Tuesday, October 18, 2011

French poll shows overall reluctance to Image Filter

Two weeks ago, I initiated an Image Filter poll on the French Wikipedia. As I stated previously I was deeply encouraged in doing so by the significative reception of a previous post, Out of the blue on the german wikipedia. There was a clear desire to know the position of the active users of Wikipedia.fr on this subject.

On monday, the poll was over. I quickly published a comprehensive report on the discussion page. In order to make it accessible to international wikipedians, this post will display a translation from French original (which turns out to be also a wiki-blogger translation : for instance the results table becomes a mere picture). Here we go :

Let's firstly disclose the main information of this poll : there seems to be no german exception. The results are very similar to those of the Meinungsbild of last august, with a p.c. ratio of 81/19 vs. 86/14.

Yet, the polls are diverging on an important point : participation. The figures in brackets show that the Meinungsbild have received five times more opinions than the Sondage. Even when we take into account the disproportion between the French community (about 5000 active users) and the german community (about 7000 active users), a significant gap remains.

It can be mainly explained by the structural differences between the two polls. As I stated in a previous post, the Meinungsbild is closer to what French wikipedians call a Prise de décision than a Sondage. For instance, its setting requires the pre-approval of several users, whereas a Sondage can be launched in a few hours by merely one user. Besides, the results of a Sondage does not have any effective consequences : it will not go beyond the showing of the users' opinions. The stakes are clearly not similar.

Then, the German and the French community does not have the same relationship to the Image Filter issue. During the past year, Wikipedia.de has frequently discussed the status of controversial pictures. On Wikipedia.fr, there has been no such debate. A kind of silent consensus tends to admit every content as long as its meaning is related to the encyclopedic subject.

For all theses reasons, the sondage stands clearly below the Meinungsbild massive participation. Yet, it seems representative of the global fr. viewpoints on the issue. About one third of opinions were expressed by users who have a community status (Administrator, Arbitre, Bureaucrat…). The very core of the French Community has focused on this poll. Moreover, the poll stopped receiving any new opinion two days before its closure : every user who wanted to convey his/her position has done so.

The various statements delivered during the poll can be summarized by several key arguments.

Those who favored the implementation of the Image Filter have often refered to the reader's freedom. An editor should not impose any type of content, whether controversial or not, on him/her. He/she should have the opportunity to modify the encyclopedia according to his/her own moral or psychological rules. Such a statement entails a vivid criticism of the poll. Actually, the Sondage only received editors' opinions. Nothing refrained plain readers from expressing their views (everyone, even IP, can edit a Sondage). Yet, the encyclopedic polls are not publicized out of the community interfaces. Some new procedure should have been invented to get the readership involved.

The opponents were mainly critical of the effective realisation of the Image Filter. On what criterion should one decide whether an image is controversial or not ? Would the implementation not trigger endless debates ? Are we not opening some kind Pandora's box ? In brief the ratio eventual effectivity / editorial investment turns out to be very low. Similarly to the Meinungbild, several users underlined that the Image Filter exceeds the encyclopedic vocation of Wikipedia : a scientific and educational institution should not interfere with moral matters. The sphere of knowledge is bound to a false/true dichotomy which ignores the good/evil alternative.

What can be concluded ? As I pointed out previously, it is only a survey (a Sondage). This poll cannot prevent the implementation of the Image Filter on the French Wikipedia. Yet, it reveals a significant rejection. For what we can see, the implementation would be all but consensual.

Addenda : in fact, the Image Filter issue does not only go beyond languages but also beyond wikipedia. I lately published an article about it on Rue89 (a popular French news website) which has been viewed about ten thousand times, mostly by non-wikipedians.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The temporary end of the Italian Wikipedia…

It’s always delicate to write something whenever you never introduced yourself properly to your readership. I will try to make it straight. Despite the anglo-italian consonance of my pseudonym, I am a francophone wikipedian, member of the local Arbcom, and editor of a well-received wikipedian blog, Wikitrekk.

During the past week I committed myself to two significant issues. I launched a francophone poll on the Image Filter, whose results will be displayed soon. I took an active part in the reception of the blackout of the italian wikipedia on the francophone web, notably by writing the french translation of the Communicato degli utenti. The two preceding posts concerned the Image filter. This one, logically, bears upon the italian wiki-protest.

I dare say the writing of this post has not been a very exhausting work. It’s not a real original work, merely an english adaptation of a french account which has been wholly appreciated by francophone wikipedians and newspapers. The structure is basically the same : I adress the event chronologically by using three simplistic sections : before / meanwhile / afterwards…

Before : the Comma 29

The expression « Comma 29 » is filled with a certain exoticism. It could have been the codename of a MacGuffin murder mystery. The reality is more prosaic.

