Issue of article subjects requesting deletion taken up

The difficult issue of what deference (if any) to give the wishes of people who want their Wikipedia biographies deleted became a major topic of discussion this past week. This came after Angela Beesley, in the aftermath of her resignation from the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees (see archived story), made a renewed request to delete the article about her.

In posting the request, Beesley commented, "I'm sick of this article being trolled. It's full of lies and nonsense." However, as she later clarified, her primary reason for seeking deletion was the change in circumstances since the previous discussion, particularly her resignation from the Board. Believing that people had previously favored keeping the article because she was on the Board, not because she was actually notable, she thought the outcome of the discussion might change.

Beesley made the request on Wednesday, 12 July. An initial flurry of comments unanimously supported deletion and the article was actually deleted briefly, but this was reversed after objections were raised. Subsequently the discussion shifted and became roughly evenly divided between those who favor keeping the article and those who prefer to delete it. It was closed on Monday, 17 July, with "no consensus", meaning that by default the article will be kept for now.

Arguments for and against deletion covered a number of points. Responding to the claim that she was notable due to media coverage and presentations at conferences, Beesley argued that this public attention was focused on Wikipedia rather than her personally, and the attention came because she was talking about Wikipedia. Others thought that deletion would show preferential treatment, in contrast with others who had not been granted such requests. On the other hand, Beesley pointed out that executives with other wiki companies generally do not currently have articles on Wikipedia.

Additional issues explored were avoiding self-references and whether Wikipedia-related topics are over-represented in the encyclopedia. Andrew Lih, who is working on a book about Wikipedia, said "it's clear that she is notable for serving at Wikimedia, as a cofounder of Wikia, and merits an article." However, Erik Möller argued that the situation was "a borderline case" in which the wishes of the article's subject "should be the decisive criterion."

A similar recent case, without the complications of self-reference to Wikipedia, involved programmer and activist Seth Finkelstein. His article was nominated for deletion earlier this month (he didn't make or request the nomination, although the nominator apparently was a former classmate of his). Finkelstein, who had earlier expressed ambivalence about the existence of the article, now joined in arguing for its deletion. Part of his reasoning was that "for people below a certain threshold of notability, Wikipedia biographies can be an 'attractive nuisance'." However, the majority of people commenting favored keeping the article, citing his receipt of an EFF Pioneer Award and the Wikipedia guideline for notability of biographies. Reflecting on the debate, Finkelstein cited the case of John Seigenthaler and argued that "a large potential personal negative is imposed on me, for the very small positive benefit to Wikipedia."

Background on Wikimedia-related biographies

For a long time, Jimmy Wales resisted the notion that a Wikipedia article should be written about him. The issue of articles about Wikipedia contributors in general had come up on other occasions, one being in November 2003. At that time, Wales said, "I would prefer if there were no article about me, as a matter of modesty and good taste." An attempt to redirect Jimmy Wales to Wikipedia, instead of to his user page, led to it being protected in March 2004.

With media coverage of him increasing, Wales dropped his opposition in September 2004, and the article quickly grew. Nevertheless, he has periodically complained that it gives a distorted perspective and pointed to statements therein that are inaccurate or unverifiable. Since becoming the subject of media coverage last December about his editing the article itself, Wales has limited himself to commenting on the talk page.

An article about Beesley first appeared on 1 April 2005, which she quickly nominated for deletion, wondering, "Is this meant to be an April Fool's Day joke?" Whether it was or not, the article was kept, though already at that time she called the article "unfactual". An article for her colleague as the other elected Wikimedia trustee, Florence Nibart-Devouard, soon followed. In October 2005, someone else nominated Beesley's article for deletion once more before the latest instance, but this too did not succeed.

