BLP, revisited

Admin restored after desysopping; dispute centers on suitability of certain biographies

Biographical articles, especially so-called "single-incident biographies", remained the focus of heavy debate and some controversial interventions over the past week. Deletions of several articles in this class were contested on Wikipedia:Deletion review, while one administrator was briefly desysopped over an apparent offer to disseminate deleted content.

The problems grew out of uncertainty with the policy restrictions on biographies of living persons, the scope of that policy, and its intersection with other policies. The general issue has already been a source of considerable dispute and produced an arbitration case. As the discussion evolved, particular concern was directed toward subjects who were children at the time of the events, especially those who were victims of crime or tragic circumstances. Complications arose with the consideration of other factors, such as participation in publicity by themselves or family members, and the fact that some were no longer living.

All a misunderstanding

Amid the contentious atmosphere of these deletion reviews, a comment Friday by Night Gyr sparked fears that prompted an emergency removal of administrator privileges. The comment appeared to say that Night Gyr had offered to provide the text of one of these controversially deleted articles to a Washington Post reporter covering the subject. Within an hour, Night Gyr had been desysopped, based on a case last September in which the Arbitration Committee took the same action against Everyking for offering to publish deleted article revisions that might contain sensitive personal information.

However, this time the situation proved to be a misunderstanding based in part on a confusion of gender pronouns; Night Gyr was contemplating giving the text to the subject of the article in question, a female, not the male reporter. Night Gyr immediately afterward had suggested to another contributor the possibility of "a new team to track down people with these dubious BLPs written about them and ask them what they think of their articles". Others questioned the wisdom of trying to contact article subjects in situations where the media coverage about them was arguably exploitative, potentially exacerbating the hurt they might feel. In any case, the reason for desysopping did not apply, and Night Gyr was restored to administrator status on Monday after the issue was called to the attention of the bureaucrats.

The archetype

The current debate has sprung in part from a series of events that began a month ago, when an article written about a Chinese teenager was nominated for deletion. The teenager was cited as being an Internet phenomenon whose picture had been photoshopped into a wide variety of contexts. In this teenager's case, the subject was 16 when the original picture in question was taken in 2003, but the English-language media coverage did not appear until 2006, with the teen now 19 and above the age of majority for most jurisdictions. As an adult, the teenager had apparently cooperated with the press, but with a sense of "facing the inevitable" and "making the best of the situation".

These stories appeared not purely because of the phenomenon itself, but rather in the context of coverage about Chinese government efforts to regulate online discussion. The pictures, in which the teenager's rotund appearance prompted nicknames like "Little Fatty", served as an example of ègǎo, a Chinese word applied to forms of insulting online humor that might be prohibited by the government's restrictions.

Cases on edge

The number of disputed cases expanded in the past week, starting with two boys who were recovered from their alleged kidnapper, Michael J. Devlin, amid considerable publicity in January. Articles about the boys themselves were deleted by Newyorkbrad, and the issue became the subject of a deletion review. The names of the boys ultimately became redirects to the Devlin article; the article histories remain deleted and the redirects have been protected from editing.

During the debate over these two, Doc glasgow and other administrators made additional deletions of similar cases, including several articles involving children who had been kidnapped, molested, or murdered, as well as others born with rare medical conditions or other unusual circumstances. A few of these also came up for deletion review, but generally have not been restored. In some cases, they have been redirected to articles about the general topic of which they are a specific case.

Another edge case made the news with a story in Tuesday's Washington Post, this time involving a high school pole vaulter whose picture, posted to a blog, sparked a "wave of attention" and comments about her that she characterized as "demeaning" because of their focus on her attractive appearance. However, in this situation the individual was 18, and she and her parents had been interviewed by the Post, though the initial publicity was involuntary. It was in the context of this matter that Night Gyr made the comment that led to the temporary desysopping. The underlying questions — whether to have an article at all, whether to cover only her athletic accomplishments, where to cover this incident if at all — are still being debated.

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