Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry

Editors on the English Wikipedia are currently investigating allegations of suspicious edits and sockpuppetry (i.e. using online identities for purposes of deception). At this point, as reported, it looks like a number of user accounts — perhaps as many as several hundred — may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest. As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.

The Wikimedia Foundation takes this issue seriously and has been following it closely.

With a half a billion readers, Wikipedia is an important informational resource for people all over the world. Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.

In the wake of the investigation, editors have expressed shock and dismay. We understand their reaction and share their concerns. We are grateful to the editors who’ve been doing the difficult, painstaking work of trying to figure out what’s happening here.

Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a “black hat” practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.

What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.

Being deceptive in your editing by using sockpuppets or misrepresenting your affiliation with a company is against Wikipedia policy and is prohibited by our Terms of Use. We urge companies to conduct themselves ethically, to be transparent about what they’re doing on Wikipedia, and to adhere to all site policies and practices.

The Wikimedia Foundation is closely monitoring this ongoing investigation and we are currently assessing all the options at our disposal. We will have more to say in the coming weeks.

Sue Gardner
Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

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26 Comments on Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry

Marty 8 months

I have found an issue with this very thing and was doing research on this issue with concerns to article being composed with sources to the critics mostly and only one link to people in the field. Please looks at this article to see where the sources lead and how people can use links to sources that are critical of the article in question.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_health

Why not use sources that are not highly critical of Holistic Health and have taken the stand to have a crusade against Holistic healthcare? I am sure there is many sources that would be better. Even though the links look fine there is hardly any reliable sources.

John Thomas 1 year

Regarding comment #11 (“John”‘s comment – another John) – the tricky thing is that it is the aggressiveness of the gatekeepers that prevents both malicious and non-malicious comments. Caution favors the status quo. While there is a degree to which this can be mitigated (if an article allots space for notable alternate theories). But on the other hand this partially goes to the mission of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia of existing knowledge rather than a place for speculation. While I could say start another project for speculation, working on “other” projects is not the same as working on Wikipedia just because of the size and scope it has already established. So that it is to say, I can sympathize with your comment, but I think that there is no solution that is reconcilable to Wikipedia’s mission (at least for the majority of the comment).

One thing to remember though, Wikipedia is not a finished product, nor will it be anytime soon. If the community works hard at it, this can be an institution for much longer than the lifespans of anyone involved. This means that a long-term perspective is necessary. Problems with content in the moment should not derail the long-term goals, of course, the long-term goals cannot always override the problems of the moment.

jytim 1 year

Ah… Koreans think Wikipedia is unreliable and the society comtains lots of left or right people. I mean, progressive and conservative. So they say its POV is unneutral. That’s a huge problem… This situation is very fatal for Koreans’ minds. I hope the foundation announce something about Wikipedia’s NPOV.

Mike 1 year

Oh, thanks Tilman!

Tilman Bayer 1 year

Hi Mike,

the rest of those “66 Responses” are automatic pingbacks from websites elsewhere who linked to this blog post. On this blog we configured pingbacks to be hidden so that the moderators don’t need to spend time on sorting out spam and other illegitimate sites. Sorry about the confusion.

Mike 1 year

Sue, did you know the comments on this page are not displaying past page 1?

66 responses have supposedly been posted, but only the first 19 on page 1 are displayed.

Where are the other 47 responses?

Mike 1 year

Hmm. I am having a different problem with Wikipedia which makes me worry for its future. I have been an editor for 8 years, but I can’t add some relevant information to this topic (JFK assassination) without it being immediately removed:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_John_F._Kennedy

The info I want to add is a link to a detailed, independent investigation by an Australian ex-cop named Colin McLaren. He spent four and a half years reviewing the evidence, and figured out who killed JFK and why (it was an accident). His sources are completely identified and credible, and the link I want to add is to an interview with McLaren by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/10/22/3874207.htm

Why can’t I add the information to the Wikipedia article? The people who wiped my contribution said it was yet another conspiracy theory but it isn’t! It debunks every conspiracy theory by highlighting the evidence that the Warren Commission ignored. It reveals that JFK’s death was a tragic accident. Why can’t I add the link to the Wikipedia article?

