Wikipedia began a new campaign to identify and block “non-neutral editing” on its website. The site, which touts itself as a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, began investigating more than 250 user accounts for violating policies, which include being paid to write Wikipedia articles that promote companies or products, and not disclosing conflicts of interest.
“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,” wrote Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation executive director, on the company’s blog.
The editors say their investigation found that promotional entries have been commissioned by companies that include small financial institutions, authors, medical doctors, a musician and an oil company, among others.
“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,” Gardner wrote.
Wikipedia’s unique approach is that the site is open to outside editing, which means the reader of an article can edit the text without needing approval, doing so with a registered account or even anonymously. Moderation is handled within the Wikipedia user community, and the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation employs 150 staff to manage the site, including legal aspects.
“With a half a billion readers, Wikipedia is an important informational resource for people all over the world,” Gardner wrote. “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.”
Edited by Alisen Downey