Every month there seems to be another person who is unhappy about an article being deleted on Wikipedia. Today, that person is David Firth, the creator of Salad Fingers. I thought I would address some common misconceptions that have come up today. I hope this is a valuable tool for future discussions about deletions on Wikipedia.
Notability is about what someone has done.
Wikipedia uses the term “notability” when it should use the phrase “inclusion criteria,” which spawns many problems. Notability wounds the subject's ego of deleted biographies because it feels like we are dismissing that person’s accomplishments. It also gives the public the wrong idea of what the Wikipedia Community cares about the curricula vitæ of potential biography subjects.
Instead, Wikipedia makes inclusion decisions involve determining if there is significant coverage in independent and reliable secondary sources about a subject. We call this the General Notability Guideline (GNG). In addition to the GNG, there are subject-specific notability guidelines (SNG) that the community uses as a shortcut to determining if those secondary sources exist. After a fruitless comprehensive search for sources, articles that meet an SNG may be deleted if the subject does not meet the GNG.
For example, I wrote the biography of a former president of my alma mater, Daniel Z. Gibson. The citations are below:
Of the eight citations, there are three obituaries: Washington Post, Morning News, and Baltimore Sun. These would count for notability because they were published by reliable sources unconnected from the subject and are entirely about Gibson. The 1950 Washington Post article about Gibson becoming president would also count in a potential deletion discussion. However, the 1951 Washington Post article would not matter because the coverage of Gibson is only passing in nature. The coverage in Dumschott is much more of a toss-up. The book is reliable, but Gibson’s former employer, Washington College, released it.
This analysis is done at all deletion discussions, no matter the article's topic. Albums, biographies, works of art, companies, organizations, etc., all need to meet this burden. Without enough coverage, an article may be deleted if independent and reliable secondary sources can not be found.
Wikipedia is the Compendium of All Knowledge.
The public believes that Wikipedia is the compendium of all human knowledge, and we delete nothing. While some people would like that to happen, theTexfiles guy being the most vocal and toxic about it, it is not the goal of Wikipedia. We constantly delete articles.
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. That means we are a tertiary source. To write a tertiary source, we need secondary sources about a topic to cite. As a community, we have decided that those sources need to be reliable. That means no blogs or other self-published sources. If that can not be done for a topic, we consider it to be not notable (covered above) and is deleted.
Below is a simplified flow chart of how deletion works on Wikipedia. An article can enter at CSD, PROD, or AfD and follow the arrows. Deletion is not a random event on Wikipedia. Instead, it is governed by a system that works slowly and deliberatively.
If any article meets one of the speedy deletion criteria, it can be deleted at any time by an administrator. Suppose an article is not covered under one of those strict criteria. In that case, the tag can either be removed (and the article is kept) or converted into a candidate for proposed deletion. At any time over the next seven days, anyone can object to that article being deleted. If someone disagrees with that objection, they can start a discussion at Articles for Deletion. That discussion lasts for at least seven days and ends when the Wikipedia community comes to a consensus to delete or keep the article.
You want a biography.
I need to get this one out of the way. I once had dinner with a friend from college’s parents, who are important people in the world of DC think tanks. When my friend told them that I am a Wikipedia administrator, the first question I received was how they could get a biography on Wikipedia. The sad truth is, you don’t want a Wikipedia biography while you are alive.
You have no control over your Wikipedia biography. You can kindly suggest things on the talk page, but the editors working on your bio are not bound to listen to you. If you try to edit it directly without disclosing your conflict of interest, your edits will probably get reversed, and your account may be blocked from editing. Conflict of interest editing sticks out to Wikipedia editors.
Wikipedia works on a model of verifiability, not truth. This is a headache for the subjects of biographies. Even if the New York Times got something wrong, and you know they got it wrong, removing that information without another source contradicting or debunking it is nearly impossible. Due to a process called citogenesis, incorrect facts on Wikipedia have a terrible habit of being “sticky” as future journalists, under time pressure, repeat information they find on Wikipedia without talking to you.
Additionally, biographies of non-celebrities have a terrible habit of being a “wall of shame” of a person’s failures. Due to how news works, failures and other negative events receive more coverage than successes. Biography subjects who find themselves in scandal or legal trouble, find that information about it is quickly added to their bio. Due to the model of verifiability, that information will be impossible to remove. The events happened, and there was probably more press coverage about it than all of the successes so far in that person’s life.
By deleting a person’s biography, the Wikipedia Community gives the subject the extraordinary gift of having the top-ranked Google result for their name to be a webpage that they have control over. Newspapers and journalists have shame and may retract stories; Wikipedia is a collective and feels nothing.
Wikipedia exists to provide free advertising.
Due to the lack of control you have over your biography, Wikipedia is dreadful advertising for you or your products. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view. Further, we are an encyclopedia and not the default link on the internet. If you want to advertise yourself, write a blog post or Tweet.
The job of Wikipedia is to fix systemic bias in the media.
Wikipedia is based on secondary sources. The best thing that the public can do to fix systemic bias problems on Wikipedia is to pressure journalists and groups they are part of to write more about a more comprehensive array of living people. I used Daniel Z. Gibson as an example of notability above. The sad thing is he received enough coverage for a Wikipedia biography on the day after his death. This is true of most people. Obituaries are a vital source of information about people and are oftentimes the only article where someone’s life is covered.
No notability until death does not need to be the case. If fields do a better job at covering the lives of the people who work in them, we can write a better selection of biographies on Wikipedia.