A picture of a naked girl, aged around 11-years-old is causing a major stir thanks to its appearance on Wikipedia. The picture has been deemed pornographic by British legal advisers to the Internet Watch Foundation. This has led several Internet Service Providers to being forced to ban access to the page – and in some instances to prevent anyone contributing to Wikipedia via that ISP. Furthermore, Wikipedia has refused to remove the offensive picture on the grounds it does not censor user-generated content.
The picture is actually a cover of an album from the German rock band, the Scorpions and it caused a problem when it was originally released in 1976. Yes, this picture is 32 years old and you’d have been able to see it at record fairs up and down the country for dozens of years now.
However, it is potentially offensive to many people and likely to be of interest to paedophiles. However, they have been able to freely get hold of this picture for decades without anyone intervening. All they needed to do was visit a record store.
Here’s the problem. Firstly, there’s a culture clash. In Germany nudity is much more acceptable. You will see people strip off their clothes in the parks in summer, then after their lunch break, get dressed again and go back to the office. Even childhood nudity does not carry such a negative reaction there as it does in the UK.
Secondly, Wikipedia is being disingenuous. They do censor material – or at least rely on volunteer editors and a complaints process to remove offensive material. To suggest you cannot censor material because of the lack of censorship on the Internet is to treat us all like idiots.
And the clarion calls from bloggers commenting on this case suggesting that the ban should be lifted so that the freedom of the Internet can be maintained is just nonsense.
You see, offensive material is offensive if someone is offended. If just one person is offended, the material is offensive. In other words, if just one reader of the Wikipedia article is offended by the image, the page is offensive – whether or not the people at Wikpedia, or the volunteer editors, agree. The chances are that in the UK and in the USA many more people would find the image offensive than in Germany or other countries where child nudity is less negatively perceived.
The argument is about culture as much as it is about offence. But the lesson we can all learn from this is the need to focus on the audience of a web site and see what you publish through their eyes. Wikipedia’s weak defence is pandering to a minority – those vocal bloggers who are more concerned with so-called freedom of speech than truly connecting with an audience.
When the record cover was originally published it was almost immediately changed in countries where the naked image was offensive. In other words, 32 years ago the publishers (Polydor Records) saw the sense in seeing things through their audience’s eyes. It appears that all these years later Wikipedia has not learned to do the same.
And if you don’t do the same on your web site – see things constantly from your readers’ perspective – you too risk offending them and losing them as readers or customers. Never, ever lose sight of the fact that you are talking to people who see and perceive things differently to you. Wikipedia has to realise that – soon.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+