In the Italian law vocabulary, a Comma is a paragraph, a distinctive section of a law or a resolution. The Wiretapping act consists of 42 of commas, each of them being subdivided into several subsections identified by the letters of the alphabet. As you might guess, it is not an easy-to-read text — rather an archeological fabric in which ruses, accomodations and divergences intricated for about three years.

The very first draft have been proposed to the parliament one month after the victory of Berlusconi’s party to the general elections, on the 30th of june 2008. In account of the complexity of the Italian legislative, the law is fully approved two years later by june 2010. And there… Berlusconi dropped it. In the midst of the Rubygate scandal, the Cavaliere surrenders to public pressure.

Finally, after one more year of in-waiting, the Wiretapping act is making its come-back, always aiming to reinforce the political control over the press. It even goes farther than that. One theses 42 commas, the 29th, hides, beneath an innocent look, one of the most depriving measures a democratic government ever attempted to enact against the New Media.

The small, introductory (a) stipulated that:
With respect to radio and TV retransmissions, the statements or corrigenda are issued under the 32th article in force, on TV and radio service of the legislative decree n°177 of the 31th of July 2005. With respect to computer sites, including the newspaper and magazines diffused by electronic means, the statements or corrigenda are published within the forty-eight hours of the petition, with the same graphic features, the same access methodology to the site and the same visibility that theses of the publications to which they refer
Specifically, each time that an individual consider himself to be defamed by an online publication (it might be a blogpost or… a wikipedia article), all he has to do is to file a petition in court. Consequently, the publication has to be automatically suppressed or altered in a way that suits the plaintiff. If the suppression or alteration does not occur within 48 hours, the website will be heavily penalized. According to an italian blogger, Guido Scorsa, the penality would go as high as 12000 euros.
A collaborative organization like Wikipedia.it is clearly threatened by such a procedure. Its appliance actually contradicts one the five pillars : the quest for a neutral point of view. The encyclopedic article of a living person does not have to be favorable or unvaforable : it has to inventory every notable fact about him/her with no regards to their moral qualification. Besides, as Moyg pointed out, the notion of defamation can be understood in a very broad way. Beyond legal charges, one can also complaint about a mention of one’s professional failures. Whenever the plaintiff is the sole judge of the prejudice, every excess becomes possible.

Moreover, the volunteer editors cannot face innumerable legal procedures. Dozens of thousands of articles are concerning a living person. If several hundred of them decided to file a petition, the community would be completely flooded. Given the restrictive pecuniary means of any charity organization, several fines would lead Wikimedia Italia to bankruptcy.

Yet, the Comma 29 could not be fully applied. Because of the decentralized nature of the Internet, any legal procedures within this frame would be very difficult to achieve. An article of the Repubblica highlights the embarrassment of the courts that will have to manage it:
Who will be the responsible person or organization that will account for the corrigenda demands within 48 hours, given that the users are anonymous and volunteer ? How theses corrigenda will appear in concrete ? And, who shall pay the possible fines ? The users, the administrators (who are also volunteer users) or the Wikimedia Foundation ?
This dilution of accountancy alters the effectivity of Comma. Nevertheless, its mere existence can trigger long-term considerable damages. Guido Scorsa fears actually the of an induced censorship. In order to avoid any judiciary commitment, the contributors would modify their publications a priori:
The bloggers will generally be induced to correct « out-of-fear » [per paura] […] To impose a required correction on non-professional informative productions gives an extraordinary pressure or even threatening mean to the enemy of the freedom of expression.

Meanwhile : the blackout

I shall first and foremost correct a widespread mistake : the Wikimedia Foundation is not responsible for this blackout. It has given it its full support. But it has not in the least decided such a spectacular action.

The decision is taken, as most decisions are taken on a wiki : consensually. By the evening of the 3rd of october, Vito opens a discussion page titled Comma 29 e Wikipedia. He presents two possible countermeasures to the Comma 29 : the closing of the encyclopedia and the systematic display of a statement ; the maintenance of the encyclopedia and a systematic display of a statement according to graphic means that remained to define. Most of the expressed opinions were in favor of the first one. There have been some disagreements, but but they were finally moderate, as shows the statement of Eustace Bagge :
Opposed to the blackout of the whole website. Yet, it could prove useful to hide the articles dedicated to living persons, if the problems induced by the comma turned out to take concrete forms.
Overall, the consensus is reached. An italian even evoked the broadest consensus ever reached in the history of the italian community. In fact, the consensus goes even beyond the initial proposition, which planned a 24-hours blackout. Some believe that such a short time would not be efficient et advocate a sine die blackout, till the rejection of the Comma. Others state that 24-hours are enough to send a clear signal. A medium agreement is found : 48-hours. Eventually, the black-out ceased a few hours sooner (approximately 40 hours).

