Wikipedia: Some Responses to Comments:

My thanks to everyone who has read my guestblog posts this week on the subject of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia where I am an editor, an administrator, and an arbitrator (User:Newyorkbrad). Tonight I should address some of the comments on my earlier posts, which I will do in no particular order. (I’ve already implicitly addressed some comments on my earlier posts in later ones, so I won’t duplicate that; and please understand that in limited time and space I can’t possibly cover everything.)

In response to my posts about problems regarding Wikipedia articles involving biographies of living persons (“BLPs”), the suggestion was made that when an issue arises concerning whether a biographical article should be kept on Wikipedia or deleted, there be a presumption in favor of deletion unless there is a collective decision to keep it, rather than the other way around. (In Wikiparlance: when a BLP is AfD’d, “no consensus” would default to delete. In an ordinary deletion discussion, by policy, “no consensus” defaults to keep.)

This suggestion has been advanced and discussed on-wiki, and has won wide endorsements, but not quite enough to be adopted. A main sticking point is that a BLP can be nominated for deletion for reasons having nothing to do with defamation, privacy violation, or undue weight — say, a dispute whether an athlete or a performer is quite notable enough to warrant coverage. In many of these instances, ironically, if the article subject were asked, he or she might prefer that the article remain. (we sometimes get complaints from people whose articles are deleted; there may well be more people who are unhappy that they are excluded from Wikipedia than people who are unhappy that they are included.)

I advanced a compromise proposal suggesting that deletion discussions on BLPs default to delete where the notability of the subject is not clear-cut (that would presumably be the case anytime the tentative AfD result is “no consensus”) and (1) the article taken as a whole is substantially negative with respect to the reputation of the subject, (2) the article subject is a minor, or (3) the article subject is known to have himself or herself requested the article’s deletion. It may be time to revive discussion on-wiki of this suggestion.

Also relevant are two decisions by the Arbitration Committee (although I was not active in either case) establishing that any administrator may delete content deemed obviously unsuitable, and in those cases, the content stays out unless and until there is a consensus to keep it. While these holdings are on the books, though, unilateral deletions of high-profile articles often lead to a great deal of disputation and “drama,” which can result in greater publicity for the material the admin believes should be deleted than the disputed article itself ever had. (A notable improvement within the past couple of years is the use of “noindex” coding so that our back-office discussions such a deletion debates themselves don’t show up on Google. The use of “noindex” to keep certain types of not-ready-for-prime-time Wikipedia content off of search engines should be expanded.)

Also apropos of BLP issues, I would like to thank two commenters on my first BLP post for making clear the tensions that exist in this area. I wrote about a boy named “John” who had been kidnapped and mistreated a couple of years ago, who I thought should not be the subject of a Wikipedia article, as an example of material both on Wikipedia and on the Internet more widely that raised privacy issues. The first commenter suggested that in using this example I must still be in the process of merely clearing my throat, because it is obvious that no such article should exist. The second commenter suggested that I was a censor for seeking to depublicize such content, including mention of the boy’s name, which I’d been careful not to include. (I acknowledge, however, that I had not been aware of the Today interview of the boy’s parents.) And so it goes. In any event, if anyone does not find that example compelling I offered several others.

There were several comments bemoaning the deletion of certain content on topics like anime. Although I haven’t checked the specifics of the deleted articles that the commenters cited (which as an administrator I could do), in general I agree with these criticisms. Outside the context of BLPs, I am probably as strong an “inclusionist” (the opposite is “deletionist”) as can be found in the administrator corps. We delete too many articles on topics found to be “not quite notable enough.” In particular, our completely laudible policy of justifying inclusion of articles by requiring citation of multiple stable reliable sources and a showing of some degree of prominence can be taken too far, and has decimated our coverage in areas like webcomics. On the other hand, we don’t want to be a promotional outlet for every garage band formed last week or website with 10 readers, and allowing articles with no sources makes it too easy to plant hoaxes — so lines will always have to be drawn somewhere.

“Spoiler warnings” were removed throughout the fiction articles because a small but determined group of users armed with bots (automated programs that conduct repetitious tasks) believed strongly that they are “not encyclopedic.” In the (paraphrased) words of one of them, if you look up a novel or a film in an encyclopedia, you can presume that it is going to discuss the plot, so no one should be surprised that there is mention of the ending. Of course, there are counterarguments. I personally don’t have a strong view on this one, but to the commenter, you are free to start up a discussion on-wiki if the lack of spoiler warnings troubles you.

Someone suggested that Wikipedia needs stronger coverage of law and legal topics. The editors in Wikiproject Law would certainly welcome more participation from lawyers, law students, legal historians, legal academics, and others interested in the subject-matter in creating, expanding, honing, and sourcing articles on legal topics. A particular issue with these articles is making sure that where applicable, they are written from a global perspective, as the English Wikipedia is edited from and read in every country in the world. A usual if superficial response to on-wiki complaints that an article needs improvement is a template called “{{sofixit}}”. More on this tomorrow.

My thanks to the commenter who recommended the Damon Knight story. I’ll definitely be looking it up.

I’ll wrap up this series of posts tomorrow with some links to Wikipedia for those who might want to start editing, some links to sites critical of Wikipedia for those who want to see more meta-debate, and a couple more questions for the audience. My thanks again to all the readers and commenters.