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Wikipedia’s bio policy explained

Billy Barnes explains what’s really going on with Wikipedia’s new process for editing the biographies of living people.

What the media reported: In response to vandalism of bios, Wikipedia is not allowing any edits to bios of living people to be posted before they have been reviewed by trusted editors. (Implication: Wikipedia has failed at its mission of completely open, ungoverned editing [which of course isn’t Wikipedia’s mission].)

What actually is happening: Wikipedia has a two month trial of a “patrolled revisions” system that lets a reviewer (and I’m not sure who is in that class) set a flag on a bio of a living person to indicate that that particular version is vandalism free. According to the Wikipedia page describing this: “Currently, the number of edits to BLPs [biographies of living people] is so large that we don’t have the power to check all of them. This system allows us to monitor changes to BLPs by reducing the number of diffs to check by comparing new edits to previously patrolled revision.”

Does this mean that if you make a change to a living bio, it first has to be marked as approved before it will be posted? Not as far as I can tell: ” Patrolling does not affect the revision viewed by unregistered users by default, it’s always the latest one (unless the article is flag protected).” In fact, Jimmy Wales has said (on an email list I’m on) that the aim of this change is to use more efficient patrolling to enable some pages that have been locked to once again be editable by any user. That’s more or less the opposite of what the media coverage said. And, I hasten to add, what slashdot and, um, I said about it. (And I hope I’m getting it right this time…)

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4 Responses to “Wikipedia’s bio policy explained”

  1. ” I’m not sure who is in that class” : I bring you one response !


    “Any administrator can grant this right at their discretion to trusted users who regularly create pages and have demonstrated they are familiar with Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines. A suggested requirement is 75 valid articles, not including redirects.”

  2. @erasoft: That’s not the right feature. The right you’re pointing to is used for the “new page patrol” system. Users autoreviewed under that system have their new articles automatically confirmed as being decent. It’s just a patrol system, and there’s a huge amount of backlog, so having trusted people already filtered out helps. The “autoreviewer” right has nothing to do with the flagged protection/patrolled revisions stuff. Yes, it’s confusing. :/

    The real answer is “people aren’t sure yet”, but there’s some discussion going on at that is suggesting that it’ll probably be given out either automatically or, with admin discretion, upon request.

  3. “In fact, Jimmy Wales has said …”

    Well, he’s also said “I am the sole founder of Wikipedia.”, in contravention to an extensive historical record. So I’d be cautious about taking what he’s said at face value especially where Wikipedia flacking is concerned.

    As in, if you look at the historical record, the aim of this change is to deal with widespread vandalism, up to and including true libel. A small side-benefit is that they will allow some loosening elsewhere. But that is not the main effect, or their intent.

  4. I’m glad to read the post. Initially, I held the view close to the view of the media. Things are, as it is clear in the post and in “Flagged protection and patrolled revisions” article, much different and I regain my confidence in Wikipedia greatness.

    Of course – there always be some “gray zone” and Wikipedia will continue to walk on a tightrope – with the danger to fall or into exaggerated protection or into allowance for vanadlism. So far tightrope walker walks with pride :-)

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