Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Editing of Biographies of Living Persons

Case Opened on 16:27, 4 May 2008 (UTC)
Case Closed on 22:21, 16 June 2008 (UTC)
Case amended by motion on 00:18, 27 January 2015 (UTC)

Please do not edit this page directly unless you are either 1) an Arbitrator, 2) an Arbitration Clerk, or 3) adding yourself to this case. Statements on this page are original comments provided at arbitration request and serve as opening statements. As such, they should not be altered. Any evidence you wish to provide to the Arbitrators should go on the /Evidence subpage.

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Involved parties

Statement by RedSpruce

Reply to FayssalF - I've added links to 2 of the RFCs. I think there was at least one other, but I couldn't find the dif. We haven't tried a third opinion. I'm reasonably sure that another 3rd opinion would make no impression on RAN; other editors have disagreed with him on this point before with no effect. As for myself, it would take a well-reasoned argument to convince me that I'm wrong here. RedSpruce (talk) 13:44, 28 April 2008 (UTC)

Reply to Newyorkbrad - Although RAN has doled out a series of insults to me, I don't care about that, and since he is currently making an honest effort to engage in discussion I have no real complaint about his user conduct as such. Apparently quite a number of people have had complaints about Alansohn's conduct (see Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Alansohn), but that's not my issue here either. When RAN was refusing to discuss edit disputes I opened an ANI about this, but it came to nothing. At best, mediation would convince RAN to stop his dis-improving edits on a single article, and I doubt he would agree to participate in mediation.RedSpruce (talk) 00:24, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Statement - This Arb Request has to do with a seemingly minor issue of style, but one that is being repeated so often, on so many articles, that the cumulative effect is a notable detriment to Wikipedia.

User:Richard Arthur Norton (1958- ) ('RAN') is an extremely prolific editor with over 47,000 contributiions. A great many of his contributions are in the form of adding references to articles. When he adds reference footnotes, he usually makes use of the "quote =" parameter available in citation templates. Unfortunately, in most of these edits, the quote parameter is used for no good purpose; he simply takes a quotation from the source without considering whether that quotation adds information to the article or simply repeats information already in the article. At times his quoted text is completely irrelevant to the footnoted portion of the article.

This use of quotations--where the quotation adds no significant and relevant information to the article--is not in keeping with standard citation practice, and to my knowledge it has never been used in an article that has achieved Featured Article status. Since I consider these edits of RAN to be detrimental, and since I have had no success in reasoning with him about this issue (see Talk:Annie Lee Moss#Footnote quotes and User talk:Richard Arthur Norton (1958- )#Discussion for two of many examples), this has been the cause of endless edit wars between us. RAN's contributions are usually to obscure articles, and in my dealings with him it has often been impossible to get anything more than a fleeting and disinterested "drive by" comment from outside editors.

Here are some illustrative dif.s:

Quote is irrelevant to footnoted text:

  • , ,

Quote repeats information in the article:

  • , , , ,

Quote is irrelevant to footnoted text and repeats information elsewhere in the article:

  • , , , ,

Given the number of RAN's edits, it would be possible to list literally thousands of examples like this. Each one is only a minor dis-improvement to its article, but taken as a whole, they represent real damage to Wikipedia. Furthermore, this damage is happening because of a single, relatively isolated lack of understanding on RAN's part.

If the ArbCom could make a ruling that directs RAN to use quotations in footnotes correctly, then Wikipedia will greatly benefit. Alternatively, if the ArbCom can show me in what way my reasoning about this issue is incorrect, then I'll stop making this objection and a longstanding dispute will be settled.

I'm including User: Alansohn as an involved party because he has a pattern of supporting RAN in this and other edit conflicts. He generally does this with little or not participation on an article's Talk page.

Statement by Alansohn

This is a very simple issue. User:RedSpruce has taken WP:OWNership of a series of articles related to Joseph McCarthy, the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Efforts to expand, improve and source these articles have been met by unexplained reverts and gross incivility. The quote feature is a widely used function within Wikipedia, and is intended to provide documentation of the specific material being cited within the reference. While there is ample room for quibbling about the specific text to be included, there is no argument as to its intended purpose. RedSpruce has turned his own personal battle on content and extended it to beselessly impose his personal preferenece that quotations should never be used under any circumstances.

