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."
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.