Wikipedia talk:Biographies of living persons

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Human dignity[edit]

Since the Foundation urges us to take account of the human dignity of our subjects,[1] would it be a good idea to incorporate that in our policy? Presently, we just mention the Foundation's wish at the end of the page - as a kind of afterthought, with no comment either way on whether we should heed them,[2] and I think it should be a clear part of this important policy document. Thoughts? --Anthonyhcole (talk · contribs · email) 03:21, 11 April 2014 (UTC)

The balance in the policy between recording accurate information supported by WP:RS but subject to WP:UNDUE etc is about right at the moment. Your proposal could unnecesarily disturb that balance in potentially unpredictable ways. If it ain't broke...DeCausa (talk) 07:18, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
A good change, though, would codify and actually write down actual practice, which does in fact take into account human dignity. It's a mistake when policy doesn't reflect actual practice because it leads to silly arguments (in this case, most often from people who would like to violate BLP I'm afraid).--Jimbo Wales (talk) 17:58, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Adding such an ambiguous and obviously squishy requirement to the actual policy mechanics strikes me as a bad idea (on the basis that you can't legislate clue). Might be worth noting higher on the page though as a matter to consider - David Gerard (talk) 09:22, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
I think that noting it as a "matter to consider" would not be controversial and would reflect actual practice. That we don't say that it's a matter to consider unfortunately leads to people arguing that it can be completely disregarded, etc. So I agree with you.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 18:00, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Yep - David Gerard (talk) 21:56, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
re "Adding such an ambiguous and obviously squishy requirement to the actual policy mechanics strikes me as a bad idea" - I don't always find myself on the same side of an argument as David Gerard, but regarding this comment I couldn't agree more. Policy needs to have clear and easy to follow guidelines. Putting in vague language like that proposed, just leads to WP:WIKIDRAMA. NickCT (talk) 14:27, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Agree with the above, nonsense addition. While it makes sense in a resolution, as a wording, in a policy it would just mean everything and nothing. If anything, we have too vague-worded, "we-have-to-be-nice-whatever-it-means" policies. --cyclopiaspeak! 14:36, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Perhaps some hypothetical examples pointing out where current policy would likely go wrong in this respect would be helpful. Wikipedia does have the WP:IAR safety valve, but typically BLP related issues tend to be controversial so you can't easily invoke IAR in these situations. Count Iblis (talk) 14:50, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I don't see this proposed addition as "squishy" or meaningless. It's a statement of a guiding principle underlying the policy. Guiding principles are always "vague" and general statements. The policy goes on to describe specific ways in which we respect biographical subjects' human decency (for example, by providing protections for low-profile private citizens, and by requiring high-quality reliable sources). I think the addition would be useful and appropriate. There's a segment of the community which consistently rejects any appeal to human decency, and it would be helpful if this policy clearly spelled out what the Foundation has made clear—that it's an important consideration. The only counter-argument is alluded to by David Gerard: if you have to command someone to display human decency by force of policy, the battle is already lost. MastCell Talk 16:18, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
    Motherhood-and-apple-pie directives in the actual policy mechanism are generally used by the querulous as a handy stick to beat others with. I doubt the arbcom is actually this much in need of work - David Gerard (talk) 17:12, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Agreed. What's not being said here is what is this intended to fix. What are the community decisions which, for instance, would have been different if this had already been in place? If the answer is "none" then why is it needed. If there are examlles, then they should be identified and considered. DeCausa (talk) 18:18, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Querulous wikilawyers will abuse this policy no matter what it says. (For example, people who are generally taken seriously on this site have argued that it's a BLP violation to mention the (correct) pronunciation of the Koch brothers' last name or to describe a retired physicist as "retired", among other lunacy). Our policies shouldn't be written with querulous wikilawyers in mind, or else they become unusable by the rest of us. MastCell Talk 18:20, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Exactly. Good summation why this shouldn't be done. DeCausa (talk) 21:24, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Mention it perhaps, but don't make it a "binding" law. I would like to, but it has the potential for loophole abuse and lawyering. KonveyorBelt 18:08, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
Yep. I do concur with the idea. The sort of thing someone should consider.
So ... does anyone have a suggested edit to the page? - David Gerard (talk) 21:56, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
We could simply add "and dignity" to the sentence in the final paragraph of the lead: "Biographies of living persons ("BLP"s) must be written conservatively and with regard for the subject's privacy and dignity." Then link to the Foundation resolution in a footnote. SlimVirgin (talk) 22:17, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
That strikes me as a good spot - David Gerard (talk) 22:54, 11 April 2014 (UTC)
I like SlimVirgin's suggestion. Perhaps "human dignity"? Shall we link it to Human dignity? WhatamIdoing (talk) 00:34, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
