There are specific rules for when you can edit the English Wikipedia for money. Image by Erik Zachte, freely licensed under CC-by-3.0.

At the end of August, volunteer editors on the English Wikipedia blocked 381 user accounts for so-called “black hat” editing—or more specifically, undisclosed paid advocacy. As the Wikimedia Foundation’s blog post defined it, undisclosed paid advocacy is “the practice of accepting or charging money to promote external interests on Wikipedia without revealing their affiliation, in violation of Wikimedia’s Terms of Use.” Other news accounts have added allegations of an “extortion scam,” as the Guardian described it.

This question and answer-style piece comes from one of the English Wikipedia’s administrators, Robert Fernandez. It details what individuals can and should know about paid editing on Wikipedia. These guidelines apply only to the English Wikipedia and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Who is in charge of Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free, open access encyclopedia written and operated by volunteer editors. These volunteers do much more than create and edit articles—they also make sure that the site remains reliable, neutral, and accurate by enforcing Wikipedia policies and guidelines. The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit organization which supports the technology and people behind Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. The Wikimedia Foundation does not set editorial policy for Wikipedia.

I received an email from Wikipedia offering to create and monitor my article for a monthly fee. What should I do?

Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation should never send you an email advertising paid editing services. The Wikimedia Foundation does not offer Wikipedia editing services of any kind in exchange for fees, although it does seek charitable donations to keep Wikipedia running. Although some individual editors may engage in editing services in exchange for money, they must follow Wikipedia’s rules (more on that below), and their activity is not endorsed by the community of volunteer Wikipedia editors or the Wikimedia Foundation.

As Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, told the Guardian, “If anybody emails you asking for money pretending to be Wikipedia, alarm bells should ring … Everything about Wikipedia is free.”

If you receive an email fraudulently soliciting services purporting to be from Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation, please forward it to the Wikimedia volunteer team at info@wikipedia.org.

What are Wikipedia’s rules for paid editing?

The Wikimedia Foundation’s Terms of Use, covering Wikipedia and all other projects supported by the Foundation, require that all paid editing be disclosed. That disclosure must take the form of statements on the editor’s user page, accompanying all paid contributions in the edit summary, or a disclosure on the article’s talk page.

English Wikipedia policies also require that all content, paid or otherwise, be neutral, not promotional, not violate rules about living individuals, and be supported by reliable sources, such as reputable newspapers, magazines, or academic literature.

Should I hire a paid editor who does not disclose their paid editing activity on Wikipedia?

No.

Disclosure is required by Wikimedia’s Terms of Use, so if you choose to hire someone to edit Wikipedia and that person does not disclose this fact, they are violating the Terms of Use. Breaking the rules can result in a paid editor being banned from Wikipedia, and the article you paid for might be deleted.

Many prominent public relations firms have reaffirmed their organizations’ commitment to following our Terms of Use. In 2013, eleven major PR agencies committed to an agreement to follow “ethical engagement practices,” including disclosure, when editing Wikipedia. In 2014, the president of the United Kingdom’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) said that “there is zero gain to be had for any public relations firms or their clients in subverting the rules of any online community” such as Wikipedia.

Failing to properly disclose paid editing can have other negative consequences for the subject of a Wikipedia article. When violators of the Terms of Use are found and blocked, it often results in significant negative media coverage. For example, when the major PR firm Sunshine Sachs was discovered editing Wikipedia without appropriate disclosure, media coverage focused on specific edits they made to articles removing negative information, proving embarrassing to Sunshine Sachs clients like Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow.

Someone told me it was better not to disclose, saying that sometimes Wikipedia “targets” paid articles.

Not disclosing paid editing will not prevent others from editing an article about you or your business. Regardless of whether or not you pay for a Wikipedia article or for “monitoring” services, other people are going to edit the article in question. That’s how Wikipedia works. It’s an open, collaborative project that anyone can contribute to.

While Wikipedians are generally committed to useful and positive interactions, “assuming good faith” of other editors’ motives, sometimes individual editors disagree. Such encounters may be a negative experience—especially for people who are unfamiliar with how Wikipedia works. Assuming good faith is an important means of reducing conflict, although some friction is a part of the normal give and take of editorial collaboration.

Should there be a Wikipedia article about me or my company?

Maybe, maybe not.

It may be tempting to want a Wikipedia article about you or your company due to the prominent placement of Wikipedia articles in search engine results. But Wikipedia is first and foremost an encyclopedia, and not every person or business in the world will or should appear in an encyclopedia.

What goes in—and what stays out—of the English Wikipedia depends on a Wikipedia guideline known as “Notability.”  Sometimes people take offense at the word “notability,” thinking that Wikipedia is saying that they or their business are not important to their field or community, but that’s not what Wikipedia editors mean. To an editor, it is just a way of measuring whether or not a particular subject belongs in an encyclopedia, and Wikipedia editors have developed benchmarks for notability in particular fields, such as actors or athletes. If you wish to have a Wikipedia article, please review both the general and specific notability guidelines first.

A major factor in notability on Wikipedia is coverage from reliable secondary sources. Your own webpage, or another publication you created or paid for, is considered a primary source. If there are no secondary sources about you or your business, Wikipedia guidelines and policies currently indicate you should not have a Wikipedia article.

You should also consider that a Wikipedia article may not be the most efficient use of your advertising budget. Are potential customers for a hardware store, consulting business, or restaurant, for example, going to be searching an encyclopedia for these goods and services? Or will it be more effective to focus on a sector-specific resource, such as Yelp, Facebook, or Urbanspoon?

Wikipedia is, after all, an encyclopedia—not a commercial directory.

Robert Fernandez
English Wikipedia administrator

The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the Wikimedia Foundation or Wikipedia; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section below.