Whatever we might think of the ethical ground of the blackout, its efficiency cannot be denied. Seen about 20 million times, the Communicato is well supported by the italian civil society. A newly created facebook page Rivogliamo Wikipedia is liked by about 300 000 profiles. #wikipedia has become the third most used hashtag on tweeter, exceeding #moody in popularity — a clear sign that the defense of the encyclopedia turns out to be a more important issue than the recession of the national economy.

Afterwards : Internationalization of the Italian issue

The Wikimedia Foundation has quickly indicated his full support to the blackout. Its executive director, Sue Gardner stated that:
It seems obvious though that the proposed law would hurt freedom of expression in Italy, and therefore it's entirely reasonable for the Italian Wikipedians to oppose it. The Wikimedia Foundation will support their position.
In a similar vein the lawyer Mike Godwin (whose named has been universally popularized through the Goldwin law) believed this blackout to be an adequate answer to repressive numeric laws:
having dealt with government censorship of various sorts for more than 20 years, is that more dramatic action is most likely to be effective in persuading a government to change course.

This more dramatic action had at least one immediate effect : to internationalize what used to be an italo-italian issue. It is nowadays easy to find references to the comma 29 in the english, german, swiss and french press.

The reaction other wikipedian communities has also been immediate. On Wikipedia.de, a Solidaritätserklärung mit dem italienischen Wikipedia-Streik (literally Declaration of solidarity with the italian wikipedia-strike) has already received several hundred of supports. On Wikipedia.fr, the reception was less unanimous. Most of the expressed opinions supported the italian option. Wikimedia France has proclaimed its solidarity with the action of the italian wikipedia. Yet several well-esteemed contributors has overtly dismissed such an initiative. A bureaucrat has gone as far as ending his encyclopedic collaboration on account of this issue.

Against the absurdity of some state restraints, global answers seem to emerge. The Wikimedia Foundation has just introduced a new notion : the Project-Wide protest. A two-lines sum-up specifies its in-progress semantics:
Neutrality is a pillar of Wikimedia projects. However, when there is a significant threat to the well-being of a particular project, the wiki's community can engage in project-wide protests to draw attention to the issue.
A draft of a juridico-wikipedian concept is coming to life. It was already underlined by this subtle interrogation of the italian utenti :
We want to be able to keep a free and open-to-all encyclopaedia, because our articles are also your articles - Wikipedia is already neutral, why neutralize it?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Launching a French poll on the Image Filter

My latest post on the Image Filter has met a significant reception on Wikipedia.de. It is currently doing the headlines of the Kurier (a kind of german counterpart to the french Wikimag), along with the post of Achim Raschka, Iberty and Sue Gardner.

This flattering mention has attracted a consistent germanic frequentation on what used to be a franco-centric blog. Such a reception is a telltale sign of a germanophone eager to know the positions of other wikipedias and wikimedian projects on this touchy matter. For instance, Anneke Wolf confided that :

Ich denke, es bleibt abzuwarten, ob dies eine "deutsche" Frage bleiben wird / I believe that it remains uncertain whether this german matter will stay german.

Consequently, I decided to act and, preferentially, to act quickly. There are two kind of polls on the French Wikipedia. Both have their good points and specificities. The Prise de décision (literally Decision-Making) has immediate effects on the encyclopedic structure and organization : whatever is decided is immediately implemented. Yet, launching a Prise de décision is not an easy task. You have to accept to undertake a very long road. Sometimes, when issues are really touchy (like the Contestation of Admins' status), the process can take a whole year. The Sondage (literally Poll survey) can be set up very quickly by anyone, on any purpose. It does not entail any effective appliance of the proposal. It gives nevertheless a clear picture of the francophone community's opinion — exactly the kind of information I wanted to highlight.

A few hours ago, I accordingly launched a sondage on the following issue : do you want the Image Filter to be implemented of Wikipedia.fr ?

It's way too soon to give any definitive comments about it (the poll is to end in one week). Yet, the issue seems to be of interest : more than 35 wikipedians already expressed their opinions. There is currently a clear opposition to the Image Filter (about 70%). However the support is unnegligible, clearly stronger than on the german poll (about 25% vs. only 14 %).

Significantly, the debate mainly bares on the effectivity of the Image Filter. The opponents finds it to be a usine à gaz (untranslatable expression which can be rendered by a Kafkaesque mechanism) :

A technical solution cannot solve a societal problem (Popo le chien) / Usine à gaz, does not respond to any problem (…) brings a good deal of worrying more than solving (Lena) / If the German had the vulva, we had many articles concerning the IIId Reich, which brought the same kind of questioning (…) We are on a generalist encyclopedia, there is no way to protect some kind of readership rather than another (Sammyday).

