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.


  1. Your table is upside-down, isn't it? :)

  2. What a goof… It's corrected. I must have been a bit distracted while doing the translation.

  3. Could you give some information what were the reactions on the news article? I can't read any French, but it would be interesting to know :)

  4. I think one reason why the Germans are so particularly upset, is the fact, the the depiction of a vulva on the main page of the German wikipedia was used as a main argument pro image filtering. Also the depiction of the vulva was discussed as an example of editorial ill judgement. However, Germans had discussed the pros and cons of showing the vulva picture extensively before they actually did put it on main page. All this deliberation was not recognized by the foundation people, though. I suppose if the French had been chosen as the "bad example" and the "ill judgement" they would have reacted in a very similar, that is stronger, way.