Wikipedia:Historic debates

This page is a short description of large-scale disputes that have occurred on Wikipedia and have shaped its evolution. The list is arranged in chronological order.

Provide inline citations to evidence of the dispute, including: permalinks to talk pages/talk page archives, RfCs, RfARBs and archived mailing list posts.

Most major disputes involve one side arguing that something should stay in Wikipedia (or in some particular place in Wikipedia) while the other side holds that it should not. There participants are usually labeled either inclusionist or deletionist, depending on how restrictive they feel Wikipedia's inclusion criteria should be.[1]

The main debates are over Notability, Censorship, Social networking, Administrator abuse, and/or Copyright disputes. See the notes for more explanation.[2]

Following is a brief overview of some of the more notable of these disputes.


In 2004–2005, there was a large debate about notability standards for schools. Schools that were not particularly distinguished were nominated in bulk. Long and heated debates ensued, the opposition claimed schools are inherently notable and ultimately almost all the nominations ended in no consensus. This debate sparked off many more debates concerning notability criterion in various other category of articles, but none were as large. For some time the "schools are inherently notable" argument reached some semblance of consensus at WP:SCHOOL and schools were in general not nominated for deletion. But WP:SCHOOL has since been marked as a rejected historical page, and the course of actions at WP:AFD has varied frequently: by late 2006, the pendulum seemed to be swinging towards rejection; by early 2008, it had changed back. By the beginning of 2009, some stability appears to have been reached: articles on secondary schools were usually kept; most articles on primary schools were being merged. There still remained insufficient consensus to adopt an actual guideline.

Television Episodes[edit]

At the same time that the school debate was raging, another argument dealt with whether television episodes should be allowed on Wikipedia.

Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy[edit]

The 2005 incident of editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet of Islam Muhammad, already being a huge global controversy, could not fail to find its way to Wikipedia. The dispute, one of the largest concerning an article in recent times, was over whether and how the cartoons themselves should be displayed in the Wikipedia article. The various opinions ranged from total removal of the picture to displaying it at the very top of the article in a large size, with everything in between. It was not before mid-2006 that the debate could be said to have significantly died down, with the cartoon displayed. This was hailed as a defeat for the forces of censorship. The page itself has since been awarded Good Article status.

Clitoris and Autofellatio[edit]

These two debates, one shortly following the other, dealt with the presentation of photographs of sexual organs and acts. In both cases, the original disputed photographs were replaced. In the Autofellatio case, the photograph was replaced with another; in the Clitoris case, a line drawing. At one point, Jimbo Wales deleted the autofellatio article image which was also being posted by trolls on other unrelated articles.


In early 2006, another dispute concerning alleged censorship issues, regarded the sexual manga (Japanese comics) picture of a child that was displayed at the article on Lolicon. There had long been a dispute at the article's talk page when User:Sam Korn decided to delete it on 3 April 2006 without going through proper process. A huge argument erupted alleging that Wikipedia was being censored. Responses ranged from "this is not censorship" to "Wikipedia SHOULD be censored in some cases". The image was replaced with another, free image, but it was seen as less representative of the typical Lolicon style. The article has been stable recently with a brand new, non-explicit image drawn by Wikipedia's foremost manga artist.


One of the largest disputes not concerning article content was about whether or not users can use templates to express their personal opinions on political, religious and social matters on their personal userpages. It divided almost the entire Wikipedia community into two camps, with hundreds of speedy deletions and speedy undeletions without any semblance of process or consensus.

In late December 2005, User:Kelly Martin speedy deleted a number of userboxes, which spawned two RFCs. The turning point against userboxes occurred in February 2006, when some users created a pedophilia userbox. Following several deletions, undeletions, wheel warring, and blocks, the case was submitted to arbitration. The Pedophilia userbox wheel war was decided in a record four days and became the first rule against userboxes.

Under debated circumstances, a new article was added to Wikipedia:Criteria for speedy deletion that allowed for the deletion of userboxes if they are "divisive and inflammatory". This was used to speedy a number of userboxes as well, which led to the creation of the Wikipedia:Deletion review/Userbox debates subpage to handle the large number of review requests. The debate on the application of "Criterion for Speedy Deletion (CSD) of templates" (T1) spawned the T1 and T2 debates.

Jimbo Wales has opposed the use of these userboxes. Many users believed that the T1 criterion was inserted indirectly by Wales without consensus, though he has repeatedly denied this allegation. According to Wales, the underlying principle involved is that "Behaving in a divisive and inflammatory way anywhere in Wikipedia is not welcome," not userboxes per se. The Wikipedia:Divisive or inflammatory behavior is a proposed policy to clarify that. CSD T1 was repealed in 2009.

The debate was somewhat resolved with Wikipedia:Userbox migration, which called for the migration of userboxes to userspace.

Deletion procedures[edit]

In 2005, several editors held that Articles for Deletion and related pages are not a very good way of handling deletion. AfD is criticized as too procedural; as too hostile to newbies; and as allowing small groups of editors to exercise disproportionate control. At times, large numbers of proposals have been created for replacement deletion systems. However, none have yet reached consensus. The most substantive change arising from these debates was the renaming multiple deletion pages to old Votes for Deletion page into Articles for Deletion, to avoid using the word "vote," as well as the renaming of Votes for Undeletion to Deletion review.