Good. Alanscottwalker (talk) 00:54, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
A most appropriate suggestion. Hullaballoo Wolfowitz (talk) 01:23, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I think this entire "What Would the Subject Desire?" orientation is a huge mistake and this suggestion the latest new iteration. BLP started as a requirement that information about a living biographical subject needed to be documented as factual. It has evolved into some sort of touchy-feely ultraconservative "We Must Only Say Nice Things in The Appropriate Manner or Eliminate the Information Altogether." This leads to whitewashing, particularly in the case of the biographies of politicians and celebrities. Carrite (talk) 05:07, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • If you would be willing to explicitly state that human dignity has nothing whatsoever to do with the preferences of the subject, I could probably support this. The problem is that you seem to have "human dignity" confused with "making people feel good about themselves", "presenting people the way they want to be presented", and "following the precepts of their religions", which are completely different topics that run counter to presenting factual and neutral descriptions of people. I know you have brought this up in respect to the "Hilary Clinton" vs. "Hilary Rodham Clinton" discussions and with respect to the discussions of Muhammad imagery, two places where it had no particular relevance.—Kww(talk) 05:25, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Carrite, and Kww, the Foundation simply asks us to take human dignity into account. Which I think is reasonable. It doesn't ask us and no one is arguing we ought to do so to the detriment of the encyclopedia, as you both seem to imply. It's one of many factors that presently guide most editors here. --Anthonyhcole (talk · contribs · email) 09:12, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Sometimes, depending on context and sourcing, it does and sometimes not. There can be little fear that anyone will be applying BLP to the long dead. As for whitewashing BLP's that is also an extreme slippery slope claim. The policy does not apply to the dead -- and bad, good and neutral things will still be well written about living people and will go in their biography. Having supported such things going into biography even over objections of the living subject that will continue to be the case -- just because the subject thinks something is not itself a sufficient reason -- that does not mean it must not be considered (dead people will, of course, not be thinking anything). While we do not censor, that means we do not censor living people either. Alanscottwalker (talk) 10:15, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Actually, Anthonyhcole, I would argue that your entire position on Muhammad was based on your notion of what constitutes respect for the human dignity for Muslims. I think it's essential that our policies encode that you are wrong. Alanscottwalker, while Muhammad may be dead, his followers are not. David Gerard would have had us behave differently than all reliable sources about Manning in order to respect Manning's human dignity. I think it's also essential that our polices encode that he was wrong to do so. This proposal seems an effort to substitute an editor's personal feelings about someone else's personal feelings for the content of sources. That would be to the detriment of the encyclopedia.—Kww(talk) 15:12, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • (My position on Muhammad images was against gratuitously, i.e., for no good reason, including images in the article that add nothing to the readers' understanding of the man while alienating a large proportion of the very people who should be reading that article. The only commonality between that and concern for BLP subjects' feelings is a recognition that people have feelings and that, where we can avoid it without diminishing the encyclopedia, we should not trample on them - in the case of BLP subjects, as an end in itself if we are to be a human rather than a psychopathic institution, and in the case of our readers, if for nothing else, so as to make our articles available to as wide an audience as possible. Can we focus on how we treat our BLP subjects, please? You can begin a discussion about how we treat our readers any time you like, but elsewhere would be a good place for that.) --Anthonyhcole (talk · contribs · email) 16:18, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I concur with Kww. What constitutes "human dignity" is subjective, and while we can make note that it should be considered, lets also make sure that whatever addition (if any) we make here does not create another attack vector for tendentious editors to exploit. Resolute 15:20, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • "while Muhammad may be dead, his followers are not" So? Neither are the followers of Napoleon, Christ, Abraham Lincoln, or Ghandi, that means nothing to BLP policy. As for appeals to editors, WP:Consensus and WP:BURO already enshrine appeals to editor's good sense. -- Alanscottwalker (talk) 16:32, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I don't see the problem with slipping in a bit of "human dignity" language. It's just another way of saying "undue emphasis" in many cases. Once I found an article about an old-time comedian in which the bulk of the article rehashed some recent legal troubles. It was a clear case of undue emphasis, but human dignity applied too. Coretheapple (talk) 15:19, 12 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose. The problem with "human dignity" is that it is a very subjective and contentious term, that has been used quite a bit lately on-wiki as a scheme to push political viewpoints. Some people will claim that showing a photo of a topless FEMEN demonstrator violates her dignity. I would say that seeing her as merely a naked woman and denying her the right to be seen as she presented herself violates her dignity. On any issue you can imagine, any case you could name here where you'd say that "dignity" demands we do something, I bet I could make a counter-argument. "Take into account" does not mean "write directly into policy". Dignity is one of those things like the Torah where we're going to want a little interpretation before it gets to the level of policy. Wnt (talk) 15:59, 12 April 2014 (UTC)

