Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons/Help

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This page contains advice for people affected by being referred to in a Wikipedia article or on a talk page.

Wikipedia has a policy on how to handle biographical material about living persons; see Wikipedia: Biographies of living persons. It applies to every page on the project, including talk pages. If Wikipedia has published misleading or inappropriate material about you, you can get help by:

For more information, see Wikipedia:Contact us - Subjects. See here for how to contact the Wikimedia Foundation directly.

Useful pages and resources

Biographical articles noticeboard To ask uninvolved editors to review your concerns about the article.
How to edit a page
(Editing Wikipedia)
To learn more about editing the article and/or commenting on its talk page.
Dispute resolution
(Dispute resolution)
To get help resolving a disagreement with another editor.
Contact us
(OTRS volunteer team)
For more serious problems, including privacy-related matters. Note that OTRS volunteers may refer you to one of the above pages, 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 official Wikipedia policy on biographical articles.
Conflict of interest and Autobiography guidelines "Advice and pitfalls to avoid if editing your own biography".

Overview

How biographical articles are 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, must adhere to Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not, and must be notable. The word "notable" is used on Wikipedia to mean that independent reliable sources have taken notice of the subject.
Biographical material about living people ("BLPs") specifically: Must be neutral in content, disinterested in tone, and carefully sourced. Anyone may remove biographical material about living persons that is unsourced, poorly-sourced, or otherwise inappropriate. Editors may take an article subject's wishes into account, and regularly do in cases of borderline notability. See Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons for more.

Contacts

  • If you wish to discuss the matter privately, you can email the OTRS team at info-en-q@wikimedia.org. Your email will reach a volunteer team of experienced users who help with biographical articles and privacy-related matters. Note that if the matter is one of editorial discretion, you may need to discuss it with the article's editors.

Editing the article yourself

This is not recommended, but if you decide to do it, the best approach is to correct the article in a way that any reasonable person would agree is fair. Always drop a note on the article's talk page explaining who you are, what you changed and why. Simple corrections like this include:

  • removing obvious vandalism,
  • improving grammar,
  • correcting straightforward errors of fact (you will need to cite one or more independent reliable sources),
  • removing unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material; note that the policy says: "Unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material about living persons — whether the material is negative, positive, or just questionable — should be removed immediately and without waiting for discussion, from Wikipedia articles, talk pages, user pages, and project space."

If there is privacy-related material that you want to have permanently deleted, rather than just corrected, please ask here for help.

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 the subject of an article or who are close to the article subject are rarely "neutral" on that topic, and therefore it is difficult for them to edit neutrally. Many times, they also lack experience in what may be achieved, and how to achieve it. This can lead to serious misunderstandings or even a blocked account if they try to edit improperly. In such cases, it is better to stay calm if you can, seek help, discuss openly with editors, and allow those experienced in article writing to help you. Remember that we are writing an encyclopedia here. If you are seen to be working sincerely with other editors to make the article better then you should be okay. That is the basic criterion by which we judge people here.
  • Not every request can be met. Wikipedia is a reference work. If articles could be modified as their subjects wished, it would lose much of its value, because many people would want an article that was biased in favor of their own agendas. However, at a minimum, you should expect your article to be based on what reliable sources have actually said – and not sensationalist or prurient or "tabloid" sources. In most cases it is clear which is which though there are of course cases where there is a real disagreement over which sources are reliable. These discussions should always take place on the Talk page for that article.
  • In some cases the "Streisand effect" can mean that your involvement might draw a spotlight to the article or its past edits. If this may be an issue, then you may wish to keep to the talk page, or seek help by email instead.
  • Threatening legal action onsite is very likely to result in your editing rights being revoked until the threat is retracted or the legal case completed, in order to avoid any possible prejudicing of the legal case.

How to make yourself heard

Certain behaviors almost always result in help being offered. These include: asking for help (respecting that users are almost entirely volunteers); and asking to whom or where you can escalate the request, if people cannot help as you would wish.