RedSpruce is free to argue what should be included in reference quotations, yet his near exclusive respone has been to remove quotations or references in tehir entirety, regardless of their clear relevance to the points being supported. The only variations on User:RedSpruce's part have been whether abusive statements have been included.

The solution here is clear. A content ban should be placed on User:RedSpruce on articles related to the area of Joseph McCarthy and the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Warnings on further incivility on the part of User:RedSpruce should be included with any actions. It may be possible for RedSpruce to make productive edits where his strong personal biases do not manifest themselves as violating WP:OWN and WP:CIVIL when editors stray from his demands. Alansohn (talk) 15:58, 28 April 2008 (UTC)

Preliminary decisions

Arbitrators' opinions on hearing this matter (4/0/0/1)

  • RedSpurce, I see that you both tried the AN/I multiple times but I see no diff related to the several Rfc's you are referring to in your statement. Have you tried to consult a third opinion beforehand? -- FayssalF - Wiki me up® 11:43, 28 April 2008 (UTC)
  • Before voting, I'd appreciate the parties' thoughts on whether a user-conduct RfC and/or mediation (formal or informal) might be helpful here. Newyorkbrad (talk) 20:55, 28 April 2008 (UTC)
  • I'm troubled by some of the allegations here. Alansohn, do you have diffs for the behaviour you mention? Sam Blacketer (talk) 21:25, 28 April 2008 (UTC)
    • Moving to accept, per FloNight. I'm not sure everything alleged in the request is accurate but there's enough of a problem for me to conclude that we should look in more detail. Sam Blacketer (talk) 10:52, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Accept. I think we can help sort out this issue. FloNight 00:17, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
  • Accept. --jpgordon 16:36, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
  • Accept. Kirill (prof) 01:25, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
Final decision

All numbering based on /Proposed decision, where vote counts and comments are also available.


Biographies of living persons

1) Wikipedia articles that present material about living people can affect their subjects' lives. Wikipedia editors who deal with these articles have a responsibility to consider the legal and ethical implications of their actions when doing so. In cases where the appropriateness of material regarding a living person is questioned, the rule of thumb should be "do no harm." This means, among other things, that such material should be removed until a decision to include it is reached, rather than being included until a decision to remove it is reached.

Passed 10 to 0 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


2) Wikipedia users are expected to behave reasonably, calmly, and courteously in their interactions with other users; to approach even difficult situations in a dignified fashion and with a constructive and collaborative outlook; and to avoid acting in a manner that brings the project into disrepute. Unseemly conduct, such as personal attacks, incivility, assumptions of bad faith, harassment, disruptive point-making, and gaming the system, is prohibited.

Passed 10 to 0 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Role of the Arbitration Committee

3) It is not the role of the Arbitration Committee to settle good-faith content disputes among editors.

Passed 9 to 0 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


4) All editors are expected to comply with the rulings of the Arbitration Committee.

Passed 10 to 0 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Novel approaches

5) The apparent failure of Wikipedia's traditional dispute resolution system—including the Committee's traditional past approaches—to resolve the conflicts plaguing certain problematic areas within Wikipedia forces the Committee to adopt novel approaches and methods in order to work towards the resolution of these conflicts.

Passed 9 to 1 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Use of quotes in footnotes

6) In the absence of unambiguous guidance in the Manual of style and in Wikipedia:Footnotes covering the content of footnotes, the question of what material such as quotes should or should not appear in footnotes is substantially a legitimate disagreement over content. Editors who systematically produce articles which contradict style guidance should expect others to bring their articles into line, but style guidance should be decided by consensus after wide consultation.

Passed 8 to 1 at 22:13, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Findings of fact

Problems with biographies of living persons

1) There continue to be significant and numerous problems with the implementation of the biographies of living persons policy, including both obvious non-compliance at the article level, as well as more subtle attempts to undermine or weaken the policy itself, or to stonewall attempts to implement it in particular cases. There is considerable hesitancy on the part of many administrators to act decisively in these cases, often because the relevant policies are contradictory or unclear.

