Ongoing disputes over the policies to be applied to biographies of living persons picked up steam this past week with some controversial attempts at intervention. The issue of deletion for particularly sensitive cases has turned the deletion process as well as deletion review into focal areas for the debate, and the controversy was further stoked when a longstanding contributor was briefly blocked over his involvement in the matter.
Deletion review, with its emphasis on procedure rather than the substance of articles, has a curious position within Wikipedia's deletion policy. It also does not necessarily follow the emphasis on consensus decisionmaking of other Wikipedia processes, although Jimbo Wales recently removed a reference to majority votes when reviewing deletions, with a comment that "Voting is evil, this is nonsense."
The deletion review page provides a forum, among other things, for objections when articles have been deleted (either summarily or using Articles for deletion) for perceived serious violations of the policy on biographies of living persons. Recently, Badlydrawnjeff (whose user page currently calls him "the Vile Dark Lord of Inclusionism") has been one of the more active participants in objecting to such deletions. Mounting frustration seemed to have come to a head when, at 1:37 (UTC) on 23 May, Zsinj blocked him for 60 hours with the stated reason, "Disruption and threats; incivil actions in order to achieve personal goals disregarding community concensus; exhausting the community's patience."
Zsinj's explanation to Tony Sidaway began, "Per approximately two hours of IRC discussion, it had been determined that the disruption caused by that user outweighed any efforts to contribute constructively to the encyclopedia." In light of previous controversy over IRC discussion leading to questionable blocks of longstanding contributors, this was a rather provocative claim. Zsinj was referring to a conversation on the #wikipedia-en-admins IRC channel used mainly by administrators; his access to that channel was subsequently revoked in light of these events.
The actual conversation was mixed, and whether it could support Zsinj's characterization is debatable. There was some discussion of the problems with biographical articles about people known exclusively in connection with a single, often unflattering incident. Cases mentioned included the accuser in the Duke lacrosse scandal and a Chinese teenager whose photo became an Internet phenomenon several years ago. In the latter case, part of the focus was the conduct of Badlydrawnjeff in seeking to have the article restored and spearheading a request for comment on the situation.
Zsinj joined in after the discussion had already run for several hours and promptly suggested a block for disruption. After he continued to push the idea, a few others discussed possible justifications with him (among other things, pointing out that since Badlydrawnjeff is not an administrator, Zsinj's reliance on "wheel warring" was misplaced). Eagle 101 repeatedly warned against the proposed block, but this seemed to have little effect on Zsinj, who said, "If it ends my Wikipedia career due to being dramabombed to hell and back, so be it." Several other people in the channel were not paying much attention or did not take Zsinj seriously. Once the block was imposed, however, the tone of the conversation shifted to focus on its undesirability, and the block was soon overturned when Zsinj showed no inclination to reverse himself. Zsinj later apologized and accepted personal responsibility for "a relatively hasty and uninformed" decision.
The controversy over the block gave added impetus to the possibility of an arbitration case dealing with the situation. Badlydrawnjeff had earlier requested arbitration with respect to the Chinese teenager's article, which was rejected. Within a day, Doc glasgow requested arbitration over Badlydrawnjeff's continuing conduct in the matter. With the additional developments, a number of arbitrators now favor addressing the case, although it is not yet clear whether it will be accepted.