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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

91 Responses to “Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner’s response to paid advocacy editing and sockpuppetry”

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  1. Mike says:

    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?

  2. Edward Snow says:

    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.

  3. Stephen Liss says:

    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.

  4. Wat says:

    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.

  5. NoFight says:

    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

  6. Aquiles Castro says:

    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.

  7. Cowicide says:

    Hell yes.

  8. news says:

    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.

  9. Benny says:

    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!!!

  10. John says:

    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.

  11. Jon Cloke says:

    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…

  12. Bartholomäus says:

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

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

  14. Goffredo says:

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

  15. Daniel says:

    Good work! I might just up my contribution! ;)

  16. Øyvind Halskau says:

    Good, Wikipedia.

    Hit them hard. It will help you keep good editors editing, and generous users contributing to your fundraising.

  17. G says:

    Sue them so hard they squeak. Also seek to pierce their corporate veil and go after the personal assets of the owners. Post banners above every page that they had a hand in, announcing that the page is now locked down due to it being posted by a PR spammer that you are going to sue. And make it clear that anyone who hires a PR firm to promote them on Wikipedia is going to end up with the disgrace of having their page locked down with a spam warning posted on top.

    Further, all of the clients of this sleazy outfit need to sue, class-action, for civil fraud, if the company did not tell its clients that the “work” they paid for will be conducted via an organized violation of Wikipedia TOS. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature (in Fahrenheit) should know enough to be wary of PR efforts that violate sites’ TOS, because these could cause more harm to someone’s brand/reputation than if they did not post the material there in the first place.

    Lastly, it would be useful to publish a list of the spammed pages, by way of bringing down the wrath of the half-billion Wikipedia users on the heads of corporations that engaged in spamming. That will cost the corporations where it counts and make them stop. It will also prevent future spammers from getting big ticket clients. Then perhaps we’ll occasionally see a page for Boehner pills, but at least it will be obvious.

  18. KoshVorlon says:

    Good work, Sue!
    Being a paid editor for something is automatic COI, it’s also impossible to
    be neutral either. Kick ‘em all out, I say !

  19. Sammy says:

    Well, it was only a matter of time before this came to the public domain. The ”anyone can edit” mantra is coming back to bite Wikipedia.

  20. Please sort this problem out, as I love Wikipedia and I don’t want anything to go wrong with it.

    Thanks.