[WikiEN-l] Criticism sections on bios of living people

A jokestress at gmail.com
Sat May 6 05:06:00 UTC 2006

First post to the mailing list... I have been happily editing for a
couple of years without incident, but I had a situation this week that
prompted me to get some additional feedback.

I have been working a lot on controversial biographies of living
people this year, because it seems like an emerging area of policy:
people like [[Daniel Brandt]] who don't want articles, people like
[[Paul Barresi]] whose biography was culled down in a [[WP:OFFICE]]
action, and critics of the project like [[Warren Boroson]]. I
personally feel that our response in these situations needs to be
clear and empathetic, and show what Wikipedia can be when at its best.
Mr. Barresi, for instance, went from calling me a bitch to telling me
today he owed me flowers. I consider that a victory for Wikipedia, and
evidence that the office policy is not "censorship," but a stop-gap
measure while an article gets back on track.

Having said that, I started editing a biography this week that led to
a troubling series of events. The article in question, [[Xeni
Jardin]], is about a blogger for [[Boing Boing]]. I did not know who
she was when I started editing, but I saw that there was a lot of
controversy about inclusion of a "Criticism" section, including a
"xenisucks.com" site. I commented on the talk page that the hate site
(as it had been aptly described by others) seemed neither notable nor
reliable. I did not remove it, but I suggested we should discuss if it
should be removed.

The owner of xenisucks.com immediately wrote two entries about me:


The people who added and and then voted to keep the "Criticism"
section are mainly new editors with fewer than 100 edits, with most if
not all edits on the Xeni Jardin article. They began linking the blog
entries above on the Talk page to make sure I saw them, and eventually
someone claiming to be the author of xenisucks.com opened a Wikipedia
account (Mnsharp) and started commenting on the talk page.

Now, there's nothing in those entries I haven't heard, oh, about a
million times, but it seems to violate the spirit of Wikipedia for
this person to be having a running commentary of that tone and then
coming on Wikipedia and making further comments here, referring to
those links but within the letter of the law in terms of [[WP:CIVIL]].
This editor also has recruited several more new editors this week to
take up the cause on the Xeni Jardin page, to the point it got
protected after another longtime editor had the same issue with the
Criticism section, and actually removed it, which sparked an edit war.

Had I known what I was walking into, I wouldn't have been as
heavy-handed in making sure every statement had a citation, but the
criticism section as it stood had a lot of weasel words about "critics
comment on her appearance," or "critics say she's an irresponsible
journalist." When I asked for citations, most were from xenisucks.com.

So, this brings up several interesting issues:

1. Is a "____sucks.com" blog a notable or reliable source?
2. If an editor is engaging in vicious personal attacks offsite, then
coming here and demanding civility, is that a violation of the letter
and/or spirit of the project?
3. Are "criticism" sections valid in general, or do they just become a
repository for quibbles and an amplifier of relatively insignificant
hatecruft about a person?
4. If they are valid, do blogs count as notable or reliable sources?
What if they are anonymous? Are there criteria in place for
determining this?
5. Should we formulate a guideline regarding living persons and this
kind of criticism in their biographies?

I have worked on biographies of Nazis, conspiracy nuts, politicians,
racists, porn stars, etc., and I have never run into this kind of
hostility, where someone as tangentially related to the article's
subject as I am gets attacked like this by a Wikipedia editor (albeit
offsite). It seems to be part of the petty "gotcha" mentality of the
blog subculture, which is probably why I don't read blogs. The
question is, how do we keep the negative parts of that from creeping
into the Wikipedia culture, especially as it pertains to biographies
of living people?

Jokestress (at gmail)

"You're no one till somebody hates you."
-- Snake River Conspiracy

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