Group whose Wikipedia entry was deleted for non-notability threatens lawsuit against Wikipedian who participated in the discussion

Benjamin Mako Hill writes, "Last year, I participated in a discussion on Wikipedia that led to the deletion of an article about the "Institute for Cultural Diplomacy." Because I edit Wikipedia using my real name, the ICD was able to track me down. Over the last month or so, they threated me with legal action and have now gotten their lawyers involved. I've documented the whole sad saga on my blog. I think the issue raises some important concerns about Wikipedia in general."

Donfried has made it very clear that his organization really wants a Wikipedia article and that they believe they are being damaged without one. But the fact that he wants one doesn’t mean that Wikipedia’s policies mean he should have one. Anonymous editors in Berlin and in unknown locations have made it clear that they really want a Wikipedia article about the ICD that does not include criticism. Not only do Wikipedia’s policies and principles not guarantee them this, Wikipedia might be hurt as a project when this happens.

The ICD claims to want to foster open dialogue and criticism. I think they sound like a pretty nice group working toward issues I care about personally. I wish them success.

But there seems to be a disconnect between their goals and the actions of both their leader and proponents. Because I used my real name and was skeptical about the organization on discussion pages on Wikipedia, I was tracked down and threatened. Donfried insinuated that I was motivated to “sabotage” his organization and threatened legal action if I do not answer his questions. The timing of his first letter — the day after the ICD page was recreated — means that I was unwilling to act on my commitment to Wikipedia and its policies.

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and Wikipedia


  1. Notability Nazis have made me wanna reach through my monitor and strangle people as well. I don’t agree with these guys suing but I guess they felt that was the only recourse they had. Wikipedia is stacked in the favor of power users and there’s very little recourse if a few of them decide your little corner of Wikipedia shouldn’t exist

      1. On one hand it is a public forum (by definition) – on the other hand power users throw their weight around without regard to decency, corrupting the conversation.

        It’s a common problem. Heck, it even happens on BoingBoing.

          1. Funny, the deleted article said nothing about a Grammy award, and it had no sources. So what the hell did you expect? 

          2. You must forgive me if I’m leaping to paranoid conclusions, but if

            a) You are not the person who deleted the article, and are familiar with it, you can either access a copy or if, or I am simply unable to work the arcane Wikipedia UI


            b) You ARE the person who deleted the article, and remember doing so, I hope you can assist me in bringing the article in line with Wikipedia’s guidelines, by providing me with the original so that it can be improved by multiple, verifiable expert sources.

            If a) please share your magic. If b), I forgive you.

          3. You can see the revision yourself:


            That said, it is silly to think that an article will merely be tagged with “citation needed” tags under the assumption that a musician is notable.  How many high school bands, local musicians who gig on the side, etc. are submitted to Wikipedia every day? Hundreds.  There has to be some indication that the article could be a high quality article someday.  

            The cost is not disk space, it is the time and effort of independent volunteers to make sure articles are of a reasonable quality and are not merely a public advertising board.

          4. After checking the public log, it looks like that article was proposed for deletion (PROD). In a nutshell, a PROD notice is placed on an article for a week, and if anyone removes it the only way to get that article deleted is to start a formal Article for Deletion (AfD) discussion.

            All the admin did here was basic housekeeping: using an automated tool (Twinkle) to delete an article whose deletion request went uncontested for a solid week. I doubt he had an opinion on it, he wasn’t even the person who PRODed it.

          5. How you see it is using Wikipedia’s history. You can see any Wikipedia page’s complete history by clicking the tab at the top that says (and I know this seems ridiculously vague–not) “View History.”

            And since the entire history is available so you can compare them side-by-side, clearly disk space is not the why behind WP:Notability.

            Here are the criteria for WP:Notability

        1. Power users onBoinboing?  I can’t think of any except the mods, and they seem to do a pretty good job of keeping things civil.  (Which I say in spite of them having deleted a couple of my comments,)

      2. Disk space is cheap. Maintenance is not. Sure, we could have a Wikipedia article for, but who is going to check all of those pages for accuracy? Who is going to make sure the citations are correct? Why would you bother reading Wikipedia if it had the same quality control as a random Google search?

