Biographies of living persons/Help
From Electrical Engineering TA Handbook
This page covers advice and information for persons who may be affected by a mention of themselves (or of a body, organization, group, or the like to which they have a close connection) on Wikipedia.
As the world's largest reference site that is open to editing by nearly anyone, the handling of articles related to living people is an important subject.
Please read this first
| Wikipedia articles are written by volunteer editors, with differences of opinion resolved by editorial consensus on the article talk page. As such, they can be modified by anyone, but they can also be watched, protected against blatant vandalism and disruption, and help sought. With a high priority for biographical article accuracy, if a serious problem arises, help will be rapidly available.
Note that almost all of this help is provided voluntarily, so it is important in all cases to keep a calm head, ask for help if unsure, and do not deter the people you are asking help from.
The editorial community may block people who they feel act unreasonably, disruptively, or grossly impolitely.
Note to Wikipedia editors
Please bear in mind the nature of this page when editing it. This page aims to,
- inform people unfamiliar with Wikipedia of the essentials they need to know, to understand how to address issues related to biographical material, and the various approaches and strictures involved – it should assume no prior knowledge;
- inform them of the policies and norms intended to protect them – if a person does not know these norms exist, they can't request effectively from us, the protection they should be obtaining, and our help in remedying any issues.
How biographical articles get written and edited
Anyone may create an article on any topic in Wikipedia, within broad criteria:
All topics in general: Must be capable of neutral presentation, it must meet various broad inclusion/exclusion criteria, and it must be on a "notable" subject.
(Broadly, "notable" does not mean "famous" or "important". Rather, it means that independent reliable sources have taken significant note of the subject and it appears to be a topic that is noteworthy to some extent. This requirement also ensures that a range of acceptable sources will exist for editors to draw upon.)
Biographical articles on living people ("BLPs") have further criteria They must be rigorously balanced, and written with regard to the highest quality of fairness and sourcing. Information that is only evidenced from poor quality sources may be deleted by anyone, as may material that is unreasonable for a biography. (See the policy: "biographies of living persons")
(Unreasonable information includes: phone numbers, contact details, religion unless germane and confirmed, material inappropriate for an article on that subject, and so on).
Anyone may challenge or remedy article contents on these grounds; a final decision will be reached by editorial consensus (discussion or debate) in some cases, and summary decision in others. Articles are communally written; there is no one person "in charge" of a given article. At times the editorial process can be frustrating and slow, however an obvious problem, unwarranted negative approach, or misrepresentation in a biography can often be corrected very quickly.
Editors may take note of subject's wishes if the matter is borderline or the coverage the subject receives in other sources is very low. Equally, editors might not do so if it would jeopardize neutrality or significantly reduce article quality.
Managing your biography
Managing your biography on Wikipedia can be a daunting process at first, for newcomers to the encyclopedia – and more so if your biography turns out to initially be a poor quality one, or problematic. This section gives you the basics and resources for managing your biography if you have one.
- If you are unsure where to start, the best place is the very active biographical articles noticeboard, where all queries and concerns about biographies can be posted. Click the "New section" tag at the top ("+") (direct link) and add a note of the article title and your concerns. Watch that page for replies and discussion. (Other common places for discussion are the article's discussion page and your talk page.)
- If the problem is one you wish to discuss privately, you can email the OTRS team, a volunteer team of experienced users who often help with biographical articles and privacy related matters. However if the matter is one of editorial discretion you may need to discuss it with article editors anyway. (See: Wikipedia:Contact us for contact details)
Commenting and editing on the Wikipedia pages yourself
- It can be quite effective to edit Wikipedia yourself, if there is a concern. If you do, then it is important to remember that however you may feel, the people you are talking to collectively handle two million articles; they will often be glad to help someone who politely describes the problem, and to discuss whether applicable standards are properly applied, but rudeness, problematic editing, and attempts to use "force" may simply result in administrative action which will help nobody.
- The best approach for simple corrections in this situation, is to correct the article only in ways that any reasonable person can agree is fair, and always drop a note on the "discussion" page to explain that you are the subject and you have corrected this or that, for whatever reason.
- Examples of simple corrections that can be done this way and will often work well – removing obvious vandalism, improving grammar and 'flow', correcting errors of fact (you will need to have verifiable sources that can be cited so others will be able to check your corrections are appropriate), and removing sections that grossly unbalance the biography and which are not justified by any encyclopedic need. If there is actual privacy-related information you want permanently deleted rather than just corrected, please ask for help.