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story


Shouldn't Kimchi's early closing and subsequent reopening of the AfD be mentioned in the story? The article was almost deleted before the "keep" votes started arriving. Casey Abell 14:01, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Good point. Also, Kimchi wasn't the only one to delete it. Tony Sidaway tried as well. (log)

Seth Finkelstein AfD section

Seems OK, thanks. One small quibble, the phrase "not by Finkelstein, although the nominator apparently was a former classmate of his" might be taken to imply some meat-puppetry. -- Seth Finkelstein 14:19, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Quite so, I didn't want to imply that but struggled with how to incorporate a point I thought at least somewhat relevant. I've now prefaced it instead by saying that you "didn't make or request the nomination", which hopefully will be enough to show that no impropriety is suggested. --Michael Snow 16:42, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Hi, Michael, love the paper and hope you can keep it going as long as WP exists.
Does anyone have any idea how many Wikipedia biographies of living persons currently exist? And how many biographies of living person appear in Britannica? I have the strong impression that an actual count would strongly support the assertion that most Wikipedia biographies are about living persons of questionable notability. In what follows, I'll simply assume this is in fact that case, on the basis of what I regard as strong anecdotal evidence from my own experience in my 14 months as a Wikipedian.
Sometime somewhere I'd like to see discussion of the following issue related to Seth's concern: I feel that the bar for Wikipedia notability has been set absurdly low (and was glad to see that apparently Angela agrees), with the result that it has become accepted that just about anyone who at some point wants a WP bio can have one, and just about any WP user who has ever offended any other user can find that someone else has written an unflattering wikibiography. In fact, I've been accused of doing that myself, although I reject that charge and feel that all my edits have been made in good faith.
Even worse, once an article of dubious value has been created in the first place, it can be very hard to get it deleted. Indeed, I have seen that the outcome of talk page complaints about dubious articles is usually that instead of being mercifully aborted, they grow more and more bloated with so-called "pro/con" and "he said/she said". To my mind, this rarely constitutes a genuine improvement, particularly when the subject does not really warrant endless arguments, while articles on more important topics remain to be written (c.f. Robert McHenry's complaint about chronic imbalance in Wikipedia's coverage, which indeed seems to be an inherent flaw of the wiki model for building an encyclopedia).
I am concerned that if the Wikipedia community accepts the idea that millions of living persons can or should have Wikipedia biographies, the existence of Wikipedia will come to be greatly resented by a huge number of living persons, because:
  1. few living persons who are the subjects (victims?) of WP biographies which are not autohagiographies seem to be entirely happy with them, and at any given time may be very unhappy with the current version,
  2. this might well also be true for living subjects of Britannica biographies; in truth, it's probably easier to find unflattering things to say about anyone than flattering things, and in the interests of balance, no good encyclopedia would fail to present unflattering information, but should Wikipedia really be encouraging subjecting non-celebrities to tabloid journalism?,
  3. only the subject of a WP bio of a not very notable person is likely to be able to spot and correct factual misinformation, or to care to check for slant (presumably unflattering), which places an absurd burden on every living person who might possibly be considered "notable" by some Wikipedia user (a group which includes Angela and myself and zillions of others) to continually check that no-one has created an unflattering WP article about them, or to protest any negative slant,
  4. given what an incredible pain it is to try to maintain any WP article over the years, I suspect that most living person who are the subjects (victims?) of Wikipedia articles would prefer that they simply be deleted and that some mechanism prevent them from being recreated.
In short, I fear that Wikipedia biospace is degenerating into a kind of Universal Tabloid presenting mean-spirited gossip concerning Every Living Individual.
Imagine a wikibuilt site which presents information or disinformation about the divorces, bankruptcies, firings, rental history, business failures, criminal history, lack of sexual ability, rumored medical problems, or other woes of All Living Individuals, for the enlightment/amusement/spite of ex-spouses, disgruntled acquaintances, neighbors, potential employers, potential landlords, and so on. I am thinking that just as Wikipedia is wiki's answer to Britannica, so a site like this would be wiki's answer to Experian/Equifax and to People/The National Enquirer/Star Magazine. Someone, I fear, will surely build a site like this--- which everyone will profess to hate but even while avidly reading the latest gossip about their boss, coworkers, former lovers, and so on. But does it have to be It seems to me that this is yet another function which has nothing to do with the nominal mission of building a useful encyclopedia.---CH 03:14, 18 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
User:Hillman aka CH asks "Does anyone have any idea how many Wikipedia biographies of living persons currently exist?" Category:Living people says "As of 17 July 2006, there are 109,305 articles in this category." Typical person: "Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu (b. 14 July 1948 at Nongoma) is the current (as of 2006) king of the Zulu nation." Only God, Santa, and the IRS maintain more extensive databases. --GangofOne 07:43, 18 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
While I can understand CH's concerns about poor edits (a.k.a. tabloid journalism) on Wikipedia, I don't think the problem is confined to biographies of living people. In fact, the problem is an inherent issue in the wiki format. All we editors can do is guard against vandalism and unverifiable information in any article. A higher standard for notability in biographies of living people would do little or nothing to resolve this basic problem, which is going to exist in any encyclopedia open to editing by the public.
And let's not go overboard on how serious the problem is with regard to bios of living people. As a test, I looked at the article Robert McHenry. If any article on Wikipedia would be a magnet for trolling and inaccurate or biased information, it would be this article on perhaps Wikipedia's best-known critic. As it happens, the article doesn't contain any information about "divorces, bankruptcies, firings, rental history, business failures, criminal history, lack of sexual ability, rumored medical problems, or other woes." Well, there is some information on Britannica's market failings, but those are hardly secrets, nor does the article blame Britannica's woes on McHenry.
Instead, the article is a reasonable, neutrally phrased evaluation of McHenry's professional career and positions on various issues, including his criticism of Wikipedia. It's neither a puff piece nor a hatchet job, but instead a solid, factual, competently written encyclopedia article. Now maybe Wikipedia editors have been particularly careful about this article, because outsiders would jump on any hint of bias in the encyclopedia's treatment of one of its most visible critics. And I'm sure that examples of poor bios of living people can be found in the encyclopedia. But poor examples of any kind of article can be found in Wikipedia or any other reference book. Would a higher notability standard really make much of a difference?
Bottom line, we have to edit Wikipedia as carefully as we can, regardless of how the notability standard is set. Finally, a personal disclaimer: I voted "keep" on Angela's article. Casey Abell 12:32, 18 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Jimbo is notorious?

