Does Wikipedia Have a Dirty Secret?

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Since Wikipedia first launched, the online encyclopedia has grown from an audacious (if controversial) project into an Internet powerhouse. But now one of the co-founders is trying to expose a dirty secret about the site.

Larry Sanger, who launched Wikipedia along with Jimmy Wales in 2001 only to leave the company a year later, recently told the FBI that the site is “knowingly distributing child pornography,” Fox News reports. Sanger’s claim is that there are dozens of “cartoons” and “graphic images” of kids “performing sexual acts” on various sites that belong to Wikimedia Commons, which controls Wikipedia. Each of the properties which this company owns, including Wikipedia, Wikinews and Wiktionary rely on user generated content that can be submitted and edited by anyone with an account.

According to Fox News, Sanger had previously been aware that Wikimedia had some “explicit content,” but it wasn’t until recently when he investigated a bit that he noticed this content included questionable pictures of children.

A spokesman for Wikipedia has denied Sanger’s charges, stating, “We don't have material we would deem to be illegal. If we did, we would remove it.” Several blogs have also come to Wikipedia’s defense, labeling Sanger a “disgruntled” former employee who is essentially fabricating charges of Wikipedophilia in order to get back at the company.

That may be the case, but it is worth pointing out that even before this charge, Wikipedia’s Wales didn’t exactly have a squeaky clean background. Wales used to run another site called Bomis back in the 90s that was known as a “guy oriented search engine” that featured pictures of barely clothed ladies. This site earned him the title of “porn king.” However, once Wikipedia became a success, Wales played down this part of his life and even rewrote his own background a bit on his Wikipedia profile to omit references to Bomis's adult content.

Still, there is a big difference between that kind of content and child pornography. Wikipedia claims that the FBI has not contacted them yet, which may be an indication that they don’t believe Sanger’s claims, or that they are still trying to figure out who’s telling the truth.

Typical crowdsourcing problem.

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