On the other side, the proponents have two main statements. The first one shrinks the effective range of the Image Filter : it's only a gadget.

It's a common gadget. Would someone have the idea to suppress the gadget which alter the alphabetical order of the interwikis (one more attempt of the american imperialists that want to appear first) (Moyg) / The problem is not technical, as we offer a technology one can switch off (Xfigpower)

The second one questions the very use of poll to set up the matter : editors are invited to express their opinions, but what about readers ? Are they not the main benefactors of the Image Filter ? Why should their choices be overlooked by editors ?

Drifting from this initial observation, a debate on the French Village Pump came to flush merely philosophical questions : do we write an encyclopedia to be read or to give an honest (and amoral) account of reality ? I think I will end this post on such a deep alternative — so that my international audience will leave their reading with some food for their thoughts…

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Out of the blue…

The debates on the francophone wikpedian community tend to be a bit autarcic. For the past two weeks a lot of energy was spent on heating arguments about the local arbitration committee elections. Because of this particuliar agenda the trans-wikipedian issue on the Image Filter was largely overlooked. It's only thanks to a brief remark of Anthere and a recent post of Darkoneko that I get acquainted with its later ramifications.

An idiomatic French expression well renders what I felt when I discovered the Image Filter Referendum : comme un cheveu sur la soupe. It means litterally like a hair in the soup, the nearer english equivalent being out of the blue. So far, I have hardly seen much complains about the use of so-called controversial material. There has been in march an attempt of controversy concerning the inclusion of a work by Pierre Louÿs with some pedophile innuendos (in fact more than innuendos) in Wikisource. But, it has been quickly dismissed — the case for inclusion being clearly supported by most contributors.

All in all, I did not really see the need to put up a referendum about such a tiny issue.

I began voting, and the more I read the questions, the less I understood the purpose of this poll. As I pointed it out in a sooner French post, it was not a real referendum, merely a consultation. The decision was taken a priori. The wikipedian communities' advice concerned solely the concrete realisation of the Image Filter, not his preconditional acceptation.

After the publications of the tied-up results (a shy 5.8 out of 10 finding the Image filter to be an important matter). I quickly withdraw the whole business — my thoughts were elsewhere. It came back unexpectedly, comme un cheveu sur la soupe a few days ago. Last Wednesday, a section on the French Village Pump mentioned a strange conservative-bias post by The Examiner (according to the acute remark of one of my commentators, its author appears to be a kind of anglo-saxon Alithia). This mention was received with a great deal of mockery : « I'm so glad to annoy the American Puritan Right with my little contributions » (bzh) / « What a fun » (Joe la truite). Gradually, the discussion drifted on the Image Filter thing. A very well-esteemed editor, Alchemica, threatened : « If this function is applied, it will end my association with the project ».

What could account for the distinctive francophone wikipédia approach (or rather non-approach) on this matter ? It is not so easy to answer. We may of course adress the general feeling that francophone cultures are more permissive on sexual matters. It is not a mere cliché. It has some objective ground. For instance there have never been any « moral code » on French cinema. French counterparts of Fuck, Ass, and Shit flourished as soon as the thirties. Thanks to the decentralized structure of francophone cinematographic production a « Textual filter » similar to Hays Code, never occurred. Nowadays the French equivalent of MPAA stands much more laxist : nudity in picture is not a problem per se as long as it is not sexualized. By this standard a significant part of -12 American films are U-graded in France. For the little I know, the same phenomena seems to apply to Québec and the Suisse romande.

Besides, the political debates over the Internet in France focuses much more on economical than moral issues. There is some legislation about pornographic content, but nothing that can be compared to the aborted Zugangserschwerungsgesetz. On the other hand, the Hadopi laws and organisation creates an unprecedented control on artistic diffusion. The recent WikiLovesMonument operation sheds a new light on the offensive French copyright policy : there is no Freedom of panorama. Therefore, every photo that features the work of an alived or dead-less-than-70-years-ago architect has to be supressed or subsequently modified. Consequently, the president of Wikimedia France, Remi Mathis, launched lately in Le Monde a vibrant call in favor of the establishment of a Freedom of panorama.

In brief, I would sum up my position in one bullet phrase : the Image Filter controverse is very, very, VERY secondary. We are losing our time whenever real important things might go off our trail : the liberalisation/reinforcement of the copyright laws, the popularisation of encyclopedical writing, the emergence of Wikipedia in emergent countries… It sounds truly out of the blue.