The way I understand it, WMF policies automatically apply to the projects, especially projects that are too small to have their own policies; but projects can make their own policies as well. So en.WP can endorse the statement, or maybe even clarify it, but not repudiate it.

This "dignity" resolution is merely meant to be a statement about core values, like neutral point of view. The statement in its entirety, as amended, is:

Taking human dignity and respect for personal privacy into account when adding or removing information and/or media, especially in articles or images of ephemeral or marginal interest;

I can't find the discussion about the specifics that triggered the resolution, but I seem to remember some discussion some time ago about adding negative or gratuitous information to an article about someone who was only marginally notable, or maybe notable only for being the victim of some heinous crime. How much graphic information is really needed in that case? Another situation that has come up is a person who uploaded images of themselves as a minor, and who later had misgivings and wanted the images deleted. These are reasonable applications of "dignity".

I don't think anyone wants "dignity" to be read as an excuse for concealing potentially embarrassing information about well-known public figures that legitimately belongs in the public eye. But there is no excuse for specifically and cold-bloodedly excluding compassion from policy discussions. —Neotarf (talk) 08:05, 13 April 2014 (UTC)

Well, the point is that they should be policy discussions, not individual case discussions. The time to argue whether a concern for dignity should allow minors to delete an image is when coming up with a policy on courtesy deletions. We shouldn't have people arguing ad hoc about what dignity really is in every MfD. Wnt (talk) 17:52, 13 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Could you please help me understand what types of scenarios would be covered under a human dignity clause that are not already covered under the language about tone and balance?GabrielF (talk) 06:12, 14 April 2014 (UTC)
I think this all traces back at least to huge debates over santorum (neologism) several years ago. There is a certain crew of editors that collaborate off-site to try to embarrass and curtail Wikipedia's coverage of explicit topics; additionally, the role of Rick Santorum in the 2012 presidential election was substantial. (The group of editors has some links with Pennsylvania, where he was a former senator). Anyway, the gist of the anti arguments then would be that featuring this campaign, meant to mock and belittle the candidate, was demeaning to his dignity and should be struck out, while those of us who were pro tend to follow the idea of "As Above, So Below", i.e. that if RSes cover something it has a place in Wikipedia. A replay of the debate, by many of the same people, happened a year or two later over a painting Pricasso made of Jimbo Wales, with some people saying that even the still image of his little sketch ought to be deleted because of the, ahem, unusual way he painted it. The resolution seemed like an attempt at a compromise position in the ongoing debate. Anyway, my feeling is we shouldn't be taking stuff out because it's not nice, however you put it, and if some things are taken out anyway, we should be sure to narrow that list at every step, as surely as those interested will be trying to expand it. Wnt (talk) 22:10, 14 April 2014 (UTC)
What? The Board Resolution is from 2009 and is already stated in this policy, so, it does not go back to those things. The reason this was recently brought here was statements by article subject's about their name, and some people claiming we can't consider what the subject's say about their own name, when we use their name in our articles. Alanscottwalker (talk) 00:12, 15 April 2014 (UTC)
You're referring to the debate regarding the use of the name Chelsea vs. Bradley Manning? GabrielF (talk) 02:28, 15 April 2014 (UTC)
More recently this [3] Alanscottwalker (talk) 07:22, 15 April 2014 (UTC)
Actually the debate over "santorum" dates back to 2006. Wnt (talk) 04:37, 15 April 2014 (UTC)