        1.  Because it’s Wikipedia. I still use Google, most people do. I would have happily gotten, for example, music journalists, radio presenters, etc. to contribute/verify sources and citations. However, as the page was pretty much deleted immediately, and I didn’t even get a notification to save my initial copy, my basic, human user reaction was FUCK WIKIPEDIA.

          Surely this is counter to the spirit of the organisation?
          Surely it deters people from volunteering?
          How many people have been burned by Deletionists never to return to editing Wikipedia?

          You can’t put a price on that.

          Flag an article as suspect, fine, put red marks on it, fine, put giant red flashing warnings, but why just delete stuff? It’s hateful and elitist, and counter to openness.

          1. I pretty much rely on the power users to delete the random bullshit that I sometimes post just for giggles, but I can’t help but agree. They can see the truth of what people put there in earnest and yet appoint themselves the sole custodians of What is Worth Knowing? WTF, on so many levels.

            Of course, all because they care enough to be there every minute of every day. I guess Yeats was right, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity, blah blah, and so on…

          2. Dude, you can make your own wiki.  Then you will be the sole custodian of What is Worth Knowing!  Of course, you might not get many hits, unless you’re kind of…  notable.

          3. No it’s not elitist. Encyclopedias must contain verifiable information. The common criticism of WP is that because “anyone can put anything in there” it’s a bad source of information. ACTUALLY, if you’re doing it right, information without verifiable sources doesn’t get posted in the first place. But it does, and that’s why there are procedures in place to remove unsourced information. 

            dylan-m is pointing out that Wikipedia is actually a GOOD source of information because articles are continuously monitored to ensure the information is sourced and the sources are reliable. Anyone, literally anyone, can provide those sources. If you feel the article belongs there, write and source it so it meets WP’s guidelines. Nobody else is obligated to do this for you. If you felt so strongly about it why didn’t you contest the deletion and edit the article to meet WP guidelines? 

            And BTW, I am unable to find any sources as to Fleadh Cowboys or Pete Cummins having won a Grammy. I’m not saying he/they didn’t, just that I can’t find a source.

            And things aren’t “arcane” simply because you can’t figure them out.

        1. It’s about how I’m suing those bastards that keep taking down the article about how my dad was really the fifth Beatle.

    1. Have you read the article, or even the blurb? This group is astroturfing and spindoctoring.

      And now they’re resorting to litigation to have their way.

      I understand your frustration with “Notability Nazis” (which I suspect to be a straw man in this case), but in this case the author has done due diligence. Ben Mako Hill isn’t some random basement dwelling geek

      1. Notability is like wikipedia’s equivalent of the government’s National Security. It trumps everything without any recourse. If you’re losing an argument they can just say NOTABILITY! and there’s basically no comeback.

        I feel for the guy who’s being sued, and maybe ICD should sue Jimmy Whale or whatever, but deletionism is petty, destructive and should be discouraged. Fine, flag the article with a big red “THIS ARTICLE IS DEFINITELY BULLSHIT”, but deleting stuff wholesale is the mark of a sysadmin on a power trip.

        FUCK DELETIONISTS. Then delete their hard drives.

        Sorry, I’m a bit passionate about this issue.

          1. In the case of the original story, it’s actually a victim of its own success.

            This is a group that wants a Wikipedia page to show it’s important enough to *have* a Wikipedia page. I suspect they wouldn’t particularly want a page if anyone could have a page.

        1. Except it’s not. There is recourse. You can contest a proposal for deletion, and the article will be discussed. What you are doing here is whining because everyone doesn’t agree that your dear old dad made enough of a contribution to the world to warrant an encyclopedia article. A “sysadmin on a power trip” CAN’T just delete an article. WP doesn’t work that way.

