Wikipedia:Articles on suicides

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This essay is advice to editors engaged in articles about notable suicides. For advice on responding to those threatening suicide please see Wikipedia:Responding to threats of harm

This essay is intended to guide editors in handling the complex editorial issues created when writing an article about a suicide so that they may avoid: causing disquiet among those who loved, liked or simply respected the dead person; pillorying those alleged to have contributed to the suicide; creating a biographical article about the dead person; and creating a memorial for them (the latter action is against Wikipedia policy). It may also help interested parties close to the event to understand how Wikipedia's policies and guidelines relate to articles about a given individual's suicide.

Wikipedia reports notable suicides[edit]

By this it is not meant that "Wikipedia reports the suicides of notable people", although obviously that is also the case. What is meant is that Wikipedia reports suicides which are, of themselves, notable (as defined by the guideline on notability of events), regardless of whether the person ending their life was notable (as defined by the notability guideline for people). It is the notable suicide Wikipedia reports upon, not the person who died. In short, an article about a suicide is not a biography.

Since it is not a biography, an article about a notable suicide should not be categorised by the birth characteristics of the deceased, nor should it have person-related infoboxes such as {{infobox person}}. It may have event-related infoboxes which include limited personal information. Categories relevant to the act itself may be used judiciously, but categories related solely to aspects of the person are not appropriate. This is a challenging area since well-meaning editors, failing to differentiate between the event and the person, often seek to add personal attributes to the article. Thus occurs the paradox that the death may be categorised by year while the birth may not.

Because the article is about the suicide, it is a generally accepted practice that the article title will not be simply the name of the deceased, though it will contain their name. The usual format, determined by the consensus of many individual discussions, is for the title to be Suicide of [named person]. The presence of exceptions does not invalidate the general practice.

While Wikipedia encourages images in all articles, before adding an image to an article about a notable suicide, the image itself must be considered with care. Apart from the normal considerations of copyright, does the image illustrate any of the facts of the article, or is it used to personalise the article in a biographical or memorial sense? The deployment of personal images in some articles on suicides must not be used as a precedent for the deployment of personal images in all such articles. While it is possible to marshal arguments for and against personal images being used, the final arbiter must be the answer to the question, "Does this image add value to this article, which is about a suicide and its directly relevant surrounding events, rather than to the person who committed suicide?"

Immediately after the event[edit]

The early stages of the creation of an article about a suicide reported in the news media are often highly charged with emotions, sometimes from persons close to the deceased. For the purposes of this essay, the deceased person is to be called George and the male pronoun used for convenience and consistency, while considering the name and the hypothetical person to be of either gender. George was liked by some, disliked by others, loved by various people who knew him, and perhaps hated by other people who may or may not have known him. Some of those who hated him may have subjected him to ridicule or violence. George may have been bullied.

For the purposes of developing an article on George's suicide, Wikipedia must ignore all emotions (positive and negative) surrounding George's life and death. It must remain entirely impartial, as demanded by the policy on neutral point of view, and it must consistently respect the policy on verifiability by using reliable independent sources to support what the article says and disallowing any original research. As discussed previously, the suicide itself must be notable if Wikipedia is to have an article about it at all.

In the article's nascent stages, verifiability is of the utmost importance. It is important to recognize that information reported by the news media soon after an event is often incomplete or inaccurate, so the article should be conservative in what it says, cite multiple sources for suspect claims or omit them entirely, and be especially cautious when discussing living persons whose names have been reported in connection with George or his death. Attempts at thorough coverage should certainly come later, but early in the process accuracy is more important than comprehensiveness.

When writing and initially revising the article, Wikipedia editors should be prepared to combine intellectual rigour with emotional sensitivity. While the article is about George's death, it is possible that one or more editors, well-meaning but misguided, may attempt to use the article as a vehicle for celebrating George's life. Such editors should be handled gently, not slapped down or fed an alphabet soup of policy shortcuts. It is possible to acknowledge that the memorialising (or, in some cases, the blaming) of George or others for George's death is a natural human reaction, while politely but firmly insisting that it is not the stuff of which serious encyclopaedias are made. It does need to be tempered, but tempering is a quiet and iterative process when done well.

Longer-term considerations[edit]

A major issue, a bone of contention, is that George and others who die in unfortunate circumstances deemed notable 'deserve' respect. The word is placed in quotes because this is an emotional reaction, not an intellectual one. One assumes that George died an untimely death, young and tormented and disconsolate, and yet he had many qualities and attributes that made up his life, perhaps the least of which was the taking of his own life.