Other behaviors are likely to result in summary removal. These include edit warring and other disruptive behavior, threats, games, refusing to discuss or listen, or editing to an agenda that does not match that of a neutral encyclopedia. Patience is low for problematic editing even in a possible good cause. Work with others, rather than ignore them, and in a productive rather than disruptive manner.

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 of the article are preserved and archived as "history" including most forms of vandalism and problematic editing. If the old version includes private personal information such as addresses or phone numbers then deletion by "oversight" is an option that prevents even administrators seeing the material. Serious defamatory comments may 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; 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.

A brief introduction to successful editing

If you want to edit an article related to yourself (a biography, or some closely related group, business, organization, or event), it helps to be aware of the most important Wikipedia policies that may help, or which you might accidentally contravene.

Wikipedia has many help pages for editors. This section provides quick information if your interest is an article connected to yourself.

Summary of major policies and guidelines

Please see the link for each policy or guideline in more detail.

Policies about what articles should say
  • Three main policies cover content:
  1. neutral point of view (all articles must take a fair, balanced and neutral stance),
  2. verifiability (facts in articles must be verifiable from reliable sources), and
  3. original research (users' and editors' opinions and "popular knowledge" are not suitable for encyclopedia articles).
  • A fourth core content policy on 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 of errors or problems in such articles.
  • (A final content policy, related to copyright, also exists but is generally irrelevant to problems of this kind.)
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 editors' personal opinions, then you will find others agreeing quickly to fix any issues.
Policies about how users must act
Policies about general social conventions
  • 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 or at least behave as if you believe all other parties are acting in good faith. This is important. Everything you type into Wikipedia is preserved and archived forever and when the dispute goes to the next level how you behaved will be scrutinised. You should focus only on the articles and facts of the case. If an editor is new and does not act unreasonably, then existing editors should reciprocate with understanding and try to be helpful.

Conflict of interest

Wikipedia has guidelines on conflict of interest and on editors writing their own autobiographical articles. Both are worth reading.

In brief, users who are personally connected to a topic are expected to leave their biases "at the door", even if the article is about them personally, even if it has been vandalized, and even if it is very difficult to remain neutral. 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 a problem. Ultimately the article's content is a communal decision, not just one person's view.

In such circumstances it is important to read the guidelines above carefully. If you want to do more than remove a clear and obvious breach of the content policies, then ask others to help.

Quick guide to fixing errors

  1. Decide if the error you wish to fix is a clear breach of a content policy (as listed above). If it is, then it gets easier. If not, consider asking for help.
  2. Target 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.
  3. 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 page".
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 is to seek more people to review it.
  8. 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.

Expectations

What you should expect

  1. Issues breaching editorial policy on a biographical article about 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, then it may require discussion. (Sometimes discussion may be needed more than once, or views may change as time passes.)
  2. If the community agrees you are in fact very minimally "notable", or of transitory (brief, non-lasting) notability, you can request your article's deletion.
  3. 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 specifically.[Note 1]
  4. Any article on you should be encyclopedic rather than tabloid -– no sensationalist or editorial styling, and so on (see above) –- and written based only on appropriate sources.

What you should not expect

  1. You cannot expect that Wikipedia editors will make the article say exactly what you want.
  2. You cannot expect that Wikipedia editors will give you exclusive editorial control over the article.
  3. You cannot expect that everyone will agree with your views on yourself.

Preventing recurrence

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.

  1. Consensus and improvement – once a matter is agreed or a problematic area discussed and improved, it is often resolved. (Not always, but often.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Flagged revisions – requires versions of a biography to be formally reviewed for reasonable compliance with BLP standards, before being shown to ordinary members of the public.
  5. 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.

Notes

  1. ^ Example –- you were a witness at a crime, or the whistleblower on a fraud and got wide press coverage. The crime is notable; but anyone could have been the witness or whistleblower. As individuals, they are not notable unless there were further matters that made that specific person noteworthy as an individual in their own right too.