In 2008, comedian John Oliver took a couple of fantastic shots at Wikipedia during his stand-up special Terrifying Times. My favorite occurred when he spoke of the inaccuracies in his own Wikipedia page.
“…And like most Wikipedia entries, it came with some flamboyant surprises, not least amongst them my name. Because in it it said my name was John Cornelius Oliver. Now my middle name is not Cornelius because I did not die in 1752.” Ah, British humour.
It doesn’t take a brilliant comedian to find flaws in Wikipedia posts. Although the WikiMedia Foundation (WMF) has thousands of volunteer editors to police its listings, they can’t stay on top of all of them.
In theory, there should be no PR firms that edit, monitor, and create Wikipedia pages on a paid basis. This specifically goes against the site’s policies and guidelines. That said, there are countless paid entries on the site and a number of firms are responsible.
WMF’s sent a letter to the CEO of Wiki-PR
Yesterday, the WMF’s legal team sent a cease and desist letter to the CEO of Wiki-PR. The letter insisted that the company refrain from “further editing the Wikipedia website unless and until [they] have fully complied with the terms and conditions outlined by the Wikimedia Community.”
The practice is often referred to as “sockpuppetry” or “meatpuppery” a practice that expressly violates Wikipedia policies.
“Sockpuppetry and meatpuppetry are especially harmful when used to disguise secret works of advocacy purchased by clients to promote a particular product, idea, or agenda,” the letter says.
The WMF maintains that companies that pay firms like Wiki-PR risk a negative public perception once the puppetry comes to light. While there may be something to that, it certainly sounds like a scare tactic. At the end of the day, not everyone is a writer so these firms will always exist. Wikipedia relies on volunteers, and they can’t keep up with those that get paid to post.
Wiki-PR is working with the Wikimedia foundation
In a statement, a spokesman said “Wiki-PR is working with the Wikimedia foundation and its counsel to sort this out. Hopefully I’ll have something more for you mid-week next week.”
With a look at Wiki-PR’s webpage, the firm clearly denies wrongdoing. Rather it does a little samba dance around the subject certainly owing to advice from its lawyers. The firm has a website in plain view – it’s not hiding.
Wikipedia’s community rules and guidelines
“Our consultants help you abide by Wikipedia’s community rules and guidelines,” Wiki-PR’s website says. “We respect Wikipedia and its rules against promoting and advertising. And we never directly edit Wikipedia ourselves. We’ll help you draft a Wikipedia page and ensure it is 100 percent accurate with our Page Creation & Editing service.”
Whether this is Wikipedia targeting a specific company or the beginning of a larger campaign is unknown. What is certain is that I won’t be using Wikipedia to find out which is which.