          Ask yourself, should Encyclopedia Britannica be legally required to include an article on everyone who feels they should be included, or their dad should be included? Does Encyclopedia Britannica put “This article is definitely bullshit” in bright red text above unsourced articles and print them anyway? No.

          It’s an ENCYCLOPEDIA, not social media. 

      2.  Notability Nazis are real and want to delete you and everyone you care about ;)

        And yes, I have read the article. All my points still stand. Notability is unreasonably subject to opinion.

        1. Jesus fucking christ, dude.  Give it a rest.  If you don’t meet the notability standards you can put it on myspace, or facebook, or your own blog, or Google +, or whatever the fuck kids are using these days.

    2.  There are only 1,450 Wikipedia admins, for a readership, of, I dunno, around 0.5 billion? How many English speakers in the world?

      Anyway, if one of you is reading, please let me know how to get the deleted article on my dad back.

      1. The very fact that you are here ranting about your dad’s article means that you are not the person to write it. is the place you need.

    3. Did you miss the bit where the article was a massive failure on almost all relevant grounds (being nothing more than an a badly-sourced PR piece written by anons affiliated with the organization)?

  2. I believe that the ICD might have wanted to read the Wikipedia page on the Streisand Effect before going down this path.

    1. Actually, if the Streisand Effect happened, they might gain sufficient notability from the press coverage :-)

  3. The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.

    Diplomacy. I don’t that that means what they think it means.

    1. It seems pretty much in keeping with “diplomacy” as practiced since about 2000.

      1. Great, now I can’t even see what the hell it was and decide for myself.

        Well, in principle I concede that Wikipedia is a strictly volunteer operation and as such owes nothing to anybody in any respect. But for the purposes of why they bother in the first place, it does kind of perplex me that they take the burden of such a task on themselves and yet don’t see it as something bigger than themselves and their own agendas.

        Or maybe they do, but they’re just tired. Whatever, we all get tired.

        1. Because if they just made it a complete free for all Wikipedia would *actually* be worthless, not just perceived that way by a certain odd segment of society.

  4. Fortunately he is well represented by the Berkman Center.  I’ve offered my help in case he needs someone who says “taint” a lot or is prone to throwing up giant walls of text.

  5. As someone who has participated in more than one AfD debate, I would love to see a deletion Nazi have to defend their actions in a court of law. Sadly, this looks to me like a legitimate deletion of an article that was created for self promotion. Hopefully this editor is in a jurisdiction where he can avail himself of an anti-SLAPP statute to respond.

    1. No matter how noxious and impeccably malevolent the hypothetical deletion nazi, exactly what sort of charges would they possibly have to defend themselves against in a court of law?

      Last I checked, nobody has the civil right to a wikipedia article, it’s pretty hard for somebody with a hard-on for deletion to be guilty of libel(since that would require adding text, which violates the prime directive), and wikipedia’s more obnoxious denizens tend to love rules-lawyering, so even the ‘let’s construe the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to make violating the ToS a felony!’ strategy probably wouldn’t work…

      In this case, the article in question was about as deserving of deletion as an article can be, so the issue is moot; but ‘court of law’ is serious business by ‘somebody is being a dickhead on the internet’ standards.

  6. I assume that the news articles of this topic and lawsuit will create the required notability?

    1. Assuming the mystery-writers with IPs in Berlin don’t keep quietly snipping out anything remotely negative, it very well could.

      If they want it to read like a press release, then not so much.

    2.  yeah, but they don’t want any criticism on their page. so as soon as the snip out the things that make them notable they are bound to be deleted again

    3. Yeah. Absolutely. There is no such thing as bad notability.

      There’s a joke about “creating facts using WIkipedia” — if you invent something on a Wikipedia article which is then cited by someone in a real world source, you can use that to provide a source for the original statement on Wikipedia.

  7. I think people who delete articles on grounds of notability are often doing a good job. I was involved in a discussion on the Danish Wikipedia once, trying to save an article that covered a group I was helping from deletion, and they listened to our arguments and ended up deciding not to delete the article.

