Wikipedia Responds to FOXNews.com Story
Yesterday, FOXNews.com published this story online entitled “Wikipedia Distributing Child Porn, Co-Founder Tells FBI.” Now both the Wikimedia Foundation and one subject of the exposé, Erik Möller, have responded.
According to the Wikimedia blog:
The story repeats serious falsehoods and offers information taken grossly out of context, resulting in what amounts to a deliberate misrepresentation of reality.
The Wikimedia Foundation is appalled and angry that Erik’s employment with us has resulted in him becoming a target, and we believe that recklessly maligning him is indefensible
On the topic of allegedly illegal materials on Wikipedia and our projects: The Wikimedia Foundation obeys the law. In the weeks since Sanger’s published allegations, the Wikimedia Foundation has not been contacted by the FBI or any other law-enforcement agency with regard to allegedly illegal content on any Wikimedia projects.
Today, past defamatory allegations based on an anonymous smear letter which distorted and misrepresented early online comments and writings of mine, were resurrected by Fox News. I want to say definitively: I do not defend nor support acts of sexual violence against children and have never defended pedophilia in any way. Any claims to the contrary are false and a deliberate distortion of my views. Any repetition of those claims is, at best, reckless and irresponsible.
I’ve remained silent on these issues until now, so not to give credence and visibility to these falsehoods. But now, it seems obvious to me that the issue may be regularly revived, and therefore, I want to set the record straight. The experience of being defamed in this fashion has been highly traumatic and distressing to me.
. . . .
Two years ago, a Silicon Valley gossip blog operated by Gawker Media, called Valleywag, began a smear campaign against Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation which runs it. Following attacks focused on the personal life of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, in May 2008 the blog ran a series of posts by Owen Thomas which defamed me by calling me a “defender of pedophilia”, deriving its claims from articles and comments I wrote in 2000 and 2001, mixed with malicious fabrications and insinuations.
The defamatory claims which originated in that blog were repeated in a small number of other blogs without deeper reflection. They were not picked up by mainstream media at the time.
The defamation campaign by Gawker was deeply hurtful to me. At the time, I also met with an attorney specializing in defamation, who assessed the claims and confirmed his opinion that they constituted legal defamation, but who also made it clear that trying to have the posts taken down would be very expensive and time-consuming. It was also obvious that any legal action would serve to amplify the visibility of the original posts, and would drive traffic to Valleywag.
I had no reason to believe that Valleywag would engage in a responsible dialogue: quite the opposite. And I didn’t want to increase its public profile. Therefore, I decided then that it was best to ignore the claims, rather than responding to them. It may not have been the right decision, but at the time I believed it was the best among many bad options available to me.
. . . .
At this point, I believe it’s preferable to have a full response to these defamatory claims on the record, rather than letting them go unchallenged. If you write about this situation, I would ask you to provide a reference to this response where relevant, and to avoid linking directly to the defamatory claims in question, both to avoid perpetuating the libel, and to avoid further driving page views to its publishers.
I have no problem being called out for things that I believe. Even attacking me based on things I wrote in my late teens or early twenties without giving me a chance to weigh in is, while not fair play, forgivable. But defaming me based on deliberate, malicious misconstruction of old writings , attributing claims to me which I have never made, describing me as a person who would defend sexual violence against children – that is completely beyond the pale, it is shocking, and it is unforgivable.
Nature of the defamatory claims
The key defamatory claims originally made by Gawker include:
1. That I am a “defender of pedophilia”:
Pedophilia is a mental disorder which causes adults to be sexually attracted to children. Pedophiles who act upon these impulses commit abhorrent acts of sexual violence against children. I have not defended pedophilia in any of my writings.
2. That I have argued that “non-violent child pornography does no harm”:
I have never made such an argument. This claim is apparently based on the malicious insertion of the word “child” into a heading from an article which stated “non-violent pornography does no harm”, based on an interpretation of a German-to-English machine translation. Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime, and the depiction of child sexual abuse, and the trade in such depictions, are rightly criminalized.
3. That I “oversee editorial operations” at Wikipedia, or otherwise control its content:
Wikimedia’s projects are governed by volunteer communities. Individual Wikimedia Foundation staff members, including myself, do not control or direct editorial changes. I am not sure why Valleywag made that claim, which it presumably knows to be false. I can only assume its goal was to amplify excitement and outrage about the story, by implying that I was personally influencing Wikipedia’s articles on controversial topics.
Gawker Media made several other insinuations and defamatory claims in its posts which are so over-the-top that they are barely worth rebutting; one post attributed an edit to the Wikipedia article about child sexual abuse to me which was made well before my first edit to it, based on an incorrect reading of the edit history. That post was completely false.
My writings about sexuality
My writings about sexuality focus on the core topics of pleasure/affection, pornography, censorship, and children’s sexuality. Not a single article I published either as a journalist or as a blogger focuses on the topic of pedophilia. There’s a reason for that: I have never had any interest in the topic.
Indeed, in order to support the claim that I am a “defender of pedophilia”, the anonymous defamer had to dig deep into my writings. Nine years ago, at the age of 22, I wrote an article titled “Defending the Right to Pleasure“. The article has nothing to do with pedophilia; it doesn’t mention the issue. To find a snippet worth quoting, the defamer had to dig further into the comments section of the article, where I wrote a 3,000 word response addressing various comments.
Pulling from this long, carelessly written comment, the anonymous smear letter, followed by Gawker and later Fox News, quoted three sentences out of context: “What is my position on pedophilia, then? It’s really simple. If the child doesn’t want it [sexual contact], is neutral or ambigious [sic], it’s inappropriate.” It omitted the sentence immediately following: “This excludes most adult/child sexual contact, but only little child/child contact.”
If you read the entire piece, the context of the comment and the article are clear: They argue for a less zealous approach to policing consensual sexual relationships among young people of comparable age.
. . . .
I have consistently defended the right of children of comparable age to engage in consensual, harmless sexual interactions with each other – what’s commonly called “playing doctor”, and also safe sex among teens. I have never defended the “right” of pedophiles to abuse children; child sexual abuse is a crime, and there is no such right. Children also don’t have the ability to consent to sexual activity with pedophiles, and such activities are sexual violence against children by definition.
All my writings (including the above comment in context) are consistent with this view. One particularly pertinent article that I wrote about the topic of children’s sexuality is called “Gefaehrliche Doktorspiele” (”Dangerous doctor games”), which describes the results of several weeks of journalistic research I had done into the criminalization and pathologization of consensual child sexual activity. Many of my views on the topic are also well-reflected by Judith Levine’s excellent book “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex”.
Sexual violence against children, like all violence against children, is abhorrent. 9 years ago, as a 22-year-old student, I wrote about these topics with an eye to issues and questions that gave me pause – the implied consensus that children are asexual creatures, that sexuality is a switch that is flipped on with adulthood, that non-violent adult pornography is harmful to minors, etc. I didn’t believe those things then, and I don’t believe them now.
The difference between then and now is that those topics are no longer the focus of anything I write about or do. If I did write about them today, I would take greater care to reassure any reader that I, too, believe that sexual violence against children is a horrific crime inflicted upon the weakest members of society. I have always believed that, and any suggestion to the contrary is false.
Make sure to read Mr. Möller’s full response here.