- If you do decide to edit your own article (or articles on topics closely related to you such as your business, band, group, or similar) please see the important section below for more.
Things to be aware of
- Wikipedia has policies on article content (how articles may be written) and editorial conduct (how users and visitors should act in discussing articles).
- People who are visiting Wikipedia about an article they are involved in face a difficulty. They are not "neutral" on that article, and therefore their editing is also not necessarily neutral. They also lack experience in what may be achieved, and how. Both of these can lead to serious problems when they try to edit. In such cases it is by far better to stay calm if you can, seek help, discuss with editors, and allow those experienced in article writing to help you.
- Not every request can be met (but many can). Wikipedia is a reference work. If articles could be modified as their subjects wished, it would lose much of that value, because many people would want an article that was biased. However at a minimum you should expect your article to be based on fact only – what sources have said – and not "sensationalist" or prurient or "tabloid". The result should be akin to an encyclopedia entry.
- Certain behaviors almost always result in help being offered. These include, asking for help, respecting that users are almost entirely volunteers, and asking where you can escalate the request to if people cannot help as you would wish. Other behaviors are likely to result in a summary ban which will often make it harder to be heard. These include threats, failure to engage in discussion (ie, listening as well), attempts to use "force" on articles, and unreasonable wishes that would require breach of editorial policies.
Old (history) versions of pages and search engines
Wikipedia keeps records of old pages. Only the current (most up to date) page is linked from most search engines such as Google, and when a page is updated the new version will eventually replace the old one when searched for externally on most web sites. (Technically, all pages containing "/w/" in their address are forbidden to be indexed, and this includes all history pages.)
- Old revisions of pages containing some kinds of comments may be deleted from public view if administrators agree it is appropriate. Old versions are often replaced and archived as "history" for most forms of vandalism and problematic editing. If the old version includes privacy-barred information such as names, phone numbers or the like then deletion by "oversight" is likely which prevents even administrators viewing it in future. Serious defamatory comments are usually deleted but may on occasion be oversighted.
- To request deletion of this kind, see Wikipedia:Criteria for speedy deletion (state that you wish specific revision/s deleted!) or Wikipedia:Oversight as appropriate, stating the relevant page revision. (This is either the link that is given when you click "permanent link" on the left side-bar of the page, or if you know the date and time of the relevant edit, then that. See here for help.) If multiple revisions are affected you may cite all of them; if you aren't sure then ask for help to identify the revisions and whether they can be deleted.
- Wikipedia has no control over external sites. Some sites may index undesired versions of a page; unfortunately the nature of the internet is that nobody can prevent them doing so. Some sites will respond to a personal request to remove the page, but others may not.
Editing guide for people with biographical articles
Editors who wish to edit an article related to themselves (their biography, or some group, business, organization, or event closely related to them), need to be aware of Wikipedia policies and communal norms that may help them, or which they may accidentally contravene.
Wikipedia has many help pages for new editors. This section provides quick information if your interest is an article connected to yourself.
Wikipedia's major policies and guidelines in a nutshell
Please see the link for each policy or guideline for more detail.
- Article policies
- Three main policies cover content: neutral point of view (all articles must take a fair, balanced and neutral stance), verifiability (facts in articles must be verifiable from reliable sources), and original research (users' and editors' opinions and "popular knowledge" are not important compared to statements in reliable sources and should not be relied upon).
- If you can successfully show that your biography is unbalanced or non-neutral, does not represent its sources properly, uses poor quality sources, or includes unverified statements, or includes editors' opinions, then you will find others agreeing quickly to fix any issues.
- A fourth core content policy biographies of living persons states that biographical articles must be written to the highest standard using only high quality sources, and provides for more drastic handling by editors of perceived errors or problems in such articles.
- (A final content policy, related to copyright, also exists but is generally irrelevant to problems of this kind.)
- Conduct policies
- Users must speak civilly (ie, politely and to the point), must not act disruptively, tendentiously, or edit war (ie, work with others, rather than ignore them, and in a productive rather than disruptive manner), avoiding excessive 'reverting' of other editors.
- If there is a problem then editors are expected to try and solve it themselves, and if unable, they should seek help or use dispute resolution to resolve it, rather than "fighting" between themselves.
