The Battle Over Neil Gaiman’s Wikipedia page

Dana Goodyear wrote about fantasy writer Neil Gaiman in the New Yorker magazine this week. I wrote about his Wikipedia page for newyorker.com:

The bulk of Gaiman’s entry calmly covers his career as a writer—aside from a curiously lengthy section devoted to his friendship with Tori Amos, the singer-songwriter—but one sentence in the “Early Life” section, which Goodyear notes “is periodically removed from his Wikipedia page by the site’s editors,” has been a source of prickly debate.

What could the line be? Click through to find out. Also, once you’ve read that, here’s an e-mail conversation with several editors involved in the debate:

How did you come across the discussion on Gaiman’s entry?

Aleta Turner: I am a fan of Gaiman’s work, which led me to start following the changes to the article. Each editor has a “watchlist” to which she or he can add articles of interest, and the Neil Gaiman article is on mine.

Dave Riley: I’m a massive Neil Gaiman fan and often use Wikipedia for learning more about people and things I’m interested in. I often read the [discussion] pages of articles that I’m reading as there’s sometimes some brilliant discussions going on there.

Where did you stand on the inclusion of Gaiman’s connections to Scientology?

AT: His background is relevant, but the question for me was more of sourcing. Someone wanted to cite a blog (other than Gaiman’s) regarding the issue. Wikipedia does not allow the use of blogs other than those belonging to the subject as sources. This sourcing issue is particularly important when dealing with biographies of living people.

DR: I tend to refer to this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BLP) when discussing biographies of living persons (BLP). If you read the part about the ‘Presumption in favour of privacy’, I feel that Scientology is something that Gaiman himself has never publicly discussed (as mentioned in the debate). This would lead me to believe that he intends his beliefs and feelings on the topic to not be in the public eye.

The debate seemed to devolve into personal attacks on other editors at time. Is that fairly common?

AT: That does happen sometimes. It is however completely against policy. In this case, I eventually blocked the offending editor for it.

DR: I do my very utmost to remain calm and non-personal while partaking in debates on Wikipedia and I think that’s the attitude all should aspire to. I have probably overstepped the line on some occasions, but am generally able to realise that it’s not actually important. A lot of people, unfortunately, do not have this control and vast personal issues do occur.

In this case particularly, or in others, does it get frustrating when one issue keeps popping back up? Gaiman’s Scientology background had been put in and taken out dozens of times over the past few years.

AT: It can be frustrating, but editing by consensus is the way Wikipedia works.

DR: I get really frustrated when the same editors wait for the debate to have died down and then casually reinsert the information that consensus suggests should not be in the article. If it’s someone new, I’ll revert the edit and guide them to the relevant part of the talk page so they can read the discussion. I would expect somebody to start a new debate if they had new information, rather than inserting the new sources with the old information into the article as good practice.

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