In August 2005, it was suggested on the mailing list that one option was to get rid of the current system and start from scratch. To the surprise of many, an administrator went ahead and deleted Votes for Deletion. It was promptly undeleted, but the archiving and un-archiving of so many page revisions placed so much strain on the servers that editing sitewide was briefly interrupted. (See related Signpost article.)

Meta templates[edit]

This controversy in late 2005 and early 2006 took place in the template namespace. Wikipedia:Avoid using meta-templates and Wikipedia:HiddenStructure were proposals designed to deal with the issue. It reached its climax with the Locke Cole arbitration case. The main argument was about using either the Parameter default mechanism or CSS display: hide to create conditional table cells and rows in infoboxes and similar templates. The first method used templates like {{Qif}} and ifdef (deleted on Wikipedia). The second method used common.css class hiddenstructure (not working on all browsers).

This conflict resulted in various edit wars, many templates listed for deletion, creation of the now renamed Esoteric templates category, and other disruptions. It was suggested at one point that templates should be subst to avoid server strain. It only ended with the introduction of parser functions. Pages like Qif conditionals are relics of these devastating "meta template" wars. Some bots on auto-pilot continue to subst perfectly harmless templates.


In October 2006, a proposal was put forth to merge Wikipedia:Verifiability and Wikipedia:No original research into a single policy document, and to refactor Wikipedia:Reliable sources as an FAQ sub-page of this new policy. More than three hundred editors participated in the discussion over the course of four months, and the proposal was briefly enacted. In March 2007, however, Jimmy Wales entered the discussion, and restored the individual policies, arguing that they were conceptually distinct and should be presented as such. A straw poll was held to measure whether the new policy was acceptable to the community, which received comments from nearly 900 editors. The discussion continued through most of 2007, but by the end of the year, Attribution had settled into a formulation which describes the principles of the verifiability and original research policies in a combined manner, but is not itself a policy or guideline.

Deletion of biographies of living people[edit]

In January 2010, the largest kerfuffle in several years erupted over the issue of deletion of biographies of living people, as described at WP:BLP. BLPs are given special consideration as negative and unsourced or ill-sourced content in the article may be defamatory or otherwise harmful to the reputation of the biography subject. Those who support a strict BLP policy of deleting potentially problematic articles or redacting articles only to content explicitly sourced to credible sources were in tension for many years with editors who thought that problem of BLPs was overstated, that the top-down directives of the Wikimedia Foundation about BLPs offended the community-driven nature of the project, and that mass deletion/redaction was a draconian measure.

Things were set off when a user began summarily deleting BLPs under the rationale, "Unwatched and unsourced biography that has not been edited for at least 6 months," a reasoning not explicitly supported under community-approved policy. That user was commended by Jimbo, blocked, unblocked, re-blocked and then re-unblocked as he was sent to the Arbitration Committee, who again largely commended his initiative. Amid a flurry of proposals for policy modifications, the ArbCom was lambasted for a perceived entry into making policy, which it is prohibited from doing as a body set up to hear disputes based on existing process.

In the meantime, a Request for Comment was started. In violation of the normal practice of allowing users to express support for other editor's statement without any response that might be perceived as harassing, some sections drew sections for opposers to heatedly state why they disagreed with the statement and its supporters. In the meantime, proponents of the various stances increased the tempo of their actions around the wiki, prompting pleas from some editors to reduce the number of articles being put into overloaded deletion processes.

The subsequent establishment of the BLP PROD process and UBLP project resolved the essential of the dispute with regard to wholly unreferenced BLPs. Debate continued on the larger issue of deletion of BLPs, but at reasonable levels, see Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons#Deletion of BLPs for the current policy.


  1. ^ Or to be more precise, how liberal Wikipedia's deletion criteria should be, for there are no inclusion criteria
  2. ^ 1.Notability: Some such disputes stem from disagreement over whether a subject is notable enough to merit inclusion in an encyclopedia. Wikipedia covers many obscure topics that would never be included in a traditional encyclopedia (Wikipedia:Wiki is not paper). Some people feel that Wikipedia's notability criteria is not strong enough while others think that the very concept of notability should be scrubbed.
    2.Censorship: Some disputes have had to do with censorship, or the removal of information (usually, images) that someone deems inappropriate or offensive for publication. Censorship cases have chiefly focused around sexually oriented images, such as illustrations of sexual organs, sex acts, and fetishes. A recurring theme of these disputes is whether Wikipedia should be targeted to school classrooms, and whether it is wrong to teach children about such sexual topics. But censorship debates have also occurred concerning religious topics such as Islam and Scientology (see below).
    3.Social networking: These debates have been about the degree to which Wikipedia editors may use the Wikipedia system for purposes not directly connected to the encyclopedia, such as finding people with similar interests (social networking) and advocating personal political, religious, social, ethical and philosophical views.
    4.Administrator abuse: These debates (which tend to be small but numerous) are about the extent of the power of administrators, their freedom of acting upon personal judgment rather than community consensus on various matters and their use of the powers granted to them by the community. Since admin actions are not undoable by ordinary users, any slightly controversial one attracts responses ranging from public outcry to legal threats, offensive rants to requests for arbitrations.
    5.Copyright disputes: These debates concern the way copyrighted content should be handled in the project. The largest subclass is formed by the Wikipedia:Fair use debates about the application of the fair use clause of the United States copyright law.

See also[edit]