Wikipedia:Outing (essay)

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Because of its open nature, Wikipedia is subject to a number of syndromes or problems that can lead to discrediting the project as a whole. Insertion of questionable or false or unverified information is the worst of these. Of all such information, that which accuses people of unpopular status (e.g. being homosexual, religious fundamentalists) or performing or advocating illegal acts, tends to be the worst. The use of such information is entirely out of the control of editors and publishers of Wikipedia, and could if used against the individuals reported on, end the project. For instance, in some countries it is illegal to be homosexual. A report that someone is homosexual on a Wikipedia page could lead to their being harmed or killed. They or their families would then have cause for legal action against Wikipedia's editor Wikimedia Foundation, especially if the claims published were never verified or found to be inaccurate.

Wikipedia discourages outing: the practice of claiming that people are working with, have the same friends as, the same attributes as, or "are" other people with whom they have not openly claimed an association. This practice threatens freedom of association.

Don't overtrust Wikipedia itself[edit]

Because of a necessarily lax Wikipedia:Username policy, it is very often the case that people are confused with others. Because of historical problems with how Wikipedia policies are or were enforced, many claims about peoples' motives and associations have gone unchallenged when in fact there was little or no evidence for them. False statements were often repeated as fact, without even the simplest attempt to verify them, based solely on the lack of popularity of a given editor or the popularity of an accuser. Some of these problems are inevitable in any human social group, others are specific to the Internet – see Internet troll.

Accidental outing is sloppy, and a sign of poor editorial discipline, and should be quickly corrected.

Old talk pages or Wikipedia mailing list posts, in particular are not a valid or acceptable source of information. Because people using these might believe something at any given point in time, doesn't make it true.

Fair outing?[edit]

Some people view outing as a revenge move. However, two wrongs do not make a right and the second is no better than the first.

Some questions about the fairness of a deliberate decision to "out" someone:

  • has the person whose motives or associations are in question, been contacted directly, as themselves? (not via an account which some believe is a Wikipedia:sock puppet)
  • where is the a trail of evidence?
  • how has the evidence been handled?
  • who has the power to make the decision whether to report the claims in a Wikipedia article?

Betrayal of trust[edit]

"There are cases where someone might, through investigation, seek to uncover the identity of someone in an effort to out them against their will. Such instances raise fewer ethical questions since they do not involve an extension of trust that was later betrayed. Within some communities, though, the right to anonymity is sufficiently entrenched that any community member responsible for such outing would be sanctioned." – User:Louis Kyu Won Ryu

Deliberate outing, generally, is a betrayal of trust, at least where the perp has obtained identity information as a result of an extension of trust. Outing someone based on, for example, the contents of server logs, is a betrayal of trust on the part of the server operator except perhaps if the release of information is consistent with a site's privacy policy (so-called "Fair outing"). If this is done at all, should be done in a deliberate, considerate, careful fashion; probably with prior notice; most assuredly not as the result of a whim of the moment. It could never be done by someone in a conflict of interest, and in particular not someone in the midst of an edit war with the person they are outing.

Sadly there have been several such cases in the history of Wikipedia, not all of which resulted in any sanction at the time. Over time, however, people responsible for such actions have tended to be forced out of responsible positions in the project. Please do not list their names here, this may attract them back to "protect their reputation" by once again accusing innocent people of various nefarities.