Edward Snow 1 year

If you would like to see first-hand how organized skeptics are bending the rules suggest you check out http://www.astrologer.com/tests/wp.htm. On the website you’ll find a 72 minute video produced by the skeptics themselves that describes how they’ve recruited an army of 120 skeptical editors who currently are “creatively rewriting” Wikipedia pages to better reflect the way they believe reality rolls. Wikipedia is openly discussed as an important part of the group’s propaganda apparatus.

Stephen Liss 1 year

I wonder if it is possible, as part of the publishing process, to require an enforceable agreement that an edit is not sockpuppetry and, if violated, require damages.

Wat 1 year

Thank you very much for your efforts to make accurate information available to all. I think this is especially important in contrast to the constant and ubiquitous spinning and distortion coming from the American gov’t and corporations.

NoFight 1 year

Interesting French discussion here :
http://www.lesnumeriques.com/wikipedia-declare-guerre-a-propagande-n31485.html#page-1

The most noted says :

It reminds me of an article, not so long ago, when it was question of those “so-called” experts, contributor of the Machin cabinet, consultant, etc. that have a blog and give their opinion on an event, a fact of life. But we may find them with the same picture under different names. Ultimately it comes to communication firms or lobbying. History to tip the balance.

Another one says :

To this war propaganda ….
Wikipedia might take a very simple way : Ask contributors present 39 hours a week or more to show credentials.
Indeed these ubiquitous contributors and continuously monitoring any changes not going in their direction seem very suspicious. We know that every company, every department, government, political organization, or religious association or even your TV channel have a group of people paid just to spread their point of view of their group on the web via social networks or other …
There is also a page on Wikipedia called “Conflict of Interest” and to clarify things, it should simply being ask those permanent and “zealous” contributors to reveal their conflicts of interest, it requires only those contributors to the lifting of their anonymity in respect to some “wikipedia controllers”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_of_interest

Aquiles Castro 1 year

Just make sure this is not made as a holy inquisition or witch hunt to do it with no proof. Every article on wikipedia is sustained by references and facts, it will be a true shame if you do not sustent each accusation with references and facts. I congratulate the effort to give further tools to keep wikipedia neutral and with less “gatekeepers”, the same nature of wikipedia prevents this. Keep up the good work, just do not convert wikipedia into Torquemada or the anti-communist american league leaded by Mcarthy.

Cowicide 1 year

Hell yes.

news 1 year

I have some information of a group that continously alter texts regarding some influencial people, certain subjects and terms. They work very tight and intense 24/7 in order to control wiki pages of their choice.

They event prevent certain pages to be published in the first place.

How can these be reported to the Wikimedia Foundation? It has been going on for years and the false editors are associated to the skeptical movement.

Benny 1 year

Go for it Sue! All I ask is that you help us the users become aware of which companies and brands are engaging in these unethical practices.
Expose them and we will administer the punishment by taking our business elsewhere.

For lies and deception there must be CONSEQUENCES!!!

John 1 year

Fortunately, Wikipedia’s agnosticism is seriously questioned by any thinking person. Unfortunately it is not questioned by those who do not think quite as deeply. Regrettably it appears those people make up the majority.

The “gatekeepers” of dozens (if not hundreds) of pages may very well be being paid to enforce the status quo of ‘knowledge’, there is no way to tell. But irrespective of financial motive, the result is still that the suppression of competing scientific theories and historical narratives is rampant. You may also add to that insult malicious page edits of historical and public figures, which absent a vigilant public will not be corrected. Many are discouraged from making such corrections by said “gatekeepers”.

If Wikipedia wishes to live up to its ideals, it needs to allow much greater liberty in the information presented. It would definitely benefit from allowing and presenting public debate of those issues. While the truth may not always be immediately evident, given time and effort it will come out… If allowed.

Jon Cloke 1 year

I like the way you think! Hit them where it hurts, in the wallet; use the kind of tactics on them that they use all the time on the common people…

Bartholomäus 1 year

Gute Arbeit! Glückwunsch! Schleichwerbung hat hier nichts zu suchen.

Tilman Rüthers 1 year

It s a great problem. I wish you found a solution. They occupie a article for their adversiting. Please look other countries too

Goffredo 1 year

Good work, bravo! I am supporting Wikipedia more than ever now!

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