Following massive negative publicity after blocking British internet users from accessing pages on Wikipedia, the Internet Watch Foundation has reversed overruled its own appeals process and once again allowed access to the site.
The block came about after a member of public complained about this page (potentially NSFW) on the English Wikipedia, displaying the album art for a record called Virgin Killer. The art features a young girl naked with a crack in the plastic concealing her genitalia, but nothing obscuring her chest.
Due to the image being an album cover, it’s widely distributed across the web and features on multiple sites, including Amazon. Although the IWF’s appeals procedure upheld the original decision, the IWF board met yesterday and overturned the ruling. The organisation said:
“Considering (…) the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.”
“IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users.”
Censorship does not work, especially censorship of art. The media attention simply encourages people to seek out the work in question, and anything that gets banned tends to be seen by far more people than it would otherwise have been. It’s been true throughout history, and remains true today.
Now, back to my original question. Why does an unelected, private organisation get to decide what I can and cannot see on the internet?
(note – It’s been pointed out to me that pixellating the image above seems a little hypocritical in regards to my views on censorship. I pixellated it the other day to prevent Tech Digest getting blocked by the IWF too, and I’ve kept the pixellation in place because of NSFW issues. If you’d like to view the image in question – and I encourage you to do so, so you can understand the story fully – then you can do so at the Wikipedia entry linked above.)