    If you react by bringing arguments as to why the article should be there as per Wikipedia’s guidelines, it’s often not difficult to avoid deletion. But during that discussion, I took a look at the articles in the deletion queue, and I can tell you that A LOT of people are writing inept, self-promoting blurbs on themselves and their kitten and posting them on Wikipedia. The question is NEVER “do I deserve a Wikipedia article”? The question is: Should this be in an encyclopedia? Would you expect to find an article on this in the Encyclopaedia  Britannica? Arguments along the lines that “But I have vested interests in this” will never impress editors. You DO NOT deserve a Wikipedia article – that question is moot. The question is: Does the public deserve a Wikipedia article about this? In the question at hand, the answer was obviously a resounding “No!”. And this is very frequently the case. If some people would stop promoting themselves on Wikipedia, deletion would not be necessary the way it is today.

    1. Well the public certainly deserves an article about me.  And it should be filled with glowing accolades, and also hypothetical stuff about how many celebrities would be deeply impressed if they knew me.  This would improve the public discourse immeasurably.

      1. I, on the other hand, am quite content that the Wikipedia article on BB still thinks that TNH is the moderator.

  8. A little side remark. “Threatening legal action” without actually following the proper procedure (ask a lawyer) can be construed to be extortion and racketeering (ask a lawyer).

    So to whomever sent these threat letters that are more like a general discussion spiked with legal threats than a legal document, if you’re not completely stupid, you shouldn’t do that.

  9. Wikipedia might be hurt as a project

    Ego may be the standard currency for many forms of volunteer work but some Wiki-editors go too far in conflating their own ego with the Wikipedia project as a whole.

    1. I wonder how it will look when the main thing in the article is the main thing the press covers about them: namely that they sued a Wikipedian.  

  10. If they are going to have a Wikipedia entry in the end, can anyone but me confirm that they are spamming with conference invitations etc.? I asked several times not to get mails any longer. In the end, I blacklisted them in every academic mailserver I could get my hands on…

  11. Anecdote: Years ago I had a partner who was a analyst on ESPN 2. For his birthday, I created a wikipedia page about him. I read the Notability standards in advance then wrote it in accordance, with several citations. It was completely honest and accurate, but probably not within the spirit of wiki-notability. I just went at looked at it. Since 2007 I think I am the only person (not bot/app) that has added any content. It is no longer up to date or accurate.
    I mention it only because I think it’s interesting that some things slip through the cracks.

    1. >  I read the Notability standards in advance then wrote it in accordance, with several citations. It was completely honest and accurate,

      Slips through the cracks? No, it just sounds like you did good.

  12. It sounds like a lot of people have a fixed opinion about WP editors’ behavior in deleting articles.  The blog makes, I think, a pretty clear case for why this organisation is exactly the sort of subject that should be removed on notability grounds.

    They want a Wikipedia page, for marketing reasons, specifically because Wikipedia only allows “notable” subjects.  It’s like wanting a Nobel prize in order to make people think you’re good at physics; if wanting it were enough to get it, then having it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

    Given that I can always find stuff on google, the lack of a Wikipedia entry is never an obstacle, and in fact provides useful information in itself.

  13. Hi kids! What an amazing weekend!

    So, the original admin has changed the page to redirect to “Fleadh Cowboys” which is better than nothing, as it’s the band he is most known for. However, he won a grammy for this:,_Other_Rooms_%28Nanci_Griffith_album%29Which was NOT with the Fleadh Cowboys.So we’re making progress, but we’re not quite there yet.I realise whoever did whatever was only obey orders, etc. but from a basic “Hi I want to help with Wikipedia!” perspective the current site usability SUCKS GIGANTIC BALLS.

    Additionally, it states on Wikipedia that only admins can view deleted pages, so perhaps a citation needs to be added to that page…Feel free to fuck with my wiki.

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