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Wikimedia's Wales gives up some top-level controls

Wikimedia Foundation co-founder Jimmy Wales is giving up some top-level editorial control after controversial removal of pornographic images from Wikimedia Commons.

Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales
Wikimedia Foundation

Change is afoot in the Wikipedia community, according to a report from Fox News, but the reality may be less drastic than has been reported.

The news agency is reporting that Wikimedia Foundation co-founder Jimmy Wales is relinquishing his top-level editorial control over content found on Wikipedia and other sites in the foundation's family. The move reportedly comes after a bubbling controversy surrounding potentially pornographic images that appeared on the community-managed encyclopedia and some related sites. Fox's sources said Wales will no longer be able "to delete files, remove administrators, assign projects, or edit any content." The report likened his new role to a low-level administrator.

The cause for the shake-up comes after Wales personally deleted and ordered others to delete thousands of images that could have been deemed pornographic--some of it involving children. That move apparently spurred significant backlash from other editors, who felt Wales had overstepped his bounds.

However, multiple representatives from the foundation say Fox's report is not entirely accurate. Rather, Wales voluntarily gave up his special account status, according to Wikimedia Foundation's head of communications, Jay Walsh. Wales had been the lone person holding a unique "founder" status, a position above both registered editors and various levels of administrators in the editorial hierarchy within the largely volunteer community. He has now given up that special status; specifically, that means he will not be able to block users, delete pages, or "protect" pages. However, he still plans to participate as a regular user, according to Walsh. He said the decision was a good faith effort on Wales' part--made in order to keep policy discussions about pornographic content in Wikimedia Commons productive.

Wales himself tells me he remains final arbiter of major disputes and that he still has the final say on various policy matters.

While the Wikimedia Foundation's sites are managed by thousands of individual volunteers, Wales has long been the face of the foundation as well as a vocal proponent of the concept of community-supported content.

Both Walsh and Wales stress that that has not changed. Fox News painted a more dire picture. As for who is in charge now, Fox's source said, "No one. It's chaos."

Update at 4:33 p.m. PDT: This story has been updated throughout with comment from members of the Wikimedia Foundation and to clarify multiple points they say Fox News reported inaccurately.