"With his notoriety increasing ..." would mean that Jimmy Wales is becoming notorious. Should this not be "With his notability increasing"? Incidentally, I nominated my own article for deletion but saw it kept in August 2005. Sam Korn successfully nominated an article about him for deletion a few months before. David | Talk 18:08, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Notability tends to get treated as a binary yes/no issue, not something on a measurable scale, so I didn't like the idea of saying that it was increasing. I was trying to find a good word to use, and wasn't keen on "fame" either, and notoriety is not always negative. But I've finally come down on finessing it with a longer phrase. --Michael Snow 18:39, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

AfD closed

Angela's AfD has now been closed with no consensus, so the article stays. Casey Abell 22:42, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Michael revised the story while I was typing the note! He's a quick worker (wink). Casey Abell 22:45, 17 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Daniel Brandt

We have a large article about people wanting their articles deleted, and we don't make make a single mentioning of Daniel Brandt? Hasn't he requested on countless occasions to have his article deleted? —this is messedrocker (talk) 05:55, 18 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It's already a long article, and as with the examples David cites above, in the interests of keeping the story reasonably focused and concise I couldn't mention every possible instance. That one is a complex situation with much more to it than a simple deletion request. It's not easily summarized, would introduce too many irrelevant issues, and a summary sufficiently compact for my purposes wouldn't do justice to the situation. Seth Finkelstein was a much more straightforward, and importantly in the context of news cycles, more recent example to bring up for comparison. --Michael Snow 19:58, 18 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

simplistic stance

"real life" biographies become articles when Wikipedians write about them. i presume there is an inherent assumption of relevance in editing any article. a person considered relevant, living or dead, should have an article. anyone is free to edit, thus anyone is free to assume a person relevant per se, as well as details of his/her bio. if Wiki goes back on its policies to make living people's bios a sort of Holy Cow, this will potentially affect all article editing, past and future.

personally i would no longer feel as free or bold to edit. please do not listen to voices calling for deletion, ultimately it is a bad idea. --ddani 14:44, 22 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0