Wikipedia:BLP problem

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The "BLP problem" refers to the broad issues and implications that surround biographies of living people on Wikimedia-related projects. For the purposes of this essay, the "BLP problem" is defined as the presence of unsourced, poorly sourced, and negative content in biographies of living people.

Scope of the issue[edit]

There are currently over 796,427 biographies of living people in the English Wikipedia alone. This does not include pages that have not been properly categorized in Category:Living people.

Wikipedia is one of the top ten most visited websites in the world. Wikipedia has very high page rank in search engine results, especially using Google. When someone googles the name of an individual, it is nearly certain that if the person has a biography on Wikipedia, it will be in the top five results.

Most visitors to Wikipedia view the site anonymously and only read the encyclopedia, they do not edit.

There is no effective system to monitor the current content of articles or new additions to them. 3,025 biographies are listed as entirely unsourced and 127 are listed as inadequately sourced. This means at least 0.396% of all biographies of living people have sourcing problems, many more biographies with problems have likely not been found and categorized yet.

However, there are still no reliable data on the actual size of the problem—that is, how many biographies are effectively sources of practical trouble for their subjects. Back of the envelope calculations made by the amount of OTRS requests mailed seem to indicate that about 0.1-0.5% of all BLPs (roughly 500 to 2500 articles, for ~500000 BLPs) has been causing concern for their subjects each year, with 1.5% (roughly 7500 articles, for ~500000 BLPs) being a pessimistic estimate of all BLPs potentially able to generate complaints [1][2]. Based on these numbers, one can estimate that there have been nearly 18,000 problematic BLP articles since the beginning of 2005.[3] Such figures can only be taken as a rough order of magnitude calculation and do not take into account incidents not passing through OTRS.

OTRS volunteers have estimated that ~20% of "BLP issues" (i.e. issues personally concerning living subjects) come from non-BLP articles[4].

Proposed solutions[edit]

Manipulating search engine visibility[edit]

Using <meta> tags, it's possible to control which pages are visible to search engines. Currently, MediaWiki (the software that Wikipedia runs on) does not allow users to de-index any pages in a content namespace (like articles on the English Wikipedia). Users have made efforts to try to expand the scope of the __NOINDEX__ magic word to work on articles as a means to reduce harm caused by negative and unsourced biographies.

Allowing subjects to opt out[edit]

Some users have suggested allowing any living individual who sends an e-mail to OTRS to have their biography deleted from our site upon request. This is generally referred to as "opt out." This is a controversial idea as it has the potential to leave the encyclopedia with imbalanced coverage.

Dead tree standard[edit]

As a branch of biographical opt out, some users have suggested allowing subjects to opt out of having a biography only if they meet the dead tree standard. The "dead tree standard" requires that if a subject requests deletion of their article, Wikipedia would only oblige if the person is not already covered in an encyclopedic work (including specialty encyclopedias).

Implementing better content controls[edit]


Using a MediaWiki extension called FlaggedRevisions, it is possible to control which version of an article Wikipedia's readers see. There have been various proposals regarding implementing FlaggedRevisions on the English Wikipedia. Some of the larger issues include whether or not the community would be able to effectively manage the number of edits per day, which version of an article would be visible to anonymous users, who would be able to review articles, whether or not the editors reviewing articles would catch the type of bad edits that cause harm to living people, and what harm a control on "open editing" would have to the success of Wikipedia.

If enabled, by default FlaggedRevisions would apply to all articles.

Flagged protection and patrolled revisions[edit]

Flagged protection takes FlaggedRevisions and makes it more flexible. Rather than applying FlaggedRevisions to all articles, flagged protection allows trusted users (usually administrators) to set particular settings on a per-page basis. Specific problematic articles could be set to a particular revision for anonymous viewers, effectively eliminating the need for semi-protection.

Patrolled revisions is a feature that has been built into MediaWiki for years that is currently disabled on the English Wikipedia. It allows for (trusted) users to mark revisions as patrolled in the hope of saving duplicate effort. Currently, when a user does recent changes patrolling, they can see the same vandalism that ten or fifteen other patrollers have seen. Oftentimes they will even edit conflict when attempting to revert the bad edit. Patrolled revisions would (in theory) reduce the number of people seeing a particular problematic revision in the hope of spreading the workforce more widely to cover more revisions per day.

Scorched earth policy[edit]

Due to the ethical and technical issues surrounding biographies of living people, some users have suggested simply deleting all biographies of living people. This view isn't commonly held, but some users do feel that a great deal of drama and problems would be resolved by simply not writing about any living people.

Alternately, some users suggest that Wikipedia should only contain biography articles of living people where the person is indisputably notable. This would allow for the inclusion of people like Barack Obama, but would exclude thousands of others. This is similar to the dead tree standard referenced above.


The ideas presented in this essay are a compilation of ideas taken from various parts of Wikipedia and Wikipedia Review. It is neither feasible to try to trace the origin of any of these specific ideas, nor is it the intention of this essay.