- General social policies
- Users are expected to solve problems by discussion and consensus-seeking if differences become apparent. They should not make unsupported negative ("bad faith") assumptions about others and their motives, but should focus only on the articles and facts of the case. And if an editor is new and does not act unreasonably, then existing editors should reciprocate with understanding and try to be helpful, not make them feel unsupported. (Known as "don't bite the newcomers", meaning, newcomers typically are not familiar with how Wikipedia works and may make mistakes in their honest efforts to learn.)
Conflict of interest
| Wikipedia has a guideline on conflict of interest, and on editors writing their own autobiographical articles. These are worth reading.
In brief, users who are personally connected to a topic are expected to leave their biases "at the door". This is expected even if the article is about you, and even if it has been vandalized. This can be hard for some people, even so, it is expected. Fixing a problematic article is good; asking others to fix it is good too. Fixing it with bias, or in the sense of "I want my biography to read this way", can be problematic.
In such circumstances it is important to read carefully the guideline on conflict of interest and that on autobiographies. If you want to do more than remove a clear and obvious breach of the above content policies, then ask others to help.
It is usual that people who edit articles closely related to themselves, are not neutral. Also, they don't always understand how to edit well in Wikipedia. Accordingly, help is much more available if sought, but also there is much less patience for users seen as "disruptive". This page gives an example valid for both regular and new editors, of the kinds of problems which can arise. Please be aware of this and understand that the community will try to help you – but patience is low for problematic editing even if done in a possible good cause. As reiterated many times, asking for help from people and politely asking how to escalate it if needed, is far more effective than anger or "forcing the issue". Ultimately though it is the community that is responsible for Wikipedia's biographies, not any one individual.
Quick guide to fixing errors
- Decide if the error you wish to fix is a clear breach of an content policy (above). If it is, then it gets easier. If not, consider asking for help.
- Solve obvious problems first. Do not try to edit the article in what may be a controversial way without thinking how others will see it. Correction of policy violations is usually much easier to explain and will be less likely to be misinterpreted.
- Click the tab labelled "edit this page" and correct the error. Edit minimally at first – that means, do the least you have to do to fix the error. In the small box below marked "edit summary", write a brief note what your change was, and why you feel it was right. If you need to say more, or it needs more explanation, also append a note to the summary: "See talk page" (to tell people it is continued elsewhere) and put a more detailed explanation on the article's discussion page. Then save your correction by clicking "save".
- If you feel your correction may not be obvious, or may be misunderstood or argued, write more on the talk ("discussion") page. If there is an editorial disagreement, this is where it should be discussed anyway, so you have now corrected the error and told others to please discuss it before "reverting" your correction.
- You may wish to explain you are a new editor, the subject of the article, and to specify exactly which policies (above) you feel are breached. Others may agree or disagree, so be prepared to watch the page and discuss it. If you feel that you are unfamiliar with Wikipedia and may not be able to explain it well, then seek further help (see above) and ask people on the talk page to hold on, that you are doing so. Be polite at all times.
- If someone is then rude, or ignores you, or reinstates improper material, you may wish to contact the biographies noticeboard (above) and ask others to review it. Again, you can say that you are the article subject, that you are unfamiliar with Wikipedia, and rather than edit warring you are asking help, and need "extra eyes to consider the problem" because <user X> disagrees.
- If you are rebuffed by several editors (especially on different pages) who tell you the article is in fact proper, then you may wish to ask what can be done, at least, or escalate it if unsure. If only one or two tell you this, then (as above) ask in a different location to see if more experienced editors without prior involvement can advise. Wikipedia works on consensus and independent peer review, so the most common solution to uncertainty is usually to seek more people to review it.
- You may have to allow some time for these issues. Wikipedia's dispute resolution processes include everything from immediate intervention, to consensus-seeking, to mediation (assisted discussion to reach a mutually agreeable solution). Some of these can take time.
What you can expect
- You can expect that issues genuinely breaching editorial policy on a BLP (biographical article of a living person) will be treated very seriously and with a very high priority. If the matter is obvious, it will usually be fixed immediately or very quickly. If less obvious, or not an obvious breach of policy, then it may require discussion. (Sometimes discussion may be needed more than once or views may change as time passes.)
- You can expect that if the community agrees you are in fact very minimally "notable", or of transitory (brief, non-lasting) notability, you may be able to request its deletion.
- You can expect that if you were only notable in connection with one incident, topic or matter, and are not notable per se except for your role in that matter, then an article based on that incident or matter will often be more appropriate than one about you yourself (commonly cited on Wikipedia as "BLP1E" "biographies of living persons notable for only one event"). (Example – you were a witness at a crime, or the whistleblower on a fraud and got wide press coverage. The crime is notable; however anyone could have been the witness or whistleblower. As an individual they are not notable unless there were further matters that made that specific person noteworthy as an individual in their own right too.)