The article is about the manner of his death, though. George might have gone on in his life to perform great feats or he might not have, but it is for his death and the manner of it that he came to public notice. His death was notable; in Wikipedia parlance, his life was not. He had no time to become a notable person except to those who loved him—and, perhaps, to those who may have a played a role in creating the circumstances leading up to his death.

Those who loved George have, one hopes, the wisdom to try to avoid encyclopaedias. Those august reference works exist to report neutrally only what is verifiably notable; they do not exist to celebrate the lives of their subjects. Nor do they discuss in any great detail their subjects' many achievements, unless those achievements are germane to their notable deaths.

There is a school of thought that considers, for many reasons, that articles on suicides are not appropriate material for Wikipedia. Such reasons include the potential for the description of one suicide to lead to other, similar events. That is beyond the scope of this essay, which limits itself to the situation as it obtains today. Today Wikipedia incorporates articles on notable suicides, though some editors consider this to be wrong. But Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, and, as such, can offer no opinion. It covers notable and verifiable topics, with no topic excepted, however distasteful it may be to some people.

By our conduct you shall know us[edit]

Wikipedians are known not only by the articles they write but by their conduct in the creation and discussion of those articles. As much as possible, the talk pages and any discussions about deletion, renaming, or other housekeeping of articles on suicide should be used in a manner to give the least offence to any party who may have been affected by the suicide.

Article talk pages[edit]

The talk page is a part, albeit a somewhat hidden part, of the article itself. According to longstanding practice, reflected in the talk page guidelines, the purpose of the talk page is to discuss the article and not the topic behind the article. This means that it will also discuss the content, often in detail, and whether certain aspects of the suicide should or should not be present. In the hurly burly of Wikipedia it is easy, sometimes, to forget that the article is about George's suicide, that George has usually died recently, and his nearest and dearest are likely to view it. Intellectually, an experienced Wikipedian understands that the talk page is a different entity from the article itself. Those people affected by the suicide are unlikely to consider the distinction between talk page and article. Statements are written on Wikipedia, are in the public domain and affect them.

Editors sometimes become so immersed in the topic that they appear to forget that the article is about the suicide of another person, and one whose life touched other people in ways unknown to them.

It is not being argued in any way that talk page discussions should be censored except under Wikipedia's normal rules, nor is there any argument for an extension of those rules to make some sort of special case for the talk pages on suicides. Instead editors are being asked jointly and individually to choose self-restraint in the way they discuss matters on those pages. Editors engaging in talk page discussions about suicide-related articles should keep in mind that their comments are open to public view and may well be viewed by persons closely affiliated with the deceased. It is possible to express a strongly-held opinion sensitively or insensitively. Wording that could be construed as callous or hurtful should be avoided wherever possible, even when making the strongest possible point about the article itself.

Where a talk page discussion has occurred which a reasonable uninvolved reader would consider to be in any way hurtful to those close to George, without censoring that discussion in any way, except in accordance with any normal policies for doing so, the discussion as a whole, once ended, should be collapsed. That collapse should not necessarily be immediate. Mature judgment should be given to the time the discussion is left expanded for those who participated to see it with ease, but that should probably not exceed a calendar week

Deletion discussions[edit]

Articles on suicides are often nominated for deletion, as are the images sometimes used within those articles. Without seeking to limit deletion-related discussions in any manner, and recognising that any editor acting in good faith may nominate an article for deletion, in the case of articles about notable suicides the highest standards of courtesy should be used in deletion nominations, subsequent discussions, and closing rationales. This is especially the case when arguing for deletion. However undeserving the article may be of a place on Wikipedia, it is important that editors choose their words to make that point in a way calculated to give the least possible distress to those affected by George's suicide.

Using suicide articles as coatracks[edit]

It is important to ensure that articles about suicides are kept within the boundaries set by their titles, and do not wander into the territory of well-meaning conjecture. There is a tendency with many newsworthy events for some editors, often well intentioned, to use articles and their associated talk pages as coatracks upon which to hang theories about the events in a more general sense. Sometimes this is an overt behaviour. At other times it is the use of logical fallacy to connect, for example, three items together when they can only be connected in pairs. (For instance, Where A is similar to B, and B is similar to C, it does not necessarily follow that A is similar to C.) Suicides of young people are challenging in that there can be many apparent similarities—e.g., age, sex, and sexual orientation of the deceased, geographical location, the presence of bullying—and the connection requires analysis to determine what is a genuine connection and what is connection by logical fallacy. Editors must beware of proposing similarities where none have been reported by reliable sources to exist, as doing so may constitute original research.

Frequently asked questions[edit]

A page subsidiary to this essay with FAQs is a counterpart of the essay. It has been created as a sub-page in order not to overwhelm the essay itself with the questions and answers.