Newyorkbrad is a longtime Wikipedian, known very well to the most active of editors as one of their most creative and thoughtful cohort. To the extent that he is known externally, it is for leaving the site under threat of having his real identity exposed by off-site critics. As it happened, Newyorkbrad returned about three-and-a-half months later, whereupon he has resumed his former positions as an Administrator and member of Arbitration Committee.
His identity is of little interest to most Wikipedians, but two weeks ago he name-checked himself in a fascinating series of blog posts about Wikipedia and how it works at the Volokh Conspiracy. For what it’s worth — and only because he volunteered it — Newyorkbrad is Ira Metetsky, a New York City lawyer whose middle name is Brad, and whose presence on the site owes something to a childhood friendship with UCLA law professor and chief Conspirator Eugene Volokh.
While he started off with the still kind-of obligatory explanation of “what Wikipedia is all about,” most of his writing was devoted to a subject of internal debate at Wikipedia, which is commonly referred to as “the BLP problem“:
That is the problem of how easy it is, in the era of near-universal Internet access and instantaneous search engines, to inflict devastating and nearly irreversable damage to people’s privacy.
BLP stands for Biography of Living Persons, which informally can refer to any article about a living person and formally to the policy developed in 2005 following a couple of incidents in which people objected to biographical articles about them. One is very famous as far as Wikipedia goes, while the other is very much not, but that may be a subject for another post.
Beyond just explaining the controversy to the uninitiated, Newyorkbrad also proposed one part of the solution:
[T]he suggestion [has been] 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 [nominated for deletion], “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. …
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 [Articles for deletion] 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.
Although I have not personally been involved in much policy discussion in my time on the English Wikipedia, that sounds like a policy proposal I could get behind. To this I may add a fourth: Articles about living persons should be removed as well. By definition, these articles have not yet passed the Notability requirement. In many cases when an article subject’s notability has yet to be verified, these articles may be saved (by Wikipedians of the “inclusionist” philosophy) from deletion. But given the particularly sensitive nature of BLPs, the unreferenced ones should simply go. If they are truly about notable subjects, they will be replaced sooner or later.
We don’t know just how big of a problem BLPs are but, in another post to come, I will discuss what we do.