The issue of PR firms’ involvement in editing Wikipedia entries for clients strikes again: the German newspaper Die Welt has recently published an article (original) featuring MyWikiBiz, a US company founded by Gregory Kohs, that is writing (for a fee) Wikipedia articles about companies.
Mr. Kohs, who was editing the clients’ articles under the username MyWikiBiz, has been banned blocked for 10 days by Jimmy Wales for being paid to add entries to Wikipedia which — says Mr. Wales — “is a serious serious no-no because of the obvious conflict-of-interest issues“. Also, the Wikipedia article edited by Kohs on Norman Technologies has been marked as AfD (article for deletion) which has started a discussion that will likely determine if PR firms will have any involvement in editing their clients’ entries in Wikipedia, and how the process should work.
Bellow you’ll find a list of links pointing to Wikipedia talk pages and discussions lists where this issue has been debated for the last couple of weeks (as well as a couple of other articles that I thought are relevant for this discussion). If you’ll take the time to read them — which I strongly recommend — you’ll see that the issue is not trivial. (I’ll post my views on this issue later.)
The problem of edits by PR firms for client — or any “pay for edit” arrangements — is not going to disappear. This is not only about using Wikipedia to promote one’s clients – it’s also about accuracy and reputation. As Wikipedia’s readership, popularity, and position in search engines results will grow, companies will become more and more concerned about the accuracy of Wikipedia’s entries and on how their reputation is affected by it, and will not stay idle if the entries on their organization, leaders, or products are inaccurate.
Of course there will always be a problem with anonymous editors. But I think there are a lot of PR firms and practitioners that are willing to abide by a code that will state clearly the guidelines to be followed by a practitioner for getting involved in the edits of clients pages.
This code doesn’t exist yet – and the discussion about it is happening, for now, without the participation of PR practitioners.
The problems raised by this case are not confined to Wikipedia. The industry should start working now on the rules of engagement on Social Media Commons — social spaces like del.icio.us, YouTube, digg, MySpace, and Second Life — that will allow organizations’ participation in a way that is transparent and respects the communities’ rules.
- Die Welt: Wikipedia-Artikel, die man kaufen kann – Matias Pier, August 24, 2006 | Google translation
- MyWikiBiz.com – We author Wikipedia articles | press release
- Gregory Kohs – User talk:MyWikiBiz – Archived entries (discussions started on August 8)
- mywikibiz (was Fwd: WikiEN-l commentary) (discussion thread on WikiEN-l mailing list, started August 8)
- Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Norman Technologies (discussions from August 9 to 16, when the page was deleted)
- Norman Technologies AfD (discussion thread on WikiEN-l mailing list, started August 9)
- MyWikiBiz (discussion thread on WikiEN-l mailing list, started August 9)
- Wikipedia talk:Conflicts of interest(discussion started on August 10)
- User talk:MyWikiBiz (started August 13):
Let us talk about: “What should Wikipedia do about editors who are paid to contribute to Wikipedia?”
- User talk:LinaMishima – essay on paid editing (started August 15)
With the advent of User:MyWikiBiz and continuing discussion on Wikipedia:Conflicts_of_interest, it has emerged that the absence of any form of rules or policy for editing that has been directly or indirectly paid for is a issue that needs to be resolved. What follows are the personal thoughts and solution of myself and other contributors to this article. It is presented in the manner of classical motions for debate.
- Jimmy Wales on PR firms editing Wikipedia (WikiEN-l mailing list, August 21):
I think we need to be very clear in a lot of different places that PR firms editing Wikipedia is something that we frown upon very very strongly. The appearance of impropriety is so great that we should make it very very strongly clear to these firms that we do not approve of what they would like to do. […]
Additionally, it is always appropriate to interact on the talk pages of articles. If a PR firm is not happy about how something is presented about their client, they can identify themselves openly on the talk page, and present well-reasoned arguments and additional information and links. […]
- More about PR firms (discussion thread on WikiEN-l mailing list, started August 21)
- More about PR firms – First post here by myself (discussion thread on WikiEN-l mailing list, started August 22)
- Wikipedia:Notability (companies and corporations) (guideline)
Other articles and blog entries on PR edits in Wikipedia:
- Jimmy Wales on Wikipedia edits by PR people, August 29 (in an interview on BitePR’s blog with Trevor Jonas):
I think that PR-firms editing in a community space is deeply unethical, and that clients should put very firm pressure on their PR firms to not embarrass them in this way.
- Sally Falkow – Wikipedia: a Necessary Evil in a PR Campaign?, August 17, 2006
- Shel Holtz – Marketing via Wikipedia, March 6, 2006
- Rohit Bhargava – Using Wikipedia for Marketing, March 3, 2006
- Steve Rubel – Why Can’t We “Claim” Wikipedia Articles?, December 5, 2005
- My post, Wikipedia: the night before the flack attack, April 28, 2005
- Steve Rubel – Wikipedia’s Impact on PR (Part I), April 27, 2005