Virgin Killer controversies

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The Virgin Killer controversies were two (almost certainly) related internet censorship disputes, firstly involving Chelsea Schilling, Wikipedia and the FBI (In America), and then Wikipedia, the IWF and various other media outlets that covered the controversy (in the UK).

Both controversies centre on Wikipedia's use of an image called "Virgin Killer", which depicts a naked prepubescent girl from the cover of a 1976 Scorpions (rock) album. Whilst the girl in the image has not developed breasts, and her vulva is deliberately concealed, it has been argued that the image is provocative and may in fact be child pornography. Despite the image being freely available on the internet, we do not display or link to it for legal reasons.

Timeline

May 06, 2008

Chelsea Schilling, a former congressional staffer and aspiring writer for the ultra-conserative, American "pro-family" website World Net Daily publishes a provocative editorial entitled "Is Wikipedia wicked porn?". In it, she attacks Wikipedia for hosting informative images that may otherwse be seen as pornographic, listing a number of inclusions that she, as an anti-gay/ultra-conservative, is offended by:

  • Recordings of women experiencing orgasms
  • Videos of nude men participating in "ejaculation educational demonstrations"
  • Detailed photographs of men and women masturbating
  • Images of mammary intercourse
  • Close-up images of topless women and male and female sexual anatomy
  • Large-scale photos of men performing oral sex on one another (and performing oral sex on themselves)
  • An illustrated list of sex positions
  • Threesomes
  • Photos of nude strippers
  • An image called "Virgin Killer" depicting a naked prepubescent girl from the 1976 cover of a Scorpions album (banned in the U.S.)

May 07, 2008

Schilling continues her outburst against Wikipedia, publishing a new editorial ("FBI investigates 'Wikipedophilia'") based on the following revelation:

"In the wake of WND news coverage, the FBI is now reviewing a Wikipedia photo of a nude adolescent that could violate federal child-pornography laws. [...] The album's cover was banned in the United States due to its extremely controversial nature and was later replaced with a photo of the band. When WND brought the image to the attention of several Wikipedia representatives, they denied any knowledge of it.
Asked if the photograph of the nude child would remain on the site or be taken down, Jay Walsh, head of communications for the Wikimedia foundation, responded:
"I have no idea when it will come down, as I probably already discussed with you – the foundation does not play a direct role in making edits to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a platform for use by members of the public, around the world.
I understand your concern has been raised with volunteer administrators and editors. They will review and consider your request, in the context of the Wikipedia editorial policies."
As of this evening, the photo of the nude child was still available online.
Matt Barber, a constitutional law attorney who serves as Concerned Women for America's policy director for cultural issues, expressed outrage at Wikipedia's decision to allow sexually explicit images.
"Children use Wikipedia all of the time for reports for school, and this stuff is not just pornography, this is hard-core pornography," he said. "Much of it may even be in violation of our nation's obscenity laws.""

Over the following days, Wikipedia editors discuss whether to censor the image or retain it in the face of conservative uproar. Despite deletion attempts by editors including Richard Weiss, a consensus to keep the image eventually develops.

May 08, 2008

Schilling's final editorial, entitled "Wikipedia debates kiddie porn action" mocks the nuance with which the editors approached the topics covered in her two previous articles.

The FBI refused to prosecute Wikimedia for these alleged violations.

December 5-8, 2008

The Internet Watch Foundation, a British watchdog group, added Wikipedia's article Virgin Killer to a blacklist of websites it deems "potentially illegal". The Virgin Killer image page depicting the cover art was also blacklisted (but not the image itself). The IWF said they were first notified of the Wikipedia URL on Thursday, 4 December 2008. This followed the May 2008 reporting of the cover image by Schilling.

The IWF described the image as "a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18".[1] Users of major ISPs were unable to access the content, despite the album cover being available unfiltered on other major sites including Amazon.co.uk and available for sale in the UK.[2]

Usually most Internet users have a unique IP address visible to websites. However, as a result of ISPs using the IWF blacklist, traffic to Wikipedia via those affected ISPs was then routed through a small number of proxy servers.[3] This caused problems for users of the site. Since Wikipedia allows users to anonymously edit its encyclopedia articles, these individuals are identified only through their IP addresses, which are used to selectively block users who vandalise the site or otherwise break its rules. The proxy filtering makes it impossible to uniquely distinguish users, and to prevent vandalism Wikipedia "instituted a blanket ban on anonymous edits from the six ISPs, which account for 95 per cent of British residential internet users".[4]

December 9, 2008

Wikipedia was removed from the IWF blacklist (IWF statement).

Quoted on Channel 4 News,[5] Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia reflected on the controversy:

"My first thoughts when I was told that the Internet Watch Foundation had blocked the Wikipedia page was that we should take them to court. But because they're not a statutory body, I've been told we can't necessarily challenge their decision.
"The Internet Watch Foundation were clearly over reaching their remit when they blocked the text page on Wikipedia - there's nothing illegal about the description of the album. I'd also question their wisdom about trying to block the image itself."
"As a result of their actions, the image is actually being seen by more people, it's appearing on thousands of blogs today. It will continue to be passed on. What are they going to do? Are they going to block all of the web if it continues to be spread?"

The IWF has said that it "might yet add Amazon US to its list of 'blocked' sites for hosting the picture", which could cause major disruption to the site just before the festive season. This incident has also had an effect on Australian internet censoring plans. In the wake of this event Telstra and Internode Systems said they will no longer participate in the trials. Electronic Frontiers Australia vice-chairman Colin Jacobs said that "yesterday's incident in Britain, in which virtually the entire country was unable to edit Wikipedia because the country's Internet Watch Foundation had blacklisted a single image on the site, illustrated the pitfalls of mandatory ISP filtering".[6] The Sydney Morning Herald has commented that "Ironically, the banning of the image has only made it visible to more people as news sites publicise the issue and the image spreads across sites other than Wikipedia." This is known as the Streisand effect.

Trivia

Chelsea Schilling follows in a fine tradition of congressional staffers who have attempted to censor wikipedia.

External links