[Foundation-l] Biographies of Living People: a quick interim update

Sue Gardner sgardner at wikimedia.org
Sun Mar 8 22:12:26 UTC 2009

Hi folks,

This is just a quick interim update on the BLP issue I raised here last week.

First, thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion thus
far.  We all know that foundation-l isn't necessarily reflective of
general Wikimedia opinion, and that many experiences and skills are
unrepresented here – but nonetheless, I have read every word, and have
found it really, really useful. Thank you for helping.

Here's my quick rough summary of what we've discussed:

First, there seems to be a general view that BLPs are a problem that
is worth addressing. I won't recap all the reasons for that, because
it seems there is ---happpily--- already consensus.

Second, there is also a fear ---represented here probably most
strongly by David Gerard, but I believe lots of other people think the
same thing--- that if we tackle BLPs clumsily, we could make things
worse not better, or at least might introduce new problems.   For
example, we might make the error of privileging kindness over
neutrality, resulting in a general whitewashing of BLPs.  Or we could
accidentally encourage a massive wave of deletionism, resulting in
much smaller and less useful Wikipedias.

There is also general concern about policy creep and instruction
creep, which is important. We know that the sheer volume of Wikipedia
policies is confusing and intimidating for new people who want to
engage with us – so in general, given that we aspire to attract new
contributors and generally make it easier for people to interact with
us, it is probably better to generally aim to refine and streamline
existing policies, rather than adding to their number.

With that as preamble, here are the areas that I think we've surfaced
as needing further attention:

1)  There is a big unresolved question around whether, if
marginally-notable people ask to have their articles deleted, that
request should be granted.  My sense -both from the discussion here
and other discussions elsewhere- is that many Wikipedians are very
strongly protective of their general right to retain even very
marginal BLPs.  Presumably this is because notability is hard to
define, and they are worried about stupid across-the-board
interpretations that will result in massive deletionism.  However,
other people strongly feel that the current quantity of BLPs about
less-notable people diminish the overall quality of the encyclopedia,
reduce our credibility, and run the risk of hurting real people.
There seems to be little consensus here.   Roughly: some people seem
to strongly feel the bar for notability should be set higher, and
deletion requests generally granted: others seem to strongly feel the
current state is preferable.  I would welcome discussion about how to
achieve better consensus on this issue.

2)  There is broad general agreement that we should continue to create
and implement mechanisms and tools designed to catch and correct
vandalism and poor-quality edits, both before and after-the-fact.
There is a lot of work being done in this area - for example, projects
continue to request and receive implementations of Flagged Revs.  I
wonder if there is more we could/should be doing in this area.

3)  Currently, we know that people with BLP problems have trouble
getting in touch with us: the contact information is buried or
confusing.  I believe there is broad general agreement that we should
make it easier for people to request help with BLPs, and to report
problems in general.  And I am glad that some work on that is
beginning to happen (e.g., a  “report a problem” tool, a “rate this
article” tool, a BLP FAQ for article subjects).   It's obvious we need
to be cautious – we can't afford to open the floodgates to complaints
if we will all then immediately drown in them.  And we need to ensure
the new tools are user-friendly  - that they will actually help the
people they're intended for.  But in general, I believe there is
agreement that we need to do a better job of enabling BLP article
subjects to communicate with us.

And 4) I believe there is general support for the notion of  training
Wikipedians to handle BLP issues well.  I personally strongly believe
that handling BLPs requires a set of specific skills and abilities –
for example, an excellent understanding of core Wikipedia policies;
experience with policies such as notability that are particularly
important in BLP issues; diplomacy, kindness and patience.  I am very
interested in exploring further how the Foundation could support such
training, and how it could be scaled up so everyone could access it.
(I've been kicking around notions such as face-to-face training camps;
training at Wikimania and the all-chapters meetings; the provision of
support materials to chapters; monthly “train the trainer” webcast
sessions, etc.)

So .. that is my rough, quick recap of where I think we're at.

In terms of next steps – as I said, I'll be speaking about this issue
with the board in early April.  This is just an interim note: Please
feel free to help me further my thinking on all this -particularly #1
and #4 above- over the next few weeks.  And thank you for your help
thus far.


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