Passed 10 to 0 at 22:16, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


2) Alansohn (talk · contribs · deleted contribs · logs · edit filter log · block user · block log) has repeatedly engaged in unseemly behavior, including personal attacks, incivility, and assumptions of bad faith (, , , , , ).

Passed 8 to 0 at 22:16, 16 June 2008 (UTC)


Note: All remedies that refer to a period of time, for example to a ban of X months or a revert parole of Y months, are to run concurrently unless otherwise stated.

Special enforcement on biographies of living persons

1) Administrators are authorized to use any and all means at their disposal to ensure that every Wikipedia article is in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the biographies of living persons policy. Administrators may use the page protection and deletion tools as they believe to be reasonably necessary to effect compliance.

Administrators should counsel editors who fail to comply with BLP policy on specific steps that they can take to improve their editing in the area, and should ensure that such editors are warned of the consequences of failing to comply with this policy. Where editors fail to comply with BLP policy after being counseled and warned, administrators may impose sanctions on them, including restrictions on reverts or other specified behaviors, bans from editing any BLP or BLP-related page or set of pages, blocks of up to one year in length, or any other measures which may be considered necessary.

This does not preclude the use of emergency measures where necessary, and all administrators are explicitly authorized to take such measures at their own discretion.


Administrative actions taken under this provision can be appealed in two ways:

  1. Appeals may be made to the appropriate administrators’ noticeboard. However, administrators are cautioned not to reverse or modify such actions without clear community consensus to do so. The Committee will consider appropriate remedies including suspension or revocation of adminship in the event of violations.
  2. Appeals of both the original action and of any subsequent reversal may be made directly to the Committee, or another body that is designated by the Committee for this purpose in the future.

Administrators with direct involvement in an article may not take action regarding it under this provision. Taking action under this provision shall not constitute involvement for the purpose of future such actions.


All actions taken under this provision are to be logged at Wikipedia:Editing_restrictions#Biographies of living persons enforcement log. All logged sanctions should be accompanied with evidence of the sanctioned editor being counseled and warned, as per the above. Where an action has been reversed or modified, this should be clearly marked, and must be accompanied by evidence of explicit approval from the Committee, or of clear consensus from the community.

Passed 8 to 2 at 22:17, 16 June 2008 (UTC)
Superseded by motion 12 to 0, 21:27, 3 May 2014 (UTC)

Alansohn restricted

2) Alansohn (talk · contribs · deleted contribs · logs · edit filter log · block user · block log) is subject to an editing restriction for one year. Should he make any edits which are judged by an administrator to be uncivil, personal attacks, or assumptions of bad faith, he may be briefly blocked, up to a week in the event of repeated violations. After 5 blocks, the maximum block shall increase to one month. All blocks are to be logged at Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Footnoted quotes#Log of blocks, bans, and restrictions.

Passed 8 to 0 at 22:17, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

Motions of amendment

May 2014

6) Standard Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/Discretionary sanctions are authorised for the area of conflict, namely any edit in any article with biographical content relating to living or recently deceased people or any edit relating to the subject (living or recently deceased) of such biographical articles on any page in any namespace

Adopted by motion 12 to 0, 21:27, 3 May 2014 (UTC)

Case renamed (January 2015)

Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Footnoted quotes is renamed to Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Editing of Biographies of Living Persons. The index of topics with an active discretionary sanctions provision will be updated with the new title, but previous references to the Footnoted Quotes decision do not need to be updated. The central log page of discretionary sanctions, however, should be updated for the current year. For prior years the new name should be noted along with the old one. The rename of the Footnoted Quotes case to Editing of BLPs is only for clarity in reference, and does not invalidate any previous action or pending sanctions taken under the provisions of this case.

Passed 10 to 1 by motion at 00:18, 27 January 2015 (UTC)

Log of blocks, bans, and restrictions

Log any block, restriction, ban or extension under any remedy in this decision here. Minimum information includes name of administrator, date and time, what was done and the basis for doing it. Alerts, blocks, bans, and restrictions passed further to remedy 1) or 6) should be logged at Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/Discretionary sanctions/Log, not here.

  • Block was subsequently overturned at ANI.