- You can expect any article on you to be encyclopedic rather than tabloid – no sensationalist or editorial styling, and so on (see above) – and written based only on appropriate sources and with a more conservative approach, whereby if anything is unclear there will be a bias to not say it.
What you cannot expect
- You cannot expect that Wikipedia editors will bias the article exactly to your wishes, or allow you to do so.
- You cannot expect that everyone will agree with your view on yourself.
Wikipedia contains a number of measures aimed at helping prevent recurrence of a problem, once resolved. It is important to note that most of these are strong measures rather than absolute guarantees, so it is worth checking from time to time yourself.
- Consensus and improvement – once a matter is agreed or a problematic area discussed and improved, it is often resolved. (Not always, but often.)
- Dispute resolution and administrative intervention – if the problem is another user who is insisting on damaging the biographical article improperly, then they can be dealt with via dispute resolution. It will help a lot if you at least act properly and calmly, and try to solve it yourself, so an administrator can easily see where the problem lies and that you have not managed to resolve it. (Note that Wikipedia administrators are editors themselves; they do not "direct" them. For more on administrators see here.)
- Page protection – various levels of page protection exist to prevent "driveby vandalism" or indeed all editing. This will not be used permanently in almost all cases, nor used without evidence of genuine ongoing necessity, but in some cases the article will be protected to prevent some kinds of editing.
- Flagged revisions (not yet available) – when available, will require versions of a biography to be formally reviewed for reasonable compliance with BLP standards, before being shown to ordinary members of the public.
- BLPWatch (being introduced at present) – management of articles that have been fixed, but are possibly "at higher risk" of problems.
- Deletion discussion – a page that has been communally agreed to be deleted should not be recreated without good cause. If the page is recreated after such a decision, without full discussion, it will often be considered a direct breach of a communal consensus.
If despite the above and fixing the problem several times, it still recurs, then let us know. As with most things on Wikipedia, protective measures can also be escalated to an extent.
Glossary of common Wikipedia terms
Abbreviations and terms you may see:
- "BLP" – an article, subject or text that contains Biographical material about a Living Person. Also the person such material refers to, and the policy covering this.
- "NPOV" – Wikipedia's "Neutral Point Of View" policy, which is mandatory on every article on Wikipedia without exception. It broadly states that Wikipedia does not choose a single "preferred" view; rather it describes all views that have significant followings, in a balanced manner (with more authoritative views broadly given more "weight" in the article's balance), and written in a style and wording that discourages implied bias and encourages the reader to draw upon good quality cited information.
- "COI" – a Conflict Of Interest. Broadly, where a person's editing or decisions may not necessarily be neutral in a situation due to a high level of personal connection to it. Can apply to anyone – administrators, users, or visitors. In this context, a person who is editing or discussing an article on which they also have a significant personal involovement too.
- "Users" – users and editors are often terms used interchangeably on Wikipedia, since a person is only visible as using the site, when they edit. When Wikipedia editors discuss users they often mean "users who edit as well", not just people who read the site for reference. All users/editors are volunteer members of the public.
- "Administrators" – despite their name, administrators are not a special class of user at all, and have no managerial or other exceptional authority. They are users who have built up enough communal confidence to be trusted to use potentially harmful tools such as page deletion, page protection and user blocking. Administrators are expected to be aware of policies, and helpful to users. They can use these tools to prevent problematic editing, or enforce communal norms as needed, in the event of persistent editing or other conduct matters that breach communal norms.
Useful pages and resources
| How to edit a page|
|Editing the article and/or commenting on its talk page.|
|Biographical articles noticeboard||To ask uninvolved editors to review your concerns on the article.|
| Dispute resolution|
|If you need help because you and another editor are disagreeing and cannot resolve the matter.|
| Contact us|
(OTRS volunteer team)
|Wikipedia's volunteer team that handles serious or privacy related matters from the general public. Note that OTRS volunteers may refer you to one of the above, if appropriate – they do not themselves always enact any corrections, though they will give reliable opinions on the matter.|
|Biographies of living persons policy||The Wikipedia policy on biographical articles.|
|Conflict of interest and Autobiography guidelines||The major guidelines covering "advice and pitfalls to avoid if editing your own biography".|
Checklist: matters to cover
- Final check – look at "see also" links in BLP/COI for more