potentially illegal content. This source said that while there are some critics both inside and outside the community, there is no debate about Jimmy’s ongoing role with the foundation or with Wikipedia itself.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons