Wikipedia talk:Conflict of interest limit

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Paid Editing Proposals
In November 2013, there were three main discussions and votes
on paid editing:

No paid advocacy (talk) (closed: opposed)
Paid editing policy proposal (talk) (closed: opposed)
Conflict of interest limit (talk) (closed: opposed)

Purpose of this proposal[edit]

This is a proposed policy. The purpose is to set a limit on some direct editing of articles when the editor has a financial conflict of interest for the subject of these articles. The proposal is minimal: It is not meant to capture all cases ever. It is instead meant to capture cases where there is a consensus that these should be limited as proposed. It is independent from other proposals. It is independent from existing policies and guidelines. It does not preclude further policies and guidelines in the future.

This proposed policy does not limit all paid editing, or even most of it. It does not limit an editor from being paid to edit articles. It limits an editor from being paid to edit some articles, that is, those articles which are on subjects with specific financial connections to the person who pays the editor. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 21:48, 9 November 2013 (UTC)

RfC: A minimal, independent limit on financial conflict of interest direct editing[edit]

The following discussion is an archived record of a request for comment. Please do not modify it. No further edits should be made to this discussion. A summary of the conclusions reached follows.
We don't have the levels of support in this RfC, or in the previous six simultaneous conflict-of-interest votes, that would be needed for a new policy page along any of the lines discussed here, and the opposition seems fairly solid and consistent to me. But I understand that this is not an acceptable result for the supporters, that "no change" may not be good enough to deal with threats like this one ... and they may be right about that, it's too soon to tell. So I think the next step is to do some research on how big the threat is, and survey opinion on acceptable countermeasures. - Dank (push to talk) [on 9 Dec 2013]


Should this proposal, Wikipedia:Conflict of interest limit, be made into a policy? Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 21:45, 9 November 2013 (UTC)

  • Why not? This may take care of the majority of the cases. Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:03, 10 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Strong Support This is by far and away the best policy put forth so far because it convers both financial and non-financial conflicts of interest, and because it's simple and easy to understand. If nobody objects, I suggest adding that editors should not write articles about family members, significant others, roommates, etc. DavidinNJ (talk) 20:21, 10 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Tentative oppose This is indeed better than the competitive proposals, but it is unenforceable. It will be in the interests of the best paid editors to follow it; it will be in the interests of most of them to evade it. And it does not even begin to deal with the problem of unpaid COI due to strong personal advocacy, which is the more intransigent problem,. I also note the ambiguity of the word "client". There are some organizations of which we are all in some sense clients. DGG ( talk ) 01:00, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
    I removed "client" from the page [1]. I agree with you that the word is ambiguous. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 02:09, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
DGG, About I week ago, I was thinking about the problem of unpaid COI, but its difficult to define. I don't think you want a ban on people editing articles of organizations to which they belong. Otherwise, nobody would be able to edit articles on colleges that they attended, political parties that they are registered in, etc. Because of its controversial nature, I don't think you'll ever see a consensus on how to deal with unpaid ideological advocacy. As the author of this policy states above, this proposal doesn't seek to ban all forms of COI, just ones where there is a consensus. From my perspective, I don't expect Wikipedia policies to deal with every wrong. I just want a policy that prohibits serious and definable conflicts of interest without interfering with the majority of people who edit in good faith. DavidinNJ (talk) 09:25, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
DGG, you have a much less favorable view of PR people and paid editing contractors than I do. Your assumption is that they are mainly rogues who will go black-hat if their practice is outlawed, or akin to the kooks and fanatics who push their POV on controversial pages. They are rational businessmen who are walking through a door Wikipedia is leaving open. Any paid-editing restrictions will greatly reduce the practice. There already are rogue PR people using sockpuppets and small company owners and others with COI directly editing their pages, and nothing is going to stop that. But the idea is to curb this rampant "advertorial" industry, operating openly, which is a disgrace that Wikipedia (or the Foundation, if Wikipedia won't act) can and should act against. Coretheapple (talk) 12:07, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Comment. (It's wonderful to see a small proposal. Thank you.) I'm unclear how it would be enforced: it will be hard to measure adherence to the policy, if the only measure is looking at the output. If it is indeed unenforceable, then it is really only a guideline and not policy. And if so remade as a guideline only, it may be close to duplicating the existing WP:COI. —Sladen (talk) 09:08, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support It's a measured step in the right direction.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 15:41, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support Agree that it is a step in the right direction. Coretheapple (talk) 22:54, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose Still no way to enforce such a policy, and it doesn't even mention people with various conflicts of interest who use Wikipedia to attack notable people and companies. POV and COI policies already cover both anyway. First Light (talk)
Even with the improvements, I'm still uncomfortable with any meaningful and clear enforcement, except to essentially accuse an editor of COI by notifying them of this page, and then bringing it to an administrator. All such enforcement efforts run afoul of our basic philosophy of focusing on the edits and not the editor. NPOV does just that, and quite well. First Light (talk) 22:18, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi User:First Light, thank you for coming back and reviewing. One of the key issues driving the desire to have a COI policy (as opposed to guideline) is the use of this public good that is WIkipedia, for private gain by companies like Wiki-PR and WikiExperts, who sell Wikipedia-editing services to companies to help them manage PR. Right now there is no Wikipedia policy that forbids this sort of activity, and the result is that we have scandal after scandal, and we lose credibility in the eyes of the public. How do you propose we close the door on that sort of activity? And what actual harm do you see a COI policy that outweighs the good it will do? (those are both real questions - not rhetorical) As for me, I don't understand why an institution as important as Wikipedia doesn't have a COI policy, when almost every company (nonprofit and for profit) has one; it is basic good governance. I do hope you reply. Thanks again for having a second look. Jytdog (talk) 05:14, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
Thank you for your efforts, which have been sincere, civil, and intelligent. I am also against PR firms hiring themselves out to write crappy articles with a strong POV. But I support the right of individuals and companies to hire someone to defend their articles from personal attacks, criticism-oriented articles, and overall negative slant. I've seen too many BLP articles that were used as attack pages by the person's enemies, and the corrections were extremely slow at times. I have less experience with company pages, but have seen enough to convince me that they are similar. I think that the public good that is Wikipedia is much more threatened by hate-filled zealots, whether corporate, personal, religious, political, or ideologues (who are against free market commercialism, for example).
While our current policies don't shut the door on the corporate/PR ideologues, their focus on the edits and not the editors is the best way to prevent such abuse, in my opinion. As far as the potential harm that might outweigh the good with this policy: Too many editors are rabid about their opposition to any company editing their article, or even discussing on the talk page. One editor in particular has posted frequently on these pages and on Jimbo's page, using truly vile language to describe people who write for corporations. He has personally convinced me that the harm from Wikipedia editors like himself "welcoming" corporate editors will harm Wikipedia's reputation more than any of the dangers that we've seen from PR editing. We need to behave professionally, and we need to engage paid editors in a positive and constructive manner. While our current policies aren't perfect, I believe they are better than the changes I've seen proposed.
Note: Those of us who have been opposing some of these changes have been painted by certain prominent Wikipedia persons as all being paid editors or their agents/defenders. I've never edited for pay. I don't know anyone who has. I don't even work in the corporate world—in fact my relatively long life has been spent entirely working for a non-profit. Because of my life experiences, I see much more danger to Wikipedia's good from people who are motivated by bigotry, greed, religious hate, misplaced political idealism, nationalism, and personal hurts. Again, I believe that our focus on the edits, rather than the editors, is the best way to fight such things — as long as we support anonymous editing. First Light (talk) 05:57, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi User:First Light, thanks for your kind words, and for your thoughtful reply. I am sorry you felt the need to make the disclaimer at the end of your statement but it is helpful. It sounds like your mind is pretty made up, but please allow me to respond to a few things. I hear you, on the danger that inappropriate efforts to enforce this policy, should it be enacted, could harm Wikipedia. I suggested (and am grateful that the suggestion was accepted) a section on Administration to govern how the policy would be implemented, because I share your concern along those lines. The section provides clear procedural guidance for editors with concerns about other editors, and makes inappropriate expression of concern about COI sanctionable. So your concern along those lines seems to be already addressed. More generally, one is going to find people on the extreme ends of all controversial issues, including this one, and I hope you do not let their behavior and positions dominate your thinking about the core issues at stake here. I think there is room to build consensus around moderate solutions if enough of us can keep our eye on the ball. Finally, I also share your concern that POV editing, especially by "activists opposed to X" is problematic. So, I suggested an additional category of COI, which was originally as follows "Involved in litigation with the subject of the article, compete with the subject of the article, or are involved in activist or lobbying activity against the subject of the article." This was accepted in the following form "engaged in competition, litigation, or lobbying for or against the subject". I wish "activism" would have been included but you can see there is an effort to cover the kind of opposition you discuss in this policy. Again more broadly, I hear you that there are volunteer editors who are really committed to positions on various controversial issues, and on some articles their perspective has dominated. People volunteer to edit, and passion on an issue will lead someone to volunteer their time, while moderation is not much a motivator. So skewing on some articles is to expected. Fortunately some editors here are passionate about Wikipedia's mission and care enough about a given issue to spend time on it; for most prominent issues there are editors working to keep articles NPOV and well sourced. Which leads to what I think is the core of our disagreement, namely your statement: "But I support the right of individuals and companies to hire someone to defend their articles from personal attacks, criticism-oriented articles, and overall negative slant." It seems (and I apologize if I mischaracterize you) that you see "anti-X advocacy" as a bigger problem than paid advocacy, and that paid advocacy (assuming that a paid advocate follows the 5 pillars) is a sort of necessary evil to counter anti-X advocacy. If I am correct, I can say (again!) that I completely hear you on the problem of anti-X activism on Wikipedia; I became interested in the issues around genetically modified food a while ago, and found Wikipedia's coverage of those issues to be skewed by anti-GMO activist perspectives. I spent the last year and a half working to bring those articles as close to good article status as I could and have been the subject of lots of personal attacks because of it. Nonetheless, I still think that your strategy of welcoming paid advocacy as an antidote is sort of making a deal with the devil. I assume (and I could be wrong) that houses like Wiki-PR will work to make their clients look good in order to obtain and keep business. The business model and mission is built on pleasing clients, and not on writing NPOV articles, which is our goal. There is a fundamental COI there and I think that in order to survive, paid advocates will usually choose the interests of their clients over WIkipedia's interests, whenever a specific bit of content forces that conflict to the fore (which is the only time it really matters). As for me, I still think we need a COI policy, like every responsible organization. For our own sake, to retain the trust of the public, and to shut the door on Wikipedia-editing PR houses. Thanks again for talking! Jytdog (talk) 13:08, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
PS. Interesting door you left open at the end there; I agree that if we ever required RW identities for editors, this would be a different conversation. But let's not dwell on hypotheticals.Jytdog (talk) 13:08, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose Tentative Opposeupdated 23:29, 13 November 2013 (UTC) This is a step in the right direction, but the proposed "if they are either" list should include something that covers all commercially-motivated COI. For example: "or otherwise financially benefits if their edit makes the subject of the article more or less successful or widely-adopted". This is to cover edits by people whose careers/investments are enhanced by positive perceptions of some brand/product/service, or who would benefit from presenting other brands/products/services negatively. For example, if your career is based on expertise in brand X, you shouldn't be allowed to promote it or denigrate its competitors without declaring your interest. - Pointillist (talk) 22:25, 12 November 2013 (UTC)
Pointillist, As the author of this policy states above, this proposal doesn't seek to eliminate every type of conflict of interest, just ones that there is consensus to ban. Several of the early proposals on paid editing tried to prohibit more types of financial conflicts, but they have largely been rejected. Your proposal is very aggressive and would likely reduce expertise in many fields. For example, there's fairly broad agreement that a wine reviewer for the New York Times should not edit the NYT Wikipedia page, but your proposal would potentially bar the wine reviewer from editing winery articles. DavidinNJ (talk) 00:01, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
@DavidinNJ: this is more about products than concepts, and my immediate concerns are to do with technology expertise, especially in computer-related areas. For example, a lot of people in technical careers specialize in products from a small number of complementary vendors. When these products are successful, their expertise is in demand and their jobs are secure. But having focused on a single "stack", such people may have little knowledge of alternatives. If other approaches become more popular, they'll have to scramble to catch up. Their employers might be disinclined to re-train them, preferring to recruit new expertise from outside. So they'll clearly have a conflict of interest if they write about their stack or its rivals. Indeed technical contributors who have invested years acquiring expertise in X arguably have even greater motivation to promote X than the PR shills we usually think of as paid advocates. I can't think of a direct comparison in the alcohol/winery world, because wine reviewers tend to be generalists, but technical people who back the wrong horse for too long face their careers imploding and maybe never being employable for similar $$$ thereafter. That's what "financially benefits if their edit makes the subject of the article more or less successful or widely-adopted" is about. - Pointillist (talk) 00:29, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Pointillist, I understand your point, and the same potential problem exists in non-technical areas. I've heard of alumni of business schools trying to improve the online image of their school in order to increase their potential future salaries. The author of movie, book, or wine review could use Wikipedia to indirectly draw attention to their own articles. The question is how to prevent people from using Wikipedia for financial gain without losing expertise. It's a difficult balance to obtain. For example, an article on a highly-specialized type of software or scientific device will likely be written by a person who currently or formerly worked in that industry, and who may be affected in the future by the performance or non-performance of the product. I think that we could add a prohibition on "editing with the intent of present or future financial gain." DavidinNJ (talk) 03:58, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
That's a good suggestion. We also need a way for good-faith contributors to say that they may have a COI. Ideally this needs to be attached to the actual edit in the history, and of course it needs to be done in a way that doesn't mean the editor has to "out" them-self in order to comply. I have no idea how this could be done. When it is a matter of direct employment perhaps WP:SOCK#LEGIT should allow an alternate account to be used as a signal, e.g. instead of just Pointillist I could be Pointillist at Google or Pointillist at NSA etc (not my actual affiliations). But this doesn't help with my main concern: names like Pointillist who has bet his career on stack X and knows nothing about stack Y aren't going to work. - Pointillist (talk) 08:14, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
I would see this proposal as an incremental step toward implementing a policy that may become more comprehensive with time. The point is to leverage the legal provisions against covert advertising and advocacy in a manner that echos and reinforces the statement by WMF recently that the Terms of Use prohibit editors from misrepresenting any relationship with an entity (i.e., misrepresent a COI).
The fact that the proposal is not comprehensive does not legislate against implementing the policy in an incremental manner.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 11:04, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose. Unenforceable and counterproductive. Those that it is aimed at and who wish to carry on editing will just not declare who they are. And think about some of the things this would ban: a person would not be able to remove vandalism, insults, or obvious errors from their article. And for crying out loud, banning roommates from editing? That is just instruction creep gone mad. SpinningSpark 01:12, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Spinningspark, Roommates are NOT banned from editing. Two roommates can both edit Wikipedia under this policy. What this policy prohibits is one roommate creating or editing an article about the other roommate. No publication looking for unbiased work would allow a person to write an article about their roommate. DavidinNJ (talk) 23:23, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Yes, but we're not like most institutions. I agree that a paper encyclopedia would be mad to let a contributor write about their roommate, but wikipedia not a paper encyclopedia. I might be the only person sufficiently motivated to start an article about my roommate - and, sure, although I try to use reliable sources it's a bit too positive to start with. But now at least there's an article, and other wikipedians can help to hammer out the POV later on. Quite honestly, there are very few editors who create an article (on any subject) perfect and free from POV from day one. We all have our little biases, whether it's an obvious 'conflict of interest' or just the fact that I have my likes and dislikes. But that's why it's a collaborative project - over time most of these problems get resolved. The danger with banning 'COI' editing right from day one is that you also prevent the opportunity for some good articles to arise and develop through the community process for which Wikipedia is rightly known.--KorruskiTalk 10:21, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose: Again, please focus on the edits, not the editor. In some cases we are glad to get support from people covered by this policy. Some articles about artists benefited from the contributions of the subject's descendants who donated pictures of the artwork along with the permission to put them under a free license. What should be the problem with their edits if they conform to existing policy and are checked against bias? --AFBorchert (talk) 19:42, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
In a perfect world focusing on the edits would be the key principle, but unfortunately it is very time-consuming to check other editors' contributions and examine their sources to see whether they genuinely support the claims in an article. I did this a couple of days ago at Pablo Rodriguez (computer scientist) and it is such a miserable process stamping [citation needed] and [not in citation given] after promotional puffery. In the real world focusing on edits is wasteful, because it takes so much more time to validate other people's edits than it does to author your own contributions. Furthermore, there's no co-ordination: maybe some other editors are also performing the same checks on this article, so your effort is duplicated and wasted. But if you don't check, perhaps no-one else will. Wikipedia has a limited and perhaps dwindling supply of experienced people who have an appetite for checking other users' contributions for bias. It is much more efficient to have a system aligned to editors' reputations. - Pointillist (talk) 22:31, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
If you want to have a system aligned to editors' reputations then this is no longer the Wikipedia anyone can edit. If you want to focus on the editors instead of the edits, you will get witch hunts. As you can see from WP:NPA it is one of the fundamental pillars to focus on the edits, not the editors: Comment on content, not on the contributor. --AFBorchert (talk) 08:01, 15 November 2013 (UTC)
@AFBorchert: I see your point but – with more articles and a perceived commercial advantage to manipulating them, yet fewer active editors and admins – ongoing quality assurance must be as efficient as possible. Manually checking other people's edits and sources is very inefficient. A middle ground might be feasible, in which "anyone" can still edit, plus there's a class of editors whose contributions aren't expected to need checking, like autopatrolled but specifically recognizing the account's history of making only neutral well-sourced edits. This distinction already exists informally to some extent: I'm more likely to check a contribution from an IP address than one from a recognized account name, especially in articles about technology products and companies. Don't you do the same? I'm not sure how WP:NPA is relevant. If you use "reputation" to help you skip some checks and give more time to others, you are still checking the content not the contributor. - Pointillist (talk) 09:28, 15 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support. This is clear, and it does not go much farther than Wikipedia:Conflict of interest (WP:COI), which says, "You should not create or edit articles about yourself, your family or friends." The important difference is that this is concise. It does not have wiggle room; ideally, it would also be a policy, while WP:COI is a guideline. It also does not ban positive things like Wikipedians in Residency. The British Museum could still pay a Resident to write about the War of the Roses using their collection. They just couldn't pay them to write about the British Museum. If people misuse certain provisions, we may have to clarify them. For instance, it would be silly to say an Amazon.com employee can't write about Hershey since that's one of Amazon's multitude of business partners (a supplier). Superm401 - Talk 05:36, 15 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support. This would work. I wouldn't get into details such as roommates – "or in some other way closely connected" would do instead. Also, I would add a summary of the provision in WP:BLPFIGHT: "an editor who is involved in a significant off-wiki ... dispute with another individual ... should not edit that person's biography or other material about that person ...". But these kinds of issues can be sorted out if the proposal becomes policy. SlimVirgin (talk) 04:42, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support - When corporations or political candidates hire someone to edit their own Wikipedia pages it annihilates/invalidates/obliterates a core Wikipedia policy: that articles be written from a neutral point of view. Otherwise, the world’s most-used repository of human knowledge is not reliable. ```Buster Seven Talk 07:54, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Comment - I don't understand why this is separate from the existing conflict of interest guideline. -- John Broughton (♫♫) 22:52, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
    WP:COI is too long, and worse, many parts are indecisively worded ("discouraged", "encouraged", "advised to disclose", "advised to refrain", etc.). It's also a guideline, not a policy. The length and deliberately ambiguity mean we probably don't simply want to vote to promote WP:COI to policy. This offers clear, concise wording without wiggle-room that can be promoted to policy. Superm401 - Talk 01:41, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose: per AFBorchert. Chris Troutman (talk) 05:48, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose: per AFBorchert. It forbids common sense edits while at the same time rewarding non-disclosed COI.Agathoclea (talk) 05:47, 18 November 2013 (UTC)
To AFBorchert, Chris Troutman, and Agathoclea: My own experience is that editors with conflicts of interest disregard policies in favor of the so-called "truth". A few months ago, a new editor modified the article Old York Cellars to contradict information verified by published sources. This editor stated that he formerly had worked at Old York Cellars for 10 years, and that the article had mistakes in it. When myself and another editor requested sources, he cited himself and local newspaper articles from the 1980s that weren't on the internet. The problem with permitting editing with conflict of interests is that sources are not always so easy to check. I have access to an old newspaper archive, but many people do not. DavidinNJ (talk) 12:41, 18 November 2013 (UTC)
Any serious work for articles requires sources that are not on the Internet. Most of my articles (at de-wp) were created from offline literature, sometimes after months of research and hunting of possible sources. Per AGF we should be able to trust such references unless proven otherwise. It is always possible to verify this, provided you have access to unrestricted library services like that of a university library. There are always editors around with such access who can verify such references, if necessary. WP:RX and its very resourceful German counterpart are good locations to find editors with excellent library access. If someone comes and changes an article in a way that appears to contradict its previous sources and contents, then this could be a good thing. The Wikipedia anyone can edit benefits from casual users who want to fix an article that appears to be incorrect. While you may need to verify and/or to rework the changes of a new user, it is always helpful to learn that relevant literature has not yet been evaluated for an article. --AFBorchert (talk) 06:28, 19 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose - Once again, we are 'playing the man, not the ball'. If I happen to be well-informed about my notable brother-in-law and (unlike other wikipedians) motivated to do some good-quality work on his article, then why shouldn't I? If, on the other hand, I make unsourced or biased edits then revert them. We already have rules against that.--KorruskiTalk 16:51, 18 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose. Even if it were enforceable, it would stop legitimate editing. —me_and 18:08, 18 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Conditional Support if a section on administration is added (I suggested language below) Jytdog (talk) 02:11, 19 November 2013 (UTC) (changed to full support; administration section was allowed in.Jytdog (talk) 00:22, 20 November 2013 (UTC))
  • Oppose This proposal is limiting the editors and if it were to become policy, it would be pushing all possible COI editors underground. We need transparency, not unenforceable, restrictive policies. --FocalPoint (talk) 07:05, 19 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose Persecute the edits, not the editors. KonveyorBelt 19:24, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support for having clearly written that paid advocacy and Co. are not allowed, and this proposed policy does this. --Danh (talk) 21:16, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose As worded this policy would disallow any edits on articles of interest to the institution by a Wikipedian in Residence and [2] if the institution was funding that position. Bad policy idea. --Mike Cline (talk) 19:22, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
User:Mike Cline, I've inserted an exemption for Wikipedians in Residence. Does that alleviate your concerns? Coretheapple (talk) 20:04, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Actually no, for a couple of reason. This language A Wikipedia COI is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor. COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia to promote an editor's own interests, including an editor's business or financial interests, or those of an editor's external relationships, such as with family, friends or employers. When an external relationship undermines, or could reasonably be said to undermine, an editor's role as a Wikipedian, that editor has a conflict of interest. sets an unequivocal standard. It says anyone with a COI is essentially incapable of providing NPOV, reliably sources content. This language Edits on articles of interest to the institution by a Wikipedian in Residence are permitted, whether or not the institution is funding that position. say oh by the way, if you are a paid "Wikipedian in Residence", your COI can be ignored because ????. We've created a special case of COI editor essential exempt from COI rules. The second reason is even more germane. A Wikipedian in Residence is just a title, not officially bestowed by anyone or any body of authority. Anyone, at any institution or organization could be designated a "Wikipedian in Residence" and thus be exempt from this policy. Still not good policy --Mike Cline (talk) 20:21, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Mike, I rewrote the intro because I agree with you that an editor could possibly write a good article even with a conflict of interest. I inserted language that defines what a conflict of interest is. As for the Wikipedian in Residence, that's a concept that the WMF created, and I do think we need a separate discussion about how to handle their edits. DavidinNJ (talk) 21:30, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

(restore indent) What if we return to Jytdog's version? It's fresh language, and I like it. It's lofty, it associates Wikipedia with that great world out there. Mike, what do you think of this?

Wikipedia is a public good, created by an online community interested in building a high-quality encyclopedia, and hosted by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. While Wikipedia's motto is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", there are limits to what editors can do, which are expressed in policies governing content and user behavior. See Wikipedia's Five Pillars and the policy on sock puppets.

Conflicts of interest ("COI") policies are used extensively in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and are essential for good governance. Our COI policy exists to regulate the use of this public good for private or personal gain, and provides guidance for editors with conflicts of interest, establishes methods for the community to handle situations where conflicts of interest arise, and helps maintain the trust of the public in the integrity of our articles.

A Wikipedia COI is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor. COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia to promote an editor's own interests, including an editor's business or financial interests, or those of an editor's external relationships, such as with family, friends or employers. When an external relationship undermines, or could reasonably be said to undermine, an editor's role as a Wikipedian, that editor has a conflict of interest.

This policy addresses a form of COI in which persons and organizations seek to gain a commercial advantage from the Wikipedia brand, thereby profiting from the substantial time and effort invested by the Wikipedia volunteer community. Such editing can be seriously counterproductive, and can damage the reputation of the intended beneficiaries. That is because this kind of activity has come under heavy criticism from the press and general public, and is widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia's educational mission.

(end of quote). --Coretheapple (talk) 21:49, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

I'm not going to speak for Mike, but from my perspective the problem with that intro is the assumption that a COI editor inherently will be involved in advocacy: COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia to promote an editor's own interests, including an editor's business or financial interests, or those of an editor's external relationships, such as with family, friends or employers. That's not necessarily true. Part of the reason that governments and corporations have COI policies is the perception of impropriety. Maybe a judge could be completely neutral when his brother is a litigant, but we don't allow it because (a) many people cannot be neutral in such circumstances even if they think they can be, and (b) even if they are neutral, observers won't believe it thus undermining the credibility of the court. The same applies to Wikipedia. If companies are paying people to edit articles about them or if people are creating articles about themselves, Wikipedia loses its credibility. In my modified intro, I remove that sentence, and include a general definition of a conflict of interest.
Oh,OK. Sorry, didn't mean to bypass you. I assumed you were on board with it. Not sure I share you opinion of it, frankly, but I can't really focus on it at the moment. Coretheapple (talk) 02:59, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
That's fine. I've been busy, and didn't really take part in the discussion about the intro. I'm going to revise it to restore Jytdog's lead sentence with its lofty language, but leave the material on the definition of COI that I added. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:04, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
Mike Cline, the wording has changed over time, so your opposition may or may not still apply. Which text in particular do you believe forbids the Wikipedian in Residence (WIR) program? I believe the current text allows it, since it is not in violation of any the numbered points (unless the actual article being edited is the WIR organization, e.g. British Museum, which would indeed be bad practice). Superm401 - Talk 07:48, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Still opposed because this is such bad policy in principle, let alone the vague language that will lead to nothing IMHO but inquisitions when someone has grief about an editor. They'll pull the COI card and cite this vague policy in doing so. (I will put together list of plausible scenarios and how these vagaries might play out below later today). Bottom line, we should be evaluating contributions against NPOV, RS, etc. first. Not creating a playing field where its OK for the COI police to pounce anytime they feel like it with impunity irregardless of the quality of contribution. COI can be a big problem, but trying to regulate it in this vague way is just bad policy. --Mike Cline (talk) 12:17, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose per AFBorchert. We need to make it easier to work with us, not create more rules forcing COI editors under ground. Monty845 22:34, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I am against paid editing in advancement of corporate interests and have supported a previous proposal to that end. But this policy would not create a sufficient exemption for individuals seeking to remove factually incorrect information about themselves, as is allowed now under WP:BLP. It would allow people to remove only vandalism and libelous content. That's not enough. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 18:22, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
    The current conflict of interest guidelines has a passage regarding removing incorrect information; does this align with your thinking? isaacl (talk) 18:47, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
    Yes, it does. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 21:10, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose per WP:BLPEDIT and WP:BLPSELF. BLP issues are, I feel, of greater importance than COI. furthermore, a COI brightline policy would be redundant to WP:DISRUPT and/or WP:NPOV. if an editor has a COI, he or she must follow the same rules as anyone else, and are not problematic if they do. we already have policies prohibiting POV pushing and other such forms of editing. a rule specifically for COI seems to go against WP:BURO... -- Aunva6talk - contribs 05:57, 27 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose. We need to focus on harmful edits, not encouraging users to suspect each other's motives. I am yet to be convinced that an experienced, top-quality and professional writer who has been paid to write a top-quality article that abides by all our polices should be blocked. Biased editing occurs all across Wikipedia everyday - some of it is quite subliminal. People tend to work on topics they like - pop stars, football teams, countries, schools, religions, etc - and in the process of editing they may consciously or unconsciously move the article toward positive comments. I don't think we should be proposing any form of policy which restricts or sanctions editors merely because they are editing articles they may have an emotional interest in. Rather, lets ensure our existing guidelines and procedures can efficiently deal with biased editing when we encounter it. To put it simply - blocking an editor for writing a featured article simply because they have been paid to do so is a Bad Idea; blocking an editor because they are fucking up an article, regardless of if they are paid or not, is a Good Idea. SilkTork ✔Tea time 11:02, 28 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose While I'm entirely sure that this was made in good faith, all these paid editing proposals are beginning to feel like forum shopping. They're essentially all unenforceable and focused on contributors over content, and they've all been rejected for those reasons. Just let it go. --BDD (talk) 21:46, 28 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose, even though I would like to support something like this. However, I cannot support this, per the issue I raise below at #BLP issue. --Tryptofish (talk) 00:21, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Nope - Per DGG, An outright prohibition will not work. All it will do is make things more confusing and complicated for BLP subjects and companies who want to play by the rules, while black-hat companies will continue to operate. Unless we block based only on suspicion, it's basically unenforceable as providing any hard proof would violate WP:OUTING. The only way to put a dent in that practice is to make it possible for white-hat organizations to operate with proper disclosure. Having to propose anything other than vandalism reversions on the talk page is too impractical to be useful. And the fact that it needs so many examples of things that don't count as a COI means the wording is probably fatally flawed. If you can come up with 4+ edge cases that need to be clarified before it even goes into effect, that's not a good sign. Mr.Z-man 19:18, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Support A big step in the right direction. Wikipedia is far too lax on COI editing; which is a cancer on the project that needs to be reigned in soon or it will grow out of control. For the past few years we have erroneously enlarged and abused policies such as outing and harassment, "anyone can edit", and NPOV, distorting their original purposes and spirit to build a wall that prevents much-needed scrutiny. Contra most editors above, we absolutely need to be vigilant and apply common-sense scruples on who may edit which articles. Anyone is free to be an editor here, but nobody should be allowed to edit our pages with nefarious intent. "Legitimate" editing ends where a COI begins. Promoting yourself or hiring another to do so is unethical, dishonest, and brings discredit on the project as a whole. This proposal is far from perfect, but is the best one proposed so far and an adequate starting place.
  • A few commentators above seem to forget that a COI only occurs when an editor's mission is contrary to the mission of the encyclopedia. Spammers, promoters, SEO manipulators, POV changers et al. fall under this category, but not, for example, Wikipedians in residence. ThemFromSpace 00:50, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
    Note the Wikipedian in Residence page states that Wikipedians in residence should avoid conflicts of interest by not editing pages directly relating to the organization. Editing Wikipedia on behalf of the organization is conspicuously absent from the list of characteristics. isaacl (talk) 01:42, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose Editors who behave problematically are the problem, not editors with a COI. It is should be acceptable for the subject of an article to edit their article so long as they abide by our policies. We should encourage them to disclose their COI, and to lean on the talk page heavily, particularly for contentious edits. We should not bar them from contributing directly. Not only would barring them increase the backlog on {{requested edits}}, but it would also discourage editors from disclosing their COI, since doing so then limits their ability to participate. We should not sanction editors who contribute positively based on a fear they may not some day.   — Jess· Δ 02:03, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose - Focus on the edits, not the editor. So long as the cult of anonymity reigns — where IP editing is allowed, anonymous editing encouraged, multiple accounts proliferate, there is no real name registration or sign-in-to-edit in place, and where so-called "outing" is regarded as a punishable wiki-crime — this is absolutely unenforceable. You want to take a hardline ban approach to paid editing? Get rid of the cult of anonymity and count me on your team. Obviously, that is not forthcoming any time soon. Until then: concentrate on edits and take action against editors violating NPOV for whatever reason. And leave the paid editors who contribute uncontroversial, useful, NPOV content alone. Carrite (talk) 05:34, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose It's not at all clear to me that people or organizations should under no circumstances be allowed to edit their articles. I think editors with a COI should be strongly encouraged to edit in a transparent and constructive manner, and being explicit about a higher bar of standards for editors who have a potential conflict of interest would go a long way towards clarifying policy. But an absolute topic ban before any edits take place is unsupportable. aprock (talk) 00:11, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
  • support as a first step. Hobit (talk) 15:05, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Strong support This policy does a great job of providing clear guidelines that are already pretty well adopted by the Wikipedia community. As for enforceability, our three core content policies are often unenforceable. We have thousands of articles that are not notable, are unverified, and not neutral. But shouldn't these still be policies? I think so. -- Ross HillTalkNeed Help? • 00:59, 3 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose': per AFBorchert, Agathoclea and more generally use of WP:COI the edits, not the editors. Babakathy (talk) 11:19, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Support Well worded and clear. Even if it is difficult to sometimes uphold it will improve the reputation of Wikipedia as we are at least attempting to deal with the problem. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) (if I write on your page reply on mine) 02:56, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose. So as a university employee I am barred from writing any article about any university because they're all theoretically in competition with my employer? Far too broad. —David Eppstein (talk) 06:59, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose, unenforceable and only encourages people to assume the worst about editors when there is already enough of that going around. Sportfan5000 (talk) 02:27, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose This doesn't seem any more coherent or sensible than the other proposals. Enforcement would therefore be subjective and so would encourage favouritism and other unethical considerations. Warden (talk) 21:25, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the debate. Please do not modify it. No further edits should be made to this discussion.


Family member[edit]

"Family member" here is undefined. Does this mean that (for example) no descendant of King John of England could write about him? (I picked him because 42 of the 43 people who have been president of the U.S. can trace their ancestry back to him.) And if not, what precisely does it mean? - Jmabel | Talk 03:25, 13 November 2013 (UTC)

Family member is a relative who you've met in your life even if the person is deceased now. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:01, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
So under this policy my writing the Lena Levine article would have been considered inappropriate, and indicating on the talk page that I was related to her (as I did in accord with current COI policy) would not have been sufficient, correct? - Jmabel | Talk 05:07, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
Jmabel, Our COI policy prohibits writing about your family and friends per Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest#You_and_your_circle, and that rule is not new. That being said, WP:COI is a guideline not a policy so it doesn't really matter. This proposed policy would absolutely ban writing about your family. DavidinNJ (talk) 14:10, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
It seems to me "immediate" or "nuclear" family should cover what you have in mind. Distant family isn't where our main problems lie; and we're all related at some level. – SJ + 20:19, 15 November 2013 (UTC)
SJ, I agree. If a person wants to write an article about their fifth cousin, twice removed, who lives six states away, I couldn't care less. I didn't use the word "nuclear" or "immediate" because that might lead to some degree of confusion. DavidinNJ (talk) 06:25, 16 November 2013 (UTC)

Conflict of interests outside of Wikipedia[edit]

Most organizations, government bodies, and businesses have policies on conflict of interests. With all such policies, four things are true: (a) they can be hard to enforce; (b) there are gray areas with low-level and indirect conflicts; (c) despite this conflict of interest rules are vitally necessary; (d) most people will follow the policy if it is reasonable. The same is true on Wikipedia. If we want Wikipedia to have articles written from a neutral point of view, we must prohibit editing for financial gain. This proposal is easy to understand and limited in scope so there are less gray areas and most editors will comply with it. We have developed a method to investigate sockpuppetry, so we can design a way to investigate conflicts of interest. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:21, 13 November 2013 (UTC)

Intention to close[edit]

Okay, so when this vote and discussion got started, it was the seventh simultaneous vote on roughly the same question. (I'm including "Proposal number 99999: Declare that you do paid editing" in this version of WP:AN ... that discussion, and the section it's in, were very active if not widely advertised.) I've closed 3 of the 7 so far; I'm leaving the main two discussions alone.

Some call what we're doing here "votes" and some say they're "discussions" ... but it has to be both a vote and a discussion. If it's not a discussion, then it's much too easy to game the system, since voting is completely anonymous ... and of course, the free exchange of ideas, the attempt to find and gain consensus, is the most important thing that's happening here. But if the result clearly disrespects the voting, Wikipedians begin to feel disenfranchised, and stop participating. So this is, in part, a vote. Some people feel strongly about the issue of paid editing, and may notice this page on the "Paid Editing Proposals" template or notice the RfC, and come vote. But most Wikipedians spend most of their time going about their business, and have limited time for project-space discussions; most don't invest the time to show up for seven different discussions on largely the same question, and the time to carefully examine the changes, and the time to repeat the things they've said the previous six times. Therefore, when I'm closing, I'm going to be looking at votes and comments made in the previous six discussions (which have been largely critical), in addition to the votes and comments on this page. This may or may not result in an early close; I'll have to see whether consensus develops that the changes in this proposal overcome previous objections. Thoughts on any of this are welcome. - Dank (push to talk) 19:54, 13 November 2013 (UTC)

Also: this edit (a few minutes ago) changes the proposal (which may be a good thing, we'll have to see, but be aware that the more changes there are while voting is ongoing, the harder it is to prove consensus for the final version, unless previous supporters specifically okay the change). - Dank (push to talk) 21:19, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose Closure Proposals should be a given an appropriate time period to be evaluated. The default time period for policy and request for comment discussions on Wikipedia is 30 days, and this proposal has only been open for 4 days. The only way that I would endorse an earlier closure is per WP:SNOW if there was minimal support. This proposal has a number of supporters, and would benefit from further discussion. DavidinNJ (talk) 23:16, 13 November 2013 (UTC)
  • Oppose early closure Let's give this more time and add DavidinNJ's "editing with the intent of present or future financial gain" to the project page as an option. I'd welcome suggestions for how editors could/should declare potential COI. - Pointillist (talk) 23:32, 13 November 2013 (UTC)


Alternative[edit]

I think rather than closing each discussion on its own, what is needed is a refactoring of these proposals into separable elements:

  • Definitions (COI, serious COI?, paid advocacy, ...)
  • Specific issues affecting p.a.
  • Specific examples of, and exceptions to, p.a.
  • Limits on editing for COI, specific limits for p.a.

I see individual proponents missing or not paying attention to one part; presenting an idea that addresses a piece of all four, and getting feedback that says "you got this subpart wrong". The things addressed uncontroversially in some proposals, but controversially in others, include:

  1. Overbroad definitions of COI ('friendship', 'any relationship')
  2. Overbroad definitions of paid advocacy ('any financial interest', language that includes subject experts)
  3. Overbroad examples of p.a. (covering some typical GLAM use cases)
  4. Overbroad limits (no exception for simple factual corrections)
  5. No distinction between types of COI (describing a standard that may be useful for PR farms, but applying it to anyone writing about a product made by a former company's competitors, or about a fifth cousin)
  6. No reference made to existing COI guidelines (e.g.: why discuss this here, rather than discussing those guidelines? what makes these proposals different?)

Addressing one element at a time would be clearer. – SJ + 22:16, 15 November 2013 (UTC)

One of the goals of this proposal was to be simple to understand and less broad in its prohibitions. I agree that we may need a definition section to clarify some gray areas, but other than that this policy meets your aforementioned requirements. DavidinNJ (talk) 06:35, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
Subject experts are not generally paid by the subject of the article, but work in a field related to the subject of the article with respect to which they are an expert on the topic matter thereof.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 21:26, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
I think "paid to edit the article" makes sense, but simply "paid" may not. As written, this could imply that anyone who has ever gotten a government grant cannot edit an article about that government. What about being paid via a passthrough - being staff at a government-sponsored institution? How far does dilution extend? – SJ + 02:51, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
Some degree of common sense is needed in interpreting any rules. If you want to be really nit-picky, a person who receives any government benefit cannot write an article about the government in question. I disagree with using paid to edit as that would change the context of the prohibition, and create a loophole that didn't exist before. I think it would be better to have examples that illustrate what's permitted, and what's not. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:07, 17 November 2013 (UTC)

Overview of comments[edit]

Looking at the current comments, it appears that 7 editors support the proposal, 3 tentatively oppose it, and 3 completely oppose it. A number of suggested modifications have been made that I think we should discuss.

(1) Add prohibitions against editing with intent of financial gain, and editing when there are lawsuits or off-Wiki conflicts with the subject. Intent of financial gain means that the motivation behind the editing is financial, which closes many loopholes on paid advocacy without prohibiting good faith edits by people who just may be indirectly connected to the subject. Do we want to add a fifth prohibition that bars editing when they have intent of financial gain, or have been a party to a legal conflict connected to the subject.

(2) The need to define terms or give examples. I think we may get our in trouble if try to define family member or other terms, especially considering that Wikipedia is used around the world. However, do we want to give examples of what is permitted and what is not?

(3) I think that we should treat enforcement of this policy or any paid editing/COI proposal as a separate project. After a policy is endorsed, then we can think about the best way to enforce it. Sockpuppetry was banned before Wikipedia had all of its mechanisms for sockpuppet investigations, and I think the same will be true here. Any thoughts? DavidinNJ (talk) 21:13, 16 November 2013 (UTC)

I think that the intent of this proposal was to focus on the narow scope of paid advocacy (editing), not COI in general, so I've taken the liberty to revert the other points added later not related to paid advocacy.
In order to get this passed, it is necessary to keep it narrowly focused, leaving open all avenues for subsequent expansions to be proposed and discussed in a similar manner. The most effective way to approach this problem is probably an incremental approach, that is to say, one item at a time.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 21:25, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
Ubikwit, While I understand the desire to make it easier to get approval for this proposal, I think that the removal of the family, significant other, and roommate clause makes this proposal much weaker, and may actually cause a loss of support. Since that clause has been included for the last five days, which is when most of the editors here reviewed the proposal, I have restored it. If a person is allowed to write an article about their spouse, then we might as well not have COI rules. DavidinNJ (talk) 21:34, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
If the policy goes through with the affinity relationship specifications included, then there would be nothing to object to as I agree with the content. This proposal has not received much attention, however, as several other more comprehensive proposals are concurrently under discussion, and none seems to be leading to a tangible result. Since the response has been disappointing it may not matter anyway, but the difference, in retrospect, with this proposal was its narrow focus on commercially motivated advocacy.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 22:40, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
The job here is bigger than satisfying a handful of people, but I have no objection to how you're proceeding. - Dank (push to talk) 21:45, 16 November 2013 (UTC)
I don't think we should remove the family, significant other, etc. restrictions. In the other discussions, people specifically criticized how only paid editing was restricted. By keeping these provisions, we make it somewhat more comprehensive, while still concise and understandable. I don't think we should make it still broader, though. Superm401 - Talk 01:44, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
I think if you include family you should make it less vague; "immediate family" is clearly defined. – SJ + 02:51, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
As I said earlier, I didn't include the word immediate because is Wikipedia is a global website and the immediate family member does not have the same meaning around the world. I'm going to write a few proposed examples to show what is permitted, and what is not. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:12, 17 November 2013 (UTC)

Proposed examples[edit]

In order to eliminate some gray areas that editors have been discussed, I am proposing that we include the following text. Feel free to comment. Keep in mind that no list of examples can be completely exhaustive and deal with every last potential issue. DavidinNJ (talk) 04:44, 17 November 2013 (UTC)

Use common sense in interpreting this policy. Remote connections do not constitute a conflict of interest. The following examples are offered to illustrate what is permitted and what is prohibited.
(A) A person can edit an article about their fifth cousin or long-dead ancestor whom they have never personally met, but cannot write about their brother-in-law who they see for Christmas.
(B) A person who receives Social Security benefits can edit an article about the Social Security Administration (SSA), but an employee of the SSA cannot.
(C) A professional wine reviewer can edit an article about a winery that they written about outside of Wikipedia, but cannot edit an article about the organization for whom they write.

Regarding (C): would it be a form of self-promotion to write about subjects that you had reviewed for your job? Using similar descriptive phrases could raise the search engine ranking of the web site hosting the original review, much like how Wikipedia mirrors show up in search results. isaacl (talk) 14:22, 17 November 2013 (UTC)

When a reviewer writes about a book, movie, winery, etc., they aren't being paid by the subject that they are reviewing, so there's no direct conflict of interest if they edit a Wikipedia article about the same subject. I kind of see your point about indirectly boosting the profile of a non-Wiki article by using similar terminology, but that's beyond the scope of this policy. As stated above, this policy doesn't seek to ban every conceivable conflict of interest, just ones that are serious enough that we have a consensus to prohibit. DavidinNJ (talk) 21:10, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
The potential conflict of interest is with the editors themselves; they can be promoting their own reviews. It comes close to using your own work as a citation. If your work is an undisputed authority on the topic, then there isn't a problem, but with something more subjective, I think it is something to be cautious about, with an uninvolved person determining if the included information is being given its due weight. Perhaps a more clearcut example would be better in this article. isaacl (talk) 23:28, 17 November 2013 (UTC)
I am confused about COI from employment. Could I edit an article about a company I worked for years ago with which I have no continuing relationship?What about if they fired me and I am unhappy about that? Is that worse than editing an article about a company I never worked for which I don't like, or a sports team or politician i don't like, as long as the edits meet guidelines and policies otherwise? Could I write about a company I used to work for from which I retired, and who gives me a pension?(I might be as likely to criticize as to praise, and I would know where to find RS. Could I write about a company I never worked for but whose stock I own, when I own less than one millionth of the equity? Edison (talk) 17:53, 28 November 2013 (UTC)

Question about this policy[edit]

There's one scenario I'm wondering about when it comes to this and similar proposals. Let's say Editor X is an employee of Corporation A. He is not paid to edit Wikipedia, nor is he directed to do so by his superiors. If Editor X intends to be neutral, edits during his non-work hours, and receives no compensation for his edits, can he edit articles relating to Corporation A? This should be made clear in the policy. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 173.190.170.93 (talk) 07:14, 18 November 2013 (UTC)

Administering the policy[edit]

I put this same note on an old discussion of a former proposal, here....

This draft lacks clarity on how Wikipedia will administer this policy and several opposers above, opposed because there is no clarity in how to administer it. Providing a policy on paid editing/COI is very important and I fully support it. But for this to be a useful tool for the community, the policy needs to clearly describe a) what an editor should do if he or she suspects another editor of violating the policy. But currently the draft says nothing about what editors should do about other editors they suspect of violating the policy; it should also make clear to editors how not to handle suspicions of COI editing, and possibly provide sanctions for inappropriate expressions of such suspicions. As many have pointed out here, we need to preserve and underline WP:AGF -- to do that and avoid witch hunts, and to ensure that investigations are fair and swift, we need to provide clear guidance about what to, and what not to do, when editors have concerns about other editors.

Concretely, I propose that a section called "Administration" be added as follows:

If an editor has concerns that another editor may be violating this policy, the concerned editor should politely and without accusation, call attention to this policy at the subject editor's Talk page. If the behavior of the subject editor does not change, the only appropriate forum for raising concerns is the Conflict of Interest Noticeboard (COIN). The concerned editor must notify the subject editor of the posting at COIN and must present specific edits that raise the concern. Administrators at COIN shall a) use appropriate Wikipedia tools (checkuser, etc) to determine whether the subject editor has violated this policy.may have a commercial motive; b) interact with the subject editor offline and confidentially in order to obtain disclosure of the subject editor's interest in the topic; c) review the subject editor's edits; and d) post a summary of findings at COIN and state relevant sanctions (as described below), if any.
Editors who have concerns that another editor may be violating this policy and do not follow the procedure above, may themselves become subject of sanctions. Civility, with its assumption of good faith, is a pillar of Wikipedia and this policy remains subject to that pillar. If an editor discloses a financial interest, it is expected that others will scrutinize the changes made by the editor while not commenting on the editor. Hounding of editors due to their actual or suspected financial interests is not allowed and hounding behavior is subject to sanctions. Furthermore, Wikipedia's "outing" policy expressly prohibits the disclosure of personal information of any editor, including editors who have disclosed a financial interest related to their participation in Wikipedia.

There you go. Thanks for considering this.Jytdog (talk) 02:10, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

Jytdog, I like it, except that I would modify the last sentence of the first paragraph to say the following: Administrators at COIN shall use appropriate Wikipedia tools (checkuser, etc) to determine whether the subject editor has violated this policy. I would not add the other information as it might ties the hands of admins, and over time we may develop other methods of investigating COI. Feel free to add this new section to the proposed policy. DavidinNJ (talk) 14:56, 19 November 2013 (UTC)
I made the change above, and will copy the amended text into the proposal. Thank you! Jytdog (talk) 16:09, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

Agents of the subject[edit]

In reviewing this proposal, I noticed that it did not explicitly prohibit agents of the subject from paying editors. I added "anyone acting on behalf of the subject." That just clarifies things; I trust it shouldn't be controversial. Coretheapple (talk) 22:37, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

I agree with this addition. DavidinNJ (talk) 00:39, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

WMF cease and desist letter[edit]

Cross-posting this from Jimbo's talk page: I just noticed on one of the many paid editing discussion pages that the Foundation's lawyer today wrote a strong letter, with sweeping language, to Wiki-PR. See [3]

The way I read this letter, it appears that paid advocacy editing is already prohibited by the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia. It also leaves the door open to further action by Wikipedia and the Foundation. Moreover, in an Oct. 21 letter, the Foundation's chairperson already stated that paid advocacy editing is prohibited [4]: "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."

Therefore, what I think needs to be done is to reduce the daylight between Wikipedia and the Foundation, and reflect the above principles, which already are a kind of "unwritten rule," albeit one that has been explicitly stated by the Foundation and may already be incorporated in the Foundation's terms of use. Whether they are or not, I think that this policy, if it is adopted, would simplify matters tremendously. Coretheapple (talk) 23:17, 19 November 2013 (UTC)

CoreApple, What's interesting is that the letter says that Wiki-PR violated the Terms of Use, but the Terms of Use do not mention paid editing or conflict of interest. DavidinNJ (talk) 00:51, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
The letter highlights a key applicable passage in section 4 of the terms of use. isaacl (talk) 01:36, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Okay. If they engaged in sockpuppetry, then they did violate the terms of use. However, if a company was to engage in paid editing from a single account, I don't see anything in the terms of use prohibiting it. DavidinNJ (talk) 02:11, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
I don't either. It's possible something is buried in there, but I don't have the time or the inclination to puzzle it out. I'm frankly losing patience with the Delphic and inconsistent character of what has emerged from Jimbo and the the Foundation over this. Volunteers have put thousands of man-hours into this, and it all seems like a big waste of time. Coretheapple (talk) 04:16, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
The WMF has typically deferred to the individual communities of each Wiki to define the policies that their contributors must follow, beyond some common principles and polices. For better or worse, Wikipedia currently makes decisions following a consensus approach, which requires a lot of collaborative discussion in an asynchronous manner, and so takes a lot of time. The key is to shepherd the discussion in a way that allows for incremental steps to be agreed upon and taken, making forward progress. It's the slow but steady approach that will gradually evolve the community norms. isaacl (talk) 08:52, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Yes, ordinarily. But that hasn't happened with paid editing. As I understand it, the community has grappled with paid editing, on and off, since 2005. At a certain point, Wikipedia's owners have to step in and admit failure of the ordinary processes to deal with this problem. I think that this policy we're working on here, as it reads at this time, would be a good step forward. It's clear, it's simple, it's common sensical. But it runs counter to the general sentiment in the community and thus I doubt very much that it has any chance of being adopted. That means that either nothing is done, or a policy that makes things worse is adopted (e.g., permitting paid editing if there is disclosure and "not advocacy," which is meaningless as nobody every openly engages in advocacy unless they're utter fools). That puts the ball back in the court of the WMF. Several days ago Jimbo said that the board was coming out with a statement. Then, yesterday, there was a statement, regarding the letter that we're discussing, but it's not clear if that was the statement he was mentioning. So as I say, I've run out of patience. I think that what you'll see is that this proposal will be swamped by the Paid Editing Lobby before it gets any chance of being enacted in anything resembling its current form. Coretheapple (talk) 17:03, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Consensus is a slow process; I think there is a general sentiment to prevent direct editing by those with a financial conflict of interest, but there is disagreement on what approach would improve upon the current situation. Regarding advocacy, I've seen a lot of open advocacy; for example, there are many editors who argue for mentioning some occurrence in order to bring it more visibility. As with many potential improvements to Wikipedia, investment of time from conscientious editors would help move matters forward (whether it is through careful discussion and analysis of policy proposals, thorough vetting of administrator candidates, or considered review of article changes and proposed changes, for example). So perhaps a good approach is to figure out what types of people could help satisfy these needs, and how they can be recruited to join the Wikipedia community. isaacl (talk) 18:31, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Just today, an RfC on a paid advocacy proposal was closed as not adopted. It would have made the current situation worse by allowing direct editing by paid advocates. Yet even that proposal was rejected, because the disclosure aspect of it was considered too much by the majority of persons participating. That kind of thing leaves one with little hope that there will be a change in the overwhelming support that paid editing has within Wikipedia. Coretheapple (talk) 19:11, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
As has been expressed by a few people, having the multiple proposals being discussed in parallel made it difficult for them to gain traction. It is an example of how unstructured discussion can fail to concentrate everyone's efforts towards consensus. User:Beeblebrox/The perfect policy proposal has good advice on how to guide a policy proposal; Wikipedia:PC2012 and WP:Requests for adminship/2013 RfC illustrate how the community can be guided to converge to agreement. (I know some people think the RFA 2013 RfCs were a bit of a bust. While it's true the implemented proposals did not have as much impact as hoped, I think the overall process worked well: ideas were generated, agreement was reached to try some, and they were attempted. It would be great if the community could iterate through ideas, learn the best aspects of each, and try to take advantage of these best aspects to further improve the system.) And if you think the existing community is not engaged in the way you'd like, then perhaps it would be good to invest some effort to develop and expand the community to be more engaged. isaacl (talk) 19:45, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that may be so, about the fragmented nature of the discussions. However, I don't believe better organization would have resulted in a different outcome. As for expanding the community, that's hard. When I mention the idea to people I know I get little interest. In my case, I was thinking of editing a while back, created a user name, but only motivated myself to do anything a few years later. Coretheapple (talk) 19:51, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Both of the examples I provided featured a lot of diverse opinions that had to be carefully sifted through to thresh out the common ground that could be agreed upon. As I think there are some fundamental agreements with this issue, I do believe at least some small consensus can be formed, which can be a starting point. isaacl (talk) 20:01, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Isaac and Core, The fundamental problem that I see is not a lack of consensus among editors who want paid editing to end, but editors who are opposed to any restrictions on COI or paid editing. Look at this proposal - we've been able to come to agreements on administration, agents, negative connections, and just about every other issue that has come up. However, in spite of that consensus we currently have 7 people who support the proposal, 2 tentatively opposed, and 9 completely opposed. Increasingly, I feel as that I'm wasting my time, and this will need to be something imposed by the WMF like the rules on copyright and child porn. DavidinNJ (talk) 20:52, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Yes, exactly. You've eloquently summed up my frustrations on this subject. That's why I generally have restricted my participation in this subject to Jimbo's talk page, in the hope that posting there will have the greatest impact in terms of getting the Foundation to act. Indeed, I've found that Jimbo is sympathetic. Though sometimes his posts are ambiguous, and he does not always respond to questions asking for clarification, his position has been clear and forthright in recent days. But I'm growing weary of the constantly efforts by paid editing apologists, and some who aren't apologists but just clueless, to obfuscate, confuse, and throw in red herrings. It's a frustrating process and I've pretty much thrown in the towel, pending action by the Foundation. I agree that it is fast becoming a futile exercise and a waste of time. Coretheapple (talk) 21:02, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Looking at the opposes again, I don't see general opposition to "any restrictions on conflict of interest" editing. Some of them do not believe the proposal will improve matters; a few think that emphasis should be placed on the edits themselves rather than the editor (which is a view in support of avoiding conflict of interest editing). Thus I believe there is a common ground that can be achieved. isaacl (talk) 21:21, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
But Isaac, what you've just described are "dealbreakers," fundamental philosophical opposition. I see no common ground here whatsoever. On the contrary, it is a totally different conception of how Wikipedia should be policed. While editors don't usually come out and say "I am against regulation of COI," that is what it amounts to. Coretheapple (talk) 21:27, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
One thing to keep in mind, with regard to these discussions generally, is that we have no way of gauging how much they are influenced by paid editors. Indeed, Jimbo himself made that point in one of the early discussions. He said[5]: "every discussion that arises brings in paid advocates making lots of noise and engaging in bad argumentation to cloud the issue." I didn't know what he was referring to at the time, but now I do, and I've had a bellyful of it. Coretheapple (talk) 21:31, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Everyone has expressed support for avoiding conflict of interest editing, so there is a fundamental philosophical agreement on this point. Rather than placing labels on those who have expressed their concerns, I think it would be good to continue trying to find creative ways to express the areas of agreement succinctly. Maybe this means reworking the existing Wikipedia:Conflict of interest guideline; maybe something else. For better or worse, unless Wikipedia moves away from a consensus-based decision model, changes are only going to be made by those who work patiently at them. isaacl (talk) 21:41, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Regarding the motivations of those expressing concerns, personally, I feel Ockham's razor applies: I appreciate the concerns raised and feel they are reasonable, and so I don't believe it is necessary to look for underlying reasons beyond what were expressed. I do agree that in the typical open Wikipedia discussion format, it's easy for any given editor to swamp the conversation. This unfortunately derails many of not most of the contentious topics in the Wikipedia community. This is one of the reasons why I think a more structured discussion (such as the ones I pointed you towards) would be helpful. isaacl (talk) 21:50, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
What's disturbed me about some of the comments in these various proposals is that, in fact, they are not opposed to COI editing, only COI edits that are outwardly inappropriate, and have no concerns about compensation to editors whatsoever. I haven't done a historical survey, but I would not be surprised if that has been the general objection over the years. Jimbo appears to be opposed to paid editing, but has deferred to the consensus model. However, it has not been effective and is unlikely to be, and it has now been eight years, at least. Other editors who have been involved in this discussion in the past have stayed out of this one out of sheer fatigue. The possible paid aspect that Jimbo referred to is what makes this issue different from the others; it stacks the deck against change. Coretheapple (talk) 21:55, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

isaacl, to test our your hypothesis that a consensus or compromise is possible I've inserted language intended to address the concerns of editors who have good-faith problems with this proposal, such as the impact upon academics. Let's see if people opposing this as a policy are willing to compromise or to work to fix this policy rather than to ditch it. In the past it has been impossible, but maybe not this time. Coretheapple (talk) 20:11, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

I think a desirable approach would be to break down the issues from the various points of view, and look for areas of agreement that can be used as a basis for a consensus agreement (similar to what was done for pending changes). While adding another bullet point to this proposal can help spark discussion, I don't think it will serve as proof or disproof of the ability for the various parties to converge onto a new policy. isaacl (talk) 20:24, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Well time will tell if there is interest in creating a proposal or just defeating it. Coretheapple (talk) 21:10, 21 November 2013 (UTC) As if it wasn't perfectly obvious. Coretheapple (talk) 22:41, 22 November 2013 (UTC)

Significant Connection[edit]

I removed the new prohibition against editing by someone with a significant connection to the subject of the article. I'm not sure what the term "significant connection" means, and it seems very vague and open-ended. Specifically, what kind of connections are we trying to prohibit here? DavidinNJ (talk) 00:42, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

The criterion was derived from this comment. The idea, as I understand it, is to generalize a bit more than "roommate". Some people may rent rooms in a common boarding house without particularly spending any time together, while some neighbours may be quite friendly with each other and so have a potential conflict of interest. isaacl (talk) 01:34, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Isaac, What you say makes sense, but I think we may be entering the world of the un-legislatable. Can an alumnus of a university write an article their alma mater, or is that a significant connection? What if the mayor of my town is notable, and I've met him or her a couple times. Is that a significant connection? I think if this policy is enacted, that term has the potential of causing a lot of disagreement. That being said, I am open to stricter COI limits if those limits are well-defined (e.g., prohibition if legal conflict with subject). DavidinNJ (talk) 02:32, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Some commenters have expressed concerns about the looseness of the term "family" (if, as you've expressed, any family member you've met is off limits, then perhaps a mayor you've met is also a possible conflict of interest) and "roommate". My suggestion is to look for some criteria that emphasizes the nature of the connection between the editor and the subject, and doesn't rely solely on the superficial label for the connection. ("Roommate" to me is particularly tenuous, as there are many more categories where there seems to be a roughly similar chance for conflict of interest, such as "neighbour", "colleague", "teammate", "classmate", "friend", and "parent of child's friend".) isaacl (talk) 03:00, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
I decide to read some non-Wikipedia conflict of interest policies to see how various organizations handle it - American Medical Association and British Charity Commission. Most organizations view it as a conflict of interest if there has been monetary payment or the person is a family member. I don't see "roommate" listed in any non-Wikipedia COI policy, so maybe we should remove it. As for family members, I find it to be a tricky area because people interact differently with relatives - some families are very close, some aren't, and with Wikipedia being a global website, the possibilities abound. What criteria are you thinking of that emphasizes the nature of the connection. DavidinNJ (talk) 03:53, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Perhaps something along the following lines: are personally acquainted with the article's subject to an extent that it is a strain to maintain a dispassionate attitude while editing the article. isaacl (talk) 08:45, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
I removed the word "roommate". DavidinNJ (talk) 10:58, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Negative connections[edit]

Should direct editing also be prohibited for people with a strong negative connection? Something like:

4) Involved in litigation with the subject of the article, compete with the subject of the article, or are involved in activist or lobbying activity against the subject of the article.

I was working on an article about a company and another editor showed up and started adding lots of negative content (badly too); on Talk she revealed she was in litigation with the company. The second phrase is trying to be broad, to catch things like one company hiring people to add negative things to a competing company's article, or about a competing product. In an example of the third phrase, I was participating in a discussion off-Wiki in which the head of an activist group was also participating under his RW identity, who disclosed on that board that he had edited Wikipedia articles on the subject of his activism. Jytdog (talk) 12:11, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Note the suggestion I made would cover negative connections as well. isaacl (talk) 13:32, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
I added a prohibition against editing when "engaged in competition, litigation, or lobbying for or against the subject." DavidinNJ (talk) 15:55, 20 November 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that's a very important change. It's easy to forget that this is a potentially serious problem, one that is given inadequate attention in the discussion of paid editing. Coretheapple (talk) 22:17, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

I don't understand how 2. and 5. are different. I'm not sure I understand the basis for this numbered list, it seems a bit arbitrary -- can this be sourced to an existing common COI policy of professional organizations? We shouldn't need to make up our own "definitions of conflict sources" here. Nevertheless, I tried to make the language more parallel so that it is clear. – SJ + 08:14, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

I see your point re 2 and 5. They sound similar and are a bit duplicative. However, 2 only refers to persons acting on behalf of the article's subject. 5, for the sake of comprehensiveness, includes people acting on behalf of the article's subject and family members, partners, competitors, etc. Good point about COI of existing organizations. There may be a model COI policy we can cite. The problem is that such COI policies tend to be far more sweeping than what we have here. Coretheapple (talk) 15:33, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

Hi - Thanks for accepting my suggestion. I like the broadening-out that happened with respect to my suggestion to include both negative and positive activities, but the term "activist" was dropped and we didn't discuss it. Can we include that, please? I suggested that because an activist - someone committed to a cause and takes action to promote it ("active-ist") has a COI with respect to Wikipedia content on that issue, and this policy should apply to such editors, too. Including it would also address some of the concerns that have been raised that this proposal leaves unpaid advocacy unaddressed and is overly focused on paid advocacy. Thanks for considering this. Jytdog (talk) 13:39, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

This is the only game in town[edit]

I just wanted to mention that the two other proposals on this issue have failed. The oldest one was closed today.[6]. The "paid advocacy policy proposal" also was closed recently. Are there any others I've overlooked? Coretheapple (talk) 22:40, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

BLP issue[edit]

I've been away from editing for a while, and just belatedly found this. Although I like the general concept of the proposal, I want to point out that, per WP:BLP, we should not prohibit people from directly editing pages about themselves if they are simply correcting errors or vandalism. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:56, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

I included the relevant language from that policy. Coretheapple (talk) 00:38, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
It seems to me that the first bullet point in the section about "Behavior of editors with a COI" directly contradicts WP:BLPEDIT. I don't mind encouraging caution with respect to such edits, but saying flat-out that such edits "shall not" happen is much too restrictive. --Tryptofish (talk) 23:17, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Just for the record, language directly quoting the BLP policy was added in response to these BLP concerns but was removed[7]. I see no point in tweaking this proposal further as it seems moot at this time, given the intensity of the opposition. Coretheapple (talk) 22:00, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
COI editors are very likely to argue that they are "Correcting errors or vandalism" when they make self-serving edits. Tommy, who own Tommy's restaurant, might remove a statement in the article about his restaurant that he served food past its expiration date, arguing that the local newspaper reporter who wrote the cited article was a disgruntled former employee who lied and the paper was a worthless rag and not a reliable source. Any criticism of a subject might be seen as errors or vandalism by those who like the subject, whether it be a company, a sports team or a politician. Edison (talk) 18:02, 28 November 2013 (UTC)
Edison, everything you said is correct and I agree with all of it. But, it's just as true that the person who is the subject of a BLP might come along and correct something that is entirely appropriate to correct, such as fixing a date of birth or a date of something else. I don't think that we should want to block them for having done that, instead of making an edit request on the article talk page. It seems to me that the language proposed here would open us up to that: "An editor shall not edit an existing article directly if he or she is: the subject of the article". --Tryptofish (talk) 00:19, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

Include intro statement saying why we have this policy?[edit]

This policy proposal lacks an intro, that explains what it is for and why have it. I propose adding to the beginning something like the following:

Wikipedia is a public good, created by an online community interested in building a high-quality encyclopedia, and hosted by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. While Wikipedia's motto is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", there are limits to what editors can do, which are expressed in policies governing content and user behavior. See Wikipedia's Five Pillars.
Conflicts of interest policies are used extensively in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and are essential for good governance. Our COI policy exists to regulate the use of this public good for private or personal gain, and provides guidance for editors with conflicts of interest, establishes methods for the community to handle situations where conflicts of interest arise, and helps maintain the trust of the public in the integrity of our articles.

What do you think?Jytdog (talk) 23:56, 20 November 2013 (UTC)

Not a bad idea, and one approach might be to include language from the Foundation's terms of use that apply. Some were used in that cease-and-desist letter. Coretheapple (talk) 00:41, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

In the interest of making steps towards convergence with Wikipedia's guideline on conflicts of interest, I'd be more inclined to use its first paragraph, which I think is an excellent, concise overview of the topic:

A Wikipedia conflict of interest (COI) is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor. COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia to promote your own interests, including your business or financial interests, or those of your external relationships, such as with family, friends or employers.[1] When an external relationship undermines, or could reasonably be said to undermine, your role as a Wikipedian, you have a conflict of interest. This is often expressed as: when advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.
[1] Note: the word interest is used here to refer to benefit or gain, not to something you are merely interested in, such as a hobby or area of expertise.

isaacl (talk) 00:44, 21 November 2013 (UTC)]

I considered that, but I find that statement to be pretty deficient in that a) it is too long (!) and not punchy enough b) it doesn't say enough about why we care and what is at stake; and c) doesn't relate it to other wikipedia policies; d) does focus too much on who you are as opposed to what you do. I also wanted to specifically address concerns that many opposers have raised, that it is "about contributor not content", that it violates our motto that "anyone can edit". There are already limits on what editors can do; this is just another one, similar to the others! I hope that makes sense.Jytdog (talk) 01:23, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
The COI policy concerns me because what's in boldface places the COI in the mind of the editor, whereas this policy, correctly, establishes it as an objective fact created by a commercial relationship. JYTdog's wording is really not bad, in that it goes beyond what's in the COI guideline and places Wikipedia in the universe of other organizations that need such policies. Were this policy to be adopted, I suspect that the COI guideline would have to be altered. Coretheapple (talk) 00:49, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
thanks! (I think you mean "COI guideline" btw) Jytdog (talk) 01:23, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Oh gawd, you're right. Yes, I'm in concurrence with you on the preamble. I would beef it up myself with stuff from the WMF terms of use, but honestly I'm just burned out on this subject. Coretheapple (talk) 01:41, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Boldly added both paragraphs to the intro... also changed 2nd person "you" to third person, for consistency and formality. Jytdog (talk) 09:38, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Also added reference in lead to Wikipedia:Sock puppetry which is a policy that is very much about the contributor, not content, to address arguments raised above that wikipedia policies should only be about content, and not about contributor. It's not true - we have policies really focused on contributor's behavior per se, not just content they create.10:21, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

I think the preamble is very good. I added some language that I adapted from the lawyer letter on the Wikimedia Foundation website,[8]. It specifically addresses paid editing in careful language, and why it damages Wikipedia. Or we can go full-tilt and just quote the letter, rather than borrowing its language. Coretheapple (talk) 15:25, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

Coretheapple, I modified the intro to give a definition of a COI, explain the difference between this policy and the current COI guideline, and to make clear that intentional violations of this policy could lead to blocks. I suggest we include a link to the WMF letter. DavidinNJ (talk) 21:20, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Do you think we can add back in some of the language from the letter itself, perhaps with direct attribution? What I'm trying to do, and I think the Jytdog language helps with this, is to provide more background on why we're doing this, in a broad sense. The hope that I have is that it will not only provide useful background to persons engaged in this practice but also, that the more we cite the Foundation's position the stronger the case we have for getting this accepted as policy. Coretheapple (talk) 15:39, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
Oh sorry, you did include language from the letter. My bad. Sorry. Coretheapple (talk) 22:02, 22 November 2013 (UTC)

Sorry for the late reply: note the text I suggested taken from WP:COI is actually shorter than Jytdog's original proposal (113 words to 132 words). Regarding the comment on intent of the editor: financial conflict of interest, a subcategory of conflict of interest, can be defined without referring to an editor's intent, but I would not want to define conflict of interest as a whole as consisting solely of this subcategory. isaacl (talk) 16:58, 23 November 2013 (UTC)

Helpful discussions[edit]

These discussions, the precedents you are finding in existing COI policies of other organizations, and the language being worked on here (and at the COI guideline in the past) is useful. It has certainly helped me understand current practice and ways to describe alternatives. Thank you. I think a brief intro would be welcome. – SJ + 08:12, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

Why thanks. I think the intro that's been added is pretty good. I beefed it up a little. What do you think? Coretheapple (talk) 15:27, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
I hope these discussions continue and develop. I generally support the proposal. However, whereas I think Wikipedia:Paid editing policy proposal was too broad and weak, my first impressions are this proposal may be too broad and strict. Including family and especially colleagues may be going too far. Have people looked at COI guidelines from other respected organisations, such as medical journals?

The dispiriting problem I've mostly seen is articles about corporation X or services that X provides that are often clones of marketing by X, or have sourced criticism blanked. In such a case we know the edits violate policies [[WP:NPOV], WP:NOR and WP:CON; they probably violate WP:SPAM and may or may not violate WP:VERIFY, WP:COPYVIO and WP:NOTRELIABLE; and we can be fairly sure this is because they break the behavioural guideline WP:NOPAY. I actually think a good faith NPOV edit adding uncontroversial and non-promotional details about one's employer (especially if it's a statutory/governmental organisation) might be acceptable, although I've never done it because of COI worries. I'm concerned with the gross cases where someone has either misunderstood the purpose of Wikipedia (believing ownership of "our" Wikipedia page) or wantonly ignored that purpose. What is needed there IMHO is a clear dedicated "metapolicy" that puts all the Wikipedia principles in the context of COI promotion, and which it is easy to refer the involved editor to, and a strong system of detection and enforcement and effective sanctions (including guidelines on when to effectively use banning, blocking and negative publicity). Otherwise everyone, Wikipedia, the editors involved and the subject all lose credibility; the other danger being a slow edit war which your average editor loses. --Cedderstk 10:56, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

University professors[edit]

I was surprised to see no exemption added for university professors editing on their field of expertise. While I don't see how anyone could possibly object to that kind of editing, I notice that this keeps on being raised by opponents of these kinds of strictures as a kind of hobgoblin-type menace that would be created by strictures on paid editing, so I added language from a post by Jimbo to deal with the subject. Coretheapple (talk) 16:36, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

The exemption makes sense, but I modified the verbiage a bit. DavidinNJ (talk) 18:16, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Yeah, much better. Coretheapple (talk) 18:21, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
Hmmm...note Mike Cline's concern in the RfC about the Wikipedian in Residence program. I think that maybe Jimbo was referring to this in his phraseology. Anyway, I'll try to deal with this in the text. Coretheapple (talk) 19:59, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

The challenge of COI for Wikipedia[edit]

Someone above used the phrase “fundamental philosophical opposition” to describe some of the opposition to the current attempt to “regulate” COI on en.wikipedia. Indeed there is fundamental philosophical opposition, but it continues to be obscured in ways that don’t allow us to resolve these issues and move on. So here’s some talking points (my opinion) that try to summarize such fundamental philosophical opposition.

  • Everyone agrees that Conflicts of Interest can exist in all enterprises
  • Conflicts of Interest can be caused by a myriad of influences or causations.
  • When a Conflict of Interest exists, it can or may lead to behavior that is counter to the norms of the enterprise.
  • Any given enterprise may choose to limit (regulate) behavior that could or might be attributed to a Conflict of Interest (known publically or held in confidence). Such regulation is usually commensurate with the need to protect the credibility of the enterprise.
  • Most enterprises (government, for profit and not for profit) that have Conflict of Interest policies have more or less direct control (employer/worker relationship, organization/volunteer relationship) and can easily explain, train, set expectations and enforce COI policies within their enterprise via that direct control of the workforce.
  • At en.Wikipedia, no such direct control exists as our workforce is 100% volunteer, global, has some stability, but it essentially of a highly transient nature. Every member of the workforce has varying degrees of understanding and application of the enterprise norms, different cultural understandings of COI, and there is no employer/employee relationship. The enterprise has a very limited ability to explain, train, set expectations and enforce COI policies within the enterprise except in a one on one, random application to individual members of the workforce (~127K at last count).
  • For the most part, all the “paid” related policies and guidelines being proposed focus on only one causation for an individual’s COI—some sort of monetary or financial gain. This is based on the obvious assumption that if a “paid” COI exists, then the resultant behavior will be contrary to the norms of en.wiki. Other causations for COI that could plausibly exist seem unimportant, even if they might result in behaviors contrary to the norms of wiki.
  • Since the reason for having a COI policy is to prevent behaviors contrary to the norms of en.wiki shouldn’t all causations of COI be regulated? Exempting anyone or any particular causation of COI just creates special exempt classes within the workforce. It is OK for one class of editor to have a COI that may cause unwanted behavior but not another class.
  • We know however, that it is incredibly difficult to regulate all causations for COI. We should stop trying to create special classes of editor and focus on the behaviors we want. (NPOV, RS, V, Civility, etc.) from our entire enterprise workforce.
  • Cautioning editors about the pitfalls of having a COI (regardless of causation) as it relates to the behaviors we believe are good for the enterprise is a good thing. But promulgating policies that essentially say “COI trumps NPOV, RS, WP:Five, etc)” while creating special classes of editors exempt from that policy is just bad enterprise policy.

My two cents -- Mike Cline (talk) 16:28, 23 November 2013 (UTC)

Well, then why not simply do two things to the current guideline, WP:COI:1. Stiffen its language. When it says "strongly discouraged," change that to "prohibited." 2. Upgrade it to a policy. That way, all forms of conflict of interest are prohibited. Coretheapple (talk) 16:47, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
I would ask this: Is our goal here to eliminate any editors whose COI might result in behaviors contrary to WP norms from editing EP or is our goal here to promote behaviors consistent with WP norms despite inevitable COIs by all types of editors? This is the question the answer to which continues to elude us. --Mike Cline (talk) 17:01, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
We wouldn't be eliminating editors with a COI. We would simply be eliminating COI editing. Editors with COI could still edit, but in areas where they don't have a COI. Coretheapple (talk) 17:21, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
So under that assumption, a Wikipedian in Residence, who is being "paid" to further the interests of an institution via Wikipedia can't edit Wikipedia if such editing furthers the interest of the institution even if such editing is completely compliance with NPOV, RS, etc. Am I correct in that assumption? --Mike Cline (talk) 17:31, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
No, because Wikipedians in Residence is a Wikimedia Foundation project. So by definition it's not a conflict of interest, because the Foundation, which owns Wikipedia, has authorized it. You can't have a conflict of interest in an organization if you are specifically designated by the owner of the organization to do something. The conflict comes when you're exploiting an organization, without consent, for your own selfish ends. We have an exemption in this proposal for WIR, but that's not necessary and was done just to reassure people. We don't actually need to exempt things that Wikipedia's owner does and authorizes. Coretheapple (talk) 17:45, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
We are going around the same circle, and in this case, a circle aggravated by a false conclusion. A WiR is just a title, not authorized by WMF. Any one can become a WiR, call themselves as WiR and no involvement or authorization is required by the WMF. The WiR is just a form of outreach promoted by the WMF. What I am adamantly opposed to is the idea that one class of editor can get paid to edit Wikipedia without concern about the impact of any COI, yet another class of editor if paid is inherently judged to be incapable of editing behavior that is compliant with our norms. That's vicious reality of selective COI enforcement. If I was being "paid" to edit Wikipedia by an institution or organization to further the aims of that organization, I would do so in compliance with Wikipedia content policies. But I would also immediately designate myself as a Wikipedian in Residence to exempt myself from this crazy COI stuff. I don't believe there is any WMF or Wikipedia policy that would prevent that. --Mike Cline (talk) 18:13, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
But if you get yourself named a WIR, who wouldn't be doing a thing to help yourself promote your instituion. If you look at the Foundation's outreach page[9] on the Wikipedian in Residence program, under "core characteristics," you can see that it specifically says that the WIR, apart from engaging in various things that further the goals of the Foundation, "Avoids Conflicts of Interest by not editing articles directly relating to the organization." If the WIR were to abuse his position, and edit about his or her employer, he'd be breaking the rules of the Foundation and risk the same penalties as anyone else. Coretheapple (talk) 21:30, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
Are you aware of the WIRs engaging in such conduct? If so, they are not protected by their WIR status. However, yes, this program does provide an opportunity for abuse, I guess, if in fact Coretheapple University is a particularly sleazy (and not very intelligent) organization. Coretheapple (talk) 21:33, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
@Coretheapple: You are rationalizing WMFs role in designating anyone a WiR. It doesn't happen. The outreach page is just that, outreach, hype, marketing, promotion, etc. Can you find any evidence that someone has to get the WMF's permission to call themselves a WiR or they have to agree to specific WMF terms to be called a WiR? If you can't, don't rationalize the outreach page as some sort of policy. No one who edits WP should be exempt from our COI guidelines yet this proposal does just that. This whole idea of banning "paid" editing is fraught with complications that will IMHO make life on WP and the encyclopedia worse, not better because tremendous community energy will be focused on the Inquisitions that will inevitably result. In a sense they've already started as in this example here where an editor, unhappy with the editing of a particular class of editor--the student--is claiming they are "paid advocates". Inquisitions will abound if some thing like this is promulgated. Still very bad policy. --Mike Cline (talk) 14:51, 24 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi Mike. The proposal was, and I believe still is, an attempt to have a minimal limit on certain financial conflict of interest editing behaviors. The issue of whether one is in any way a part of Wikipedians in Residence should be irrelevant, because it won't affect in what way one is being paid, etc.
Yes, you are right, all negative behaviors should ideally be prevented. That's why this policy proposal is independent: It does not affect the regulation of anything other than what it specifically addresses. It does pretend that the other bad behaviors are good behaviors just because it does not address them.
No one's editing is perfect. No one edits in a perfectly neutral fashion. No article is perfectly neutral. No article covers all aspects of a topic. No one expects a Wikipedia article on a topic to contain all the information which she or he would want to know about the topic. However, when there is a lack of neutrality in an article, or when there is hole in the coverage, and the article is written by some one with a significant financial conflict of interest, then this a betrayal of trust, because in such a case there is always a reasonable suspicion that such a flaw is caused by the conflict of interest. Take the Springer Encyclopedia of Climatology. The article on aerosols is written by Robert A. Duce, a professor of climatology at Texas A&M. If it was found out that a statistic he put in the article was incorrect, and that it underestimated the effect of the American aerosol industry on ozone depletion, then this would be noted and, being a good scholar, Duce would try to amend the error, and Duce's and Springer's reputations would be affected in almost no way. Now, if it was later found out that Duce had taken money from the National Aerosol Association (a lobbying group for American aerosol producers) in order to write the article, then this would be a scandal. Can one prove that Duce put in the faulty data intentionally, because he was paid to do so? Absolutely not, because he could have made the error without being paid. So then why would there be a scandal? Because the trust is betrayed.
Right now, there are many people arguing that such a practice, which would be a scandal in the academic world, is to be accepted here, because it doesn't matter who is editing what while being paid by whom. And so far, these people have won, because there is no policy at all which prohibits such a practice. Instead of ignoring the best practices of the academic presses, which in policy regulate certain COI writing (whether such are effective in practice or not), we should learn from them. After all, they are the reliable sources that we seek to emulate and represent. That is, just as we do with article content, instead of doing our own original research as to whether certain forms of COI writing is problematic, we should instead follow the reliable sources. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 21:54, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
Nice lecture, we all know what the adverse consequences of serious COIs. That's not the issue here. --Mike Cline (talk) 14:51, 24 November 2013 (UTC)
I believe an issue is that, in your view, we are speaking of editors that have a serious conflict of interest, and that we should welcome them to edit relevant articles, and merely caution them to follow the normal content policies. I have said, and it is true, that such a liberal position would never be taken by editors for encyclopedias in the respected academic presses. Say that scandal with Duce did happen: If the editors for the next edition of the Springer Encyclopedia of Climatology shared the position you mention, their response would be to say that, apart from one, now corrected, factual error, there is no problem, because Duce's article was reviewed and edited according to the normal content policies, and that they will be accepting articles written by people with such serious conflicts in the next edition. This would lower Springer's reputation, and they would not do right to publish such a work. So the issue is that the position you mention is one which is uninformed by the best practices in the respected publishers and would as such lower this encyclopedia's reputation. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 22:35, 24 November 2013 (UTC)


A completely incorrect characterization of my position here. I believe that anyone with a serious COI should not edit in areas where that COI exists. We already have a guideline that stresses that. This proposal paints "paid" editing as a serious COI, but the starts carving out exemptions where being paid to edit is either not COI or is OK. It sets dual standards a that are confusing and can only be enforced through iinquisitions. As crafted it is just bad policy and won't solve whatever problem you are trying to solve.--Mike Cline (talk) 23:23, 24 November 2013 (UTC)
This proposal, at no revision, has ever painted unqualified "paid" editing as a serious COI. It has addressed paid editing only when such editing is done on a subject which is the person or group doing the paying, etc.; i.e., only when that paid editing involves a significant conflict of interests.
So let me clear on your position then. Do you believe that we should have editors with a serious conflict of interest directly edit articles? Or do believe we should not have this? --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 00:13, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
I think I've been pretty clear in my position. I think our current COI advice is good and edits by individual on topics where serious COI exists are bad and should not be allowed. What I object to are the exemptions and the inevitable inquisitions that this language fosters. An editor shall not edit an existing article directly if he or she is:...paid by or acting on behalf of the article's subject;.....Acceptable conduct includes: ...... edits by a Wikipedian in Residence to articles connected to their institution are permitted, irrespective of whether the position is funded.(exemption #1); A professor can edit an article about their area of expertise, but not an article about themselves or research colleagues.(Exemption#2) Why do we allow two different classes of editor (the WiR and Professors) to be paid by an institution and edit articles that further the interest of the payer with impunity when all other classes of editor I presume are banned from doing do under this language. What about librarians?, university or college instructors (paid TAs and graduate assistants, or other instructors who are not "professors"? What about secondary school teachers? What about university administrative or executive staff? What about employees of University sponsored research, advocacy, liaison or other specialized organizations, many of which might also hold professor positions. This list could be endless. My advice is either take out all the exemptions that inevitably set a confusing double standard, or don't try to improve on current COI guidelines which in my view are sufficient. --Mike Cline (talk) 04:24, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Exemption two is not an exemption, it's an example of what would be allowed and what wouldn't by the wording of the policy. Professors, secondary school teachers, everyone, are all in the exact same class under the proposal: Not allowed to make certain edits directly when they have the specific conflicts of interest enumerated. It does not make an exemption for them at all. Exemption one was specifically put in to address your concern above, so I've removed it now that you don't want it. You say "edits by individual on topics where serious COI exists are bad and should not be allowed". Well, there is no policy that disallows this. There is a guideline which says it is discouraged or even strongly discouraged, and should not be done. This has been consistently interpreted, by administrators included, as meaning that it is indeed allowed. Could you offer up some suggestions for a proposal that would disallow at least some individuals with serious conflicts of interest from directly editing articles? That has been the goal here. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 04:46, 25 November 2013 (UTC)


If Could you offer up some suggestions for a proposal that would disallow at least some individuals with serious conflicts of interest from directly editing articles? That has been the goal here. This very question is the real issue - why do we feel the need to disallow some but not ALL serious COI. By that standard, I assume there would be serious COI that was allowed. Why not just ban editing on topics by all editors that have a serious COI related to the topic without exemption for special classes of editor while at the same time don't create selective definitions of serious COI that differ between selective classes of editor. Why not just propose a simple, one sentence policy Editors who are paid or otherwise compensated by any institution, organization or government agency may not edit articles that further the interests and aims of the institution, organization or government agency. Its clear, concise, and essentially unequivocal. The only real subjective question would be whether or not any given article was an article that furthered the interests or aims of the organization. Doesn't need paragraphs of explanation that inevitably create exemptions and confusion. --Mike Cline (talk) 05:14, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
We do want to preclude all. But precluding some, does not prevent us from precluding all, it in fact gets us part of the way there. The proposal is not about making exemptions and creating special classes. If this proposal fails to capture all the bad apples, it's not because it treats those uncaught bad apples as if they were in a special class. It's just because no policy is perfect and solves every problem. We could make one, single line policy: "Edits which are negative for this encyclopedia are prohibited." Theoretically such a policy would prohibit every possible bad edit ever done, but it would not actually solve anything.--Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 05:35, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi User:Mike Cline, first let me thank you for your very thoughtful and clear laying out of the issues. That is so helpful. Picking up on various threads being discussed above, I want to discuss your 6th and 7th bullet points in particular. You are on the money, that the vast plurality of editors are not employees and thus are not subject to reporting relationships and training that companies (nonprofit and nonprofit) have - you have articulated the key difference between Wikipedia and pretty much everybody else, very clearly. Thank you for that. My conclusion, however, is the opposite of yours. Wikipedia is governed by our policies, to which every editor is accountable. The policies are our only "bosses" and they form the basis for all rational discussions that we have with each other, about content and editor behavior. Our lack of a COI policy leaves us confused and without guidance on this crucial issue; in my view we really need one and have to do the hard work of reaching consensus to erect one. Yes, Wikipedia doesn't provide the sort of training and mentorship that companies provide to employees; folks learn the policy and procedure ropes "on the job". (Finding better ways to do that is an unmet need but one that plenty of folks are working on as part of efforts to attract and retain new editors, and is kind of outside the scope of this discussion) With respect to your 7th bullet point, 2 things. First, this policy does attempt to address the broader issue of POV editing in the "negative" bullet defining COI, which I originally suggested as follows "Involved in litigation with the subject of the article, compete with the subject of the article, or are involved in activist or lobbying activity against the subject of the article." This was accepted in the following form "engaged in competition, litigation, or lobbying for or against the subject". I wish "activism" would have been included but you can see there is an effort to cover the kind of volunteer advocacy you discuss, in this policy. Secondly, I want to say that paid advocacy in particular -- the focus on financial motive - is in my view an appropriate focus for discussion. In my analysis, houses like Wiki-PR will work to make their clients look good in order to obtain and keep business. There is a structural problem. The business model and mission is built on pleasing clients, and not on writing NPOV articles, which is our goal. There is a fundamental COI there and I think that in order to survive, paid advocates will usually choose the interests of their clients over WIkipedia's interests, whenever a specific bit of content forces that conflict to the fore (which is the only time it really matters). That's all I wanted to say. Thanks again for your initial post and for your time in continuing the conversation. Jytdog (talk) 13:33, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Jytdog: There are some clues to the fundamental flaws to this proposal in this statement Secondly, I want to say that paid advocacy in particular -- the focus on financial motive - is in my view an appropriate focus for discussion. In my analysis, houses like Wiki-PR will work to make their clients look good in order to obtain and keep business. There is a structural problem. The business model and mission is built on pleasing clients, and not on writing NPOV articles, which is our goal. There is a fundamental COI there and I think that in order to survive, paid advocates will usually choose the interests of their clients over WIkipedia's interests, whenever a specific bit of content forces that conflict to the fore (which is the only time it really matters). Your reference to Wiki-PR begs the question, is this policy being designed to deal with the extremes (as Wiki-PR) was, or mainstream, everyday editors? Anyone getting paid by an entity is naturally going to have some affinity (positive or negative) with that entity? The big question is when does that affinity have a high probability of causing adverse impact of Wikipedia (POV editing, attack editing, etc.) and what are the boundaries of that affinity (How far away from the paying entity must editors go before the probability of adverse impact on Wikipedia because of that affinity is low enough to ignore?) In my view, this COI policy as written will not prevent or stop POV editing, it will merely create a playing field where editors disgruntled for whatever reason with other editors will have grounds to challenge and discredit their contributions on the basis of vague COI. It is just an invitation for energy sapping inquisitions. See my scenarios below for a bit more detail on these thoughts.--Mike Cline (talk) 14:40, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
As I wrote below, I am not clear on where you are coming from. I think agree with you that the language needs to be tinkered with (e.g. I think it would be better focused on "content" than "articles") but beyond that... not sure. Maybe in the thread below, we can understand each other better. I do object to your use of the term "inquisition" as the proposal has an administration section which lays out what should happen and makes clear that going outside that procedure is sanctionable. This policy would not enable witch hunts or hounding; indeed it would prevent both. Anyway, let's continue below.20:36, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

Intention to close 2[edit]

Despite the potentially fruitful discussions, I'm looking for advice on timing and wording for the closing statement. As most of you know, the proponents are looking for this to become policy. That's an unusual first step; most "policies" either are imposed from above (or sound that way), such as certain legal policies, or else they're the final result after years of tinkering and negotiation. (See WP:Update to get an idea of the struggles that have given rise to our content, deletion and enforcement policy pages ... pages that, thankfully, have largely stabilized now.) For anyone who considers themselves a proponent: would you be satisfied with some other result? Would this page work as a guideline, or as a community collaboration with the WMF Foundation (which is in the process of taking action against WikiPR and others), or as a mission statement for a wikiproject focused on these goals? - Dank (push to talk) 13:49, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

Hi Dank. Thanks for your note, and for the questions! I am proponent of Wikipedia having a COI policy - we already have a COI guideline. I acknowledge that I am ignorant about how new Wikipedia policies are actually created (the archive to which you link doesn't seem to show any policy creation, but rather policy editing). I assume that new policies happen like this - a policy is proposed and we work to find consensus, which effort sometimes fails. Jimmy Wales, on his Talk page, and a representative of the WMF legal office, whom I contacted through email, have said that the Wikipedia community is responsible for creating and maintaining the policies that govern it; based on that I am not looking for any sort of deus ex machina here -- we need to do this work. As you write, it may take years of work, and as I understand it there have been years of discussion; this is just the most recent iteration. Therefore - and please forgive my ignorance - I don't understand what you see as unusual or why you call this a first step - can you please explain more? Also, if you have big-picture ideas about other or better ways to reach consensus on a COI policy I for one am all ears. Jytdog (talk) 14:12, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
I just changed that to "I'm looking for advice" ... it's fine to start this process here. Normally and ideally, the background of the closer(s) should be irrelevant, but there have been a lot of different groups, both in the 7 recent votes/discussions/RfCs/whatever and historically at WP:COIN, WP:UAA, WP:COI, WP:NPOV, etc., who have different POVs and who generally are looking for some sympathy for their POV, so just to let you guys know, I'm aware of the various POVs, I'm sympathetic to all of them, and I've done a lot of work in the trenches in the past, although my work in the last few years has been mainly with military history and copyediting (and the current and future project is automation of copyediting). I've worked with policy for a long time (I've done almost all the work at WP:Update since 2008, for instance), and I spent a lot of time speedy-deleting promotional pages in my second and third years on WP, and I'm sympathetic towards any Wikipedian who's interested in volunteering time to help us with these problems, as you guys are here ... but we're not even close here to the levels of support that traditionally give rise to community-generated policies. That doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong by discussing it or pushing for a policy, but these COI discussions have been unusually difficult, and the community is unusually "stuck" and hesitant to do anything other than launching into endless discussions. For instance, WP:No paid advocacy hasn't been rewritten yet in line with the closing statement of that RfC ... which probably reflects both dissatisfation and an unwillingness all around to get closure, even in small steps. But small steps and clarity are exactly what's needed; no casual observers are going to digest the mountains of text we've got on the subject, and that effectively disenfranchises most of the Wikipedians who have a stake and an opinion, and Wikipedians get cranky when they're disenfranchised. - Dank (push to talk) 14:50, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Thanks for this explanation. Very interesting remark about WP:No paid advocacy not being revised as per the closing remarks...so that is how new policy is usually developed? Someone puts out a proposal; it gets commented on, discussion is closed and summarized, and version 2 is put forth taking into account as many of the criticisms as possible, is commented on, then closed, etc and iterate, until you get to something that enough people agree on. Is that accurate? In our situation, I have appreciated you driving closure of the simultaneous proposals. There remains a bit of active discussion here (although it is certainly not tons of people). What do you reckon our next specific steps should be, once this one is closed? I would be willing to work on the next draft of a proposal... or should we do more preliminary, consenus-building steps first? Jytdog (talk) 20:08, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
You guys and Mike are getting closer to a meeting of the minds than we've seen between opposing sides in previous RfCs ... if that's working for you, then keep it up. If you guys can put something together you all like, then we can think about how to generate some discussion on your proposal. If you want to get the levels of support needed for a policy ... if that's the only acceptable goal ... then in a way, that simplifies the job here: the policy will have to identify and deal with all the significant POVs on this issue. It's a big job, but I don't know of any stoppers, it's just going to take a lot of heavy listening. I've got time for it if you do. - Dank (push to talk) 03:54, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

Some plausible scenarios and how the vagaries of this proposal might play out[edit]

(All references to people or entities are fictional in these four scenarios but represent real-world conditions. Assume all relevant article topics are otherwise notable.)

  • An elected member of a Native American tribal council receives remuneration from the council, but is also an employee of the local tribal library receiving a salary. This individual is a Wikipedia editor (editor Bob). Can editor Bob contribute to an article on the Tribal Library (by this proposal—article’s subject—NO). Can this editor Bob contribute to an article on the Tribal Council (by this proposal—article’s subject—NO). Now, can editor Bob contribute to other WP articles that further the aims and interests of the tribe such as other tribal organizations, treaties, history, events, etc? (the vague nature of the phrase article’s subject leave this up to inquisitional interpretation.)
  • An employee of Acme Donut company is a Wikipedia editor, editor Jane. Clearly editor Jane cannot edit an article on Acme Donut under this proposal. But Acme Donut is independently operated, but owned by Acme Brands, a company that owns five different fast food brands. Acme Brands is a portfolio company of Acme Capital which owns companies in a variety of market sectors. Some of the profits of Acme Donut flow to Acme Capital. An executive at Acme Capital learns that editor Jane is an experienced Wikipedian and asks her to write (without additional remuneration) articles about Acme Capital portfolio companies. If editor Jane complies, will editor Jane be violating this policy. (the vague language, “article’s subject” leave this up to inquisitional interpretation.
  • Editor Bill is a PhD working for a non-profit organization that is charged with promoting and supporting research to assist various government agencies in meeting their missions. The organization is sponsored with both funding and infrastructure by the local university because the university derives a lot of revenue from related government projects and grants. Editor Bill also assists the university with some class room instruction in related curriculum, but is paid solely by the non-profit organization. Can Editor Bill work on an article on the university? Can editor Bill work on other articles closely associated with the aims and interests of the university? Can editor Bill work on articles related to the government project his non-profit is supporting?
  • Editor Edith is an employee of the Potato company, a large global technology company that has a great many products, technology related services and either operates or sponsors a lot of industry related associations, commissions, learning and teaching organizations. Clearly editor Edith cannot edit the WP article about the Potato company, but what about all those products and services, associations, commissions, and other entities closely related to and supported by the Potato company?

The phrase Article’s Subject is very vague in establishing a relationship between an editor getting paid by some entity (most of us get paid by someone) and articles the editor might not be allowed to edit. If we chose to interpret Article’s Subject literally, then it is not prohibited for an Apple employee to contribute to an article on an Apply product or Service, as Apple (the company is the Article’s Subject in relation to whose paying the Editor). It that the goal here?

The phrase engaged in competition [with] is equally vague. Is Burger King in competition with McDonalds—Yes. Is Burger King in completion with Darden restaurants (Maybe. Is a QSR restaurant chain in competition with casual dining chains? Is Burger King in competition with Flemings, a fine dining restaurant? Are Montana State University and the University of Montana in engaged in competition for students, grants, government funding, etc. Indeed they are as are all universities, as are all participants in any given market sector. Who decides the competition, which inevitably exists and will continue to exist, rises to the level where an editor working for one competitor can be sanctioned for contributing to articles about other competitors in the market sector. The only way it will happen is through energy sapping inquisitional interpretation. --Mike Cline (talk) 14:15, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

Whilst I appreciate the concern regarding the ambiguities of any conflict of interest policy, I think your sample scenarios are still subject to interpretation with your proposed wording: Editors who are paid or otherwise compensated by any institution, organization or government agency may not edit articles that further the interests and aims of the institution, organization or government agency. If you do believe a broader wording would help clarify these cases, can you expand on this? Is it a matter of trying to find a balanced set of descriptive phrases that will identify as many clear-cut cases as possible? isaacl (talk) 16:49, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
I think my "proposed wording" has been taken out of context. I would agree with you that the "proposed wording" in the context of these scenarios would still leave a lot up to interpretation. The real intent of the wording was to suggest that if the goal was to disallow all paid editing, then you could write that policy in an unequivocal way. The wording was not a real proposal for language in this proposed policy, but merely a sample of unequivocal language that would eliminate the need to create explanations and exemptions. I really don't believe there is suitable and concise wording that would clarify a COI policy whose intent was to disallow edits from one class of editor while allowing the same type of edits from another class of editor based on the relationship of the editor to the topic being edited. Life, commerce, government, etc. are very complex enterprises. Any given individual's role in those enterprises is equally complex. Drunk driving is bad and there are policies against it. Those policies are clear, concise, measurable and desirable. More importantly, they are essentially unequivocal, thus easy to enforce. Still doesn't stop drunk driving. COI policy for a global, volunteer enterprise that functions in and across all aspects of human enterprise is extraordinarily difficult to promulgate in a clear, concise, measurable and desirable way. Why are we trying? What is the real goal here? --Mike Cline (talk) 19:22, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi Mike. Cannot quite figure out where you are coming from. From my perspective, the goal is to get a COI policy in place, which we lack. COI policies are basic good governance that regulates access to or use of "X" for private gain. In the case of companies (for-profit and nonprofit alike), "X" = corporate property and resources. In our case "X" is the privileges we grant to anyone to edit Wikipedia. There are editors who use their access, to edit for private gain. Because we lack a policy, the community is in turmoil, and doesn't know how to deal with issues when they arise, and we remain in situations where the door is wide open to paid advocates (which are the concern, and are a common-sense disinguishable subset of paid editors) and we are subject to scandals like the Wiki-PR debacle, which leave us further in turmoil and which damage our reputation with the public. I grant that it is difficult to create useful, actionable language; difficult is not the same as impossible, if we are committed to the goal and agree to allow some wiggle room for common sense to handle boundary cases.Jytdog (talk) 19:59, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Above you said one option was to remain with "... current COI guidelines which in my view are sufficient." Naturally no guideline or policy is going to provide complete clarity, but perhaps there are aspects of the current guidelines, which you seem at least in part to agree with, that seem reasonable to use as a basis for a policy? isaacl (talk) 20:01, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Plain and simple where am I coming from: What is or will be the goal of the COI policy you are proposing? If the goal is just to have a policy, that's a lame goal and tells us nothing about the purpose or results of actually executing the policy. Once the policy is in place, how do you see WP changed or improved? What is the measurable and desirable consequence of the COI policy that the community can agree on? Once you can decide and get community agreement on the goal, then the job of creating appropriate language to achieve the goal will be much easier. So my advice in moving forward would be to seek community consensus on what a "COI Policy" is trying to achieve in clear, concise, measurable and desirable terms. After that the details become easy. --Mike Cline (talk) 22:53, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
I haven't personally proposed any policies, and so I can't speak for those who have been putting forth proposals. From a general perspective, though, organizational conflict of interest policies have the following objectives:
  • Identify what situations in which someone has a conflict of interest.
  • Provide guidance on what someone should do when they have a conflict of interest.
By laying out guidelines in advance, it is easier to make decisions on what to do when a situation occurs, as thought has been invested in considering multiple factors, and more equitable treatment should ensue of those affected. So the net effect should be to reduce questions on what constitutes a conflict of interest and how to deal with them. Of course discussions may still happen, but they gain a head start from having the policy in place, versus having to start each discussion from scratch each time.
I suspect, though, you are thinking of what are the desired goals of any actions taken in response to someone breaching the conflict of interest policy. Based on these discussions, my suggestion is the following:
  • Reverse any harm caused by conflict of interest editing.
  • Seek to prevent further harm.
  • Guide editors with a conflict of interest on how to collaborate with the Wikipedia community.
Given that these ideas are embodied within the current conflict of interest guidelines, I believe there should be common ground for all interested parties, upon which progress can be made. isaacl (talk) 23:53, 25 November 2013 (UTC)
Sorry, there is also the question of what are the goals for the guidance on what editors should do in conflict of interest situations. The ones that I think have general support are the following:
  • Permit a narrowly defined set of non-controversial edits that can be made to articles in Wikipedia's mainspace where a conflict of interest situation exists.
  • Disallow any other edits to articles in Wikipedia mainspace where a conflict of interest situation exists.
I believe there are many who support a degree of engagement on discussion pages, including proposing text, but there are some who are against significant engagement. isaacl (talk) 00:04, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Hey Isaalc looks like we are more or less on the same page. Hard part of Mike's questions was metrics... how do you tell if the actual policy is meeting your goals? You need to something to measure. They teach this way of thinking in MBA and MPA programs - think about outcomes in terms of something you can measure, and set up ways to measure it, so you can tell if you are doing well or screwing up. Jytdog (talk) 00:09, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
I think most corporate employees will have heard of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For now, I'm just looking for some agreement on the general direction. isaacl (talk) 00:20, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
my apologies for telling meyou what you already knew. what do you think of my response below? Jytdog (talk) 00:55, 26 November 2013 (UTC) (corrected pronoun Jytdog (talk) 01:29, 26 November 2013 (UTC))
I apologize for my tone coming out wrong; I just meant to say that the concept has been popularized beyond master degree programs. I like how you've tried to figure out specific metrics that can be monitored, so trends can be examined. isaacl (talk) 01:16, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
it's quite alright! i am a bit intense about avoiding miscommunication which can lead me to state the obvious. sorry again. Thanks for reviewing my response - happy we are on same page then. thanks.Jytdog (talk) 01:29, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict) Hi Mike OK, thanks for making it more clear. I hear you now and understand what you are asking - these are the appropriate questions to ask of a policy in formation. Clear goals, measurable outcomes. Yes. I am an idiot for not framing it this way earlier, even in my own thinking about it. So thanks for posing them. Here is a very quick answer. I apologize that I am producing this on the fly, in trust that you understand this is draft-y and we can talk about it and work together to improve it. (If that is a bad assumption and not the kind of conversation you are interested in, please let me know and I will take a different stance) But what do you think?
  • Goal 1: Provide guidance to editors and the community about
    • a) what constitutes a conflict of interest on Wikipedia,
    • b) how editors with a COI should behave, and
    • c) how editors who suspect another editor of making conflicted edits should behave
  • Measurable outcomes:
    • a) improve understanding of COI, as measured by surveys (e.g. there is existing literature showing that PR professionals have a lack of understanding of COI in Wikipedia, which we could use as a baseline)
    • b) Super hard to quantify outcomes here. Could look at things like (i) number of editors disclosing COI; (ii) number of complaints brought to COIN; (iii) reduction in tendentious editing (NB: Very hard to come up with metrics of what improved outcomes with regard to tendentious editing or paid-advocacy-editing would look like, as there is not good data now on the extent of COI editing or tendentious editing in Wikipedia to use as a baseline - I opened a thread on Jimbo Wales Talk page asking if anyone knew of data and was told there is none and it is basically impossible to get, although there were a few promising replies).
    • (c), there are two things I could think to measure (i) number of complaints brought to COIN; (ii) reduction (hopefully) in complaints about COI or tendentious editing at ANI; (iii) very hopefully, reduction in complaints about hounding accusations of COI-editing at COIN (a COI policy with clear procedural guidance should reduce the length and severity of "inquisitions" and should eliminate hounding, as those specific behaviors would be sanctionable).
  • Goal 2: Improve trust of the public in the integrity of our articles, and trust of donors/grantors in our governance
  • Measurable outcomes: Level of trust as measured by surveys
  • Goal 3: Drive PR houses that promise to do reputation management via Wikipedia out of business (controversial goal, right?)
  • Measurable outcomes: measure job postings at ELANCE and number of PR houses like Wiki-PR and WikiExperts; I would expect to see a reduction in their numbers or size as such activity would be against policy and I cannot imagine that legit businesses would generally pay for illegitimate activity.
There is a quick outline, very open to suggestions! And as noted I recognize that Goal 3 is probably controversial. Jytdog (talk) 23:59, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Jtydog - If I was coaching someone on how to rephrase these goals, the intent of which is clear and with which I agree, they would probably read something like this.

  • Goal 1: The COI policy ensures editors have a clear understanding of community consensus as to what does and what does not constitute a sanctionable conflict of interest on Wikipedia. The COI policy ensures editors understand acceptable editing behavior when they have a sanctionable conflict of interest with any given article topic. The COI policy ensures editors who suspect other editors of sanctionable conflicts of interest understand how such conflicts of interest should be dealt with.
  • Goal 2: The COI policy ensures that public trust in the integrity of our articles and the trust of donors/grantors in our governance is not damaged due to serious conflict of interest issues.
  • Goal 3: The COI policy ensures that "reputation management" editing by Wikipedia editors, paid or otherwise is either strongly discouraged or outright prohibited.

You'll note a common characteristic which each of these goals. The burden is on the policy (and assumed associated processes) to achieve desirable results. When a goal does start with a verb it merely describes activity, not desirable, measurable end states. If I was satisfied that WP COI policy language would achieve these goals as written I would most likely support it as long as the associated processes were not so onerous as to cause net harm to the encyclopedia. --Mike Cline (talk) 00:01, 27 November 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── If @Jytdog and @Issacl were clients or students in my strategy seminars, you'd be getting good grades. You both grasped my concerns well and the initial ideas around goals and measurement surrounding a COI policy are not without merit and some of the best I've seen on WP. I want to digest further before making any detailed comments. But, that said, my gut says something is missing. Not quite sure how to express it as a goal, but COI should NEVER trump NPOV, RS supported contributions. If an editor's contributions are 100% consistent with our content policies, then the COI should be a secondary matter, maybe called attention too, but not punished. This is a big challenge. Clearly, serious COI impacts the ability or the impression of the ability to contribute NPOV, RS supported content. The ideal COI policy, in my view, would create an environment that promotes NPOV, RS supported contributions, regardless of the status of the contributor. The ultimate goal here is to build a better encyclopedia, that has to be captured in some form in this policy. --Mike Cline (talk) 01:54, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for the praise! :) Do you all find the current COI guideline reasonable -- that if you have a COI for a given chunk of content, that you should a) disclose it and b) not directly edit or create content in the article, but rather provide drafts in a sandbox or on the Talk page and then request that the draft be reviewed for NPOV and RS by unconflicted editors and directly added by unconflicted editors if the draft passes review? I find it a reasonable way to manage COI. Jytdog (talk) 02:14, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
I really like what you said Mike, b/c it echoes what many opposers of a COI policy have said, that content is king. I think a lot of those opposers might shift some, if the intro stated clearly that the mission of wikipedia policies is to build NPOV, RS content, and that the goal of this specific COI policy is to manage COI in furtherance of wikipedia's mission. Framing matters, I think.... Jytdog (talk) 02:19, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
The perceived reliability of an edit is also a concern; if an editor has a conflict of interest, this can compromise the degree of trust readers will place in the corresponding edits. In the interests of a clear policy, which is a concern you have raised, it may be simplest to stay within the bounds of the current conflict of interest guidelines which do not have an exception (outside of non-controversial edits) along the lines you suggest. Since the conflict of interest guidelines have a wide amount of support, including your own, I think it can serve as an initial starting point. As more experience is gained, further refinements can be entertained. isaacl (talk) 02:26, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
@ Jytdog, the current COI guideline in my view is sufficient to mitigate the impact of COI on Wikipedia. It is obvious that many ignore its advice and I suspect many, especially newer editors don’t even know it exists. Although it doesn’t set unequivocal policy, its advice is pretty clear. I do think it has a couple of weaknesses. The guideline says: COI allegations should not be used as a "trump card" in disputes over article content. but that is what happens in a great many cases. First, it is an easy route to win a content dispute with a new uninformed editor and second, making the allegation, even if done in good faith, diverts energy from real evaluation of the content to the legitimacy of the editor. One only has to go back and look at a lot of COIN discussions over the years to see that they are inherently inquisitional in nature, especially for new, uninformed editors. The contributor may be arguing for the righteousness of the content, while the community COI police are saying we know you are guilty of COI so there’s no way this content is any good. The second flaw in my view is that the COI guideline in general enforces a community-wide bias against content about private commercial enterprise—the evil corporation so to speak. There is no doubt in my mind that there are probably 1000s of commercial enterprises/processes/events, etc. that would easily make the notability cut in WP, especially when compared to the very low notability hurdles that some other topic areas favored by the community seem to enjoy. Yet, content availability and independent references for these types of enterprise is generally known only to individuals with some close association to the topic (a COI if you will). The way the community handles COI in general then becomes a significant blocker to improving the encyclopedia in these types of topics.
The one COI minefield that you all have included in the proposed policy—competition—is not referenced in the guideline. That’s a good thing. Almost every enterprise is in competition with other enterprises in some way. Establishing a policy based level of competition that would trigger a COI allegation would be impossible and render the idea of using “common sense” moot. --Mike Cline (talk) 12:17, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Hi MIke, I just reviewed some of the links you provided in earlier comments you made -- I see that you got burned by COI allegations when you were a newbie and understand your concern about a COI label trumping NPOV and RS (although I reviewed the prometheus principle case -- albeit briefly - and it ~seemed~ that your sourcing was pretty weak. You were new then!) But I do see what you mean. Thinking about that experience... thanks again. Jytdog (talk) 12:56, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Jytdog - The Prometheus Process experience was very instructive for me on many levels. At the time, I knew literally nothing as to how Wikipedia worked and had a lot of misconceptions about the "authority" of individual editors who collectively at the time were behaving like well coordinated pack dogs in attacking my COI. Although at the time, I freely admitted my COI, even such admission was seen as a ploy to avoid community sanctions. The sourcing at the time may have been weak, but no one even cared about actually seeing if notability could be established. I was tarred an evil spammer from the onset. I survived and had the fortitude to find other ways to be productive on WP, but to me at the time the lesson was clear. COI trumps NPOV, notability and RS. I think is still does when one looks at a lot of the COIN discussions.. It is interesting today to think about whether a Prometheus Process article would meet the notability test. I think it would as my experience has taught me how to ensure that. But I wouldn't even try, nor would I ask anyone that would have any ability to actually write an article about the process to do so. Why, because anyone with the knowledge and ability to access and understand the sources would inherently have a COI. Thus in a era of free knowledge, the knowledge about a strategy process used by the WMF, a number of prominent large corporations in a variety of market sectors, and a number of prominent foreign governments is not in the encyclopedia. That's the kind of harm that over zealous COI enforcement causes. --Mike Cline (talk) 00:27, 27 November 2013 (UTC)

The current conflict of interest guideline broadly defines a potential conflict of interest existing "when advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia". It further says "Adding material that appears to advance the interests or promote the visibility of an article's author, the author's family, employer, clients, associates or business, places the author in a conflict of interest." This covers editing articles of competitors. Given your opinion that the current guideline is sufficient to mitigate conflict of interest concerns, a view that many have expressed, then perhaps we should proceed forward with proposing it as a policy. isaacl (talk) 13:30, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

Issacl, I would characterize my position about the COI guideline this way. It seems to be sufficiently comprehensive enough to mitigate most COI that WP might be concerned with. I don’t think it should become policy without considerable revision and really continue to question the need for a COI policy in the first place. I am working on comments re the goals of a COI policy and hope to get them up later today—am bouncing around my client’s time and my own for the rest of day. --Mike Cline (talk) 18:13, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

Wikipedia’s reputation argument a Red herring[edit]

This type of statement: The perceived reliability of an edit is also a concern; if an editor has a conflict of interest, this can compromise the degree of trust readers will place in the corresponding edits. I believe is a distraction and as the section header says is a Red herring without empirical evidence to back it up. In theory, real COIs may indeed result in some content that is not consistent with WP norms. But, there’s no evidence that I can find that’s there’s been any widespread decline in WP global readership, even though we’ve had some high-profile cases of COI. So the idea that we must stamp out COI to improve trust in WP sounds good, but the need to do so is unsupported by any real evidence that trust in WP is waning or declining because of COI under current guidelines.--Mike Cline (talk) 12:35, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

Sorry to do this, but do you have any data to support your position (readership, surveys, etc?) I recognize that I need data to support the assumption that publicity about COI editing scandals damages our reputation; I will look too. But we both should have support for our conclusions. Am taking travelling today for the holiday but will try to find time to do this - it is important. Jytdog (talk) 12:53, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Well WP is currently the 6th most visited website in the world. (Follow links at Special:Statistics to Alexa). I'd have to do some digging, but I've seen recent statistics that say ~350M readers look at WP everyday and its been that way for a long time. If our reliability or credibility is really being hurt by COI, I would think those numbers would be in decline. Most importantly, our audience is so large, that generalizing any specific type behavior to "readers" doesn't carry much weight. --Mike Cline (talk) 13:06, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Readership statistics is one index, but there would be a lag time, due to the influence of search engines which will continue to rank a site high as long as it has a lot of incoming links. Furthermore, without a comparable site of similar breadth as an alternative, unless the issue becomes pervasive, Wikipedia will likely remain a popular link destination. Editor participation stats are another index, since the prevalence of biased editing can discourage good-faith editors, but the effect can be difficult to discern from the many other forces that can influence participation. A survey of perception by the academic press and general media might be instructive. isaacl (talk) 13:30, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
I am surprised by this suggestion, Mike. In my experience, it is an axiom in journalism, academic publishing, and civic reporting that COI contributions and paying people to write about you invalidates the value of the resulting work. I don't think we need to wait for a catastrophe of reputation to recognize the potential problem. Anecdotally: whereas normally at public talks about WP people ask me general questions about how Wikipedia works and how people become editors, in the past few months many people have asked whether some articles are paid for or written by PR firms. That may take years to translate to a drop in readership (!), but it already influences some teachers to ask students not to use WP as a reference. – SJ + 22:28, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
You can't seriously be suggesting that students should cite Wikipedia when our own WP:TERTIARY guideline says Wikipedia shouldn't be used as a source. Anyway, if you are experienced in the axioms of COI, why did you choose to sign your post as SJ rather than as SJ (WMF)? - Pointillist (talk) 22:52, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Hello Pointillist, Wikipedia is a reference work. It is designed to be used as a reference. That is not the same as citing it as a source: tertiary reference works are best used as a way to understand the broad picture, and to find individual sources, which are then directly cited. (If a writer is being thorough, they should also note any tertiary works used. However the WP style guide does not yet go into that level of detail, nor do our citation templates support such subtleties as intermediate-refs, such as via/ᔥ and HT/↬ ). If educators and other community leaders discourage others from using Wikipedia at all (not simply from citing it in papers; something that as you note we also discourage), that is negative feedback worth considering. And unlike readership stats, that is a leading rather than a trailing indicator.
I don't see a WMF-specific meta-COI here, and my edits on en:wp are made in my personal and not Board capacity; but I would be interested to read more about what conflict you have in mind. – SJ + 23:09, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Sorry, I misunderstood your 22:28 post. Yes, in general Wikipedia should be reliable as a reference for schools. The areas where COI is most likely to occur – such as popular culture, companies, brands, technology frameworks, products, services – don't belong in an academic curriculum anyway. As for your WMF affiliation, when you comment about policy it is your responsibility to make your affiliation clear without needing to be prompted. This is a widely accepted axiom in journalism, academic publishing, and civic reporting nowadays. This is not the place to discuss the reputation of the WMF, and I don't want to single you out personally in any way, but as a long-standing trustee you must be aware that statements made by people speaking for the Foundation are not automatically taken as being neutral. - Pointillist (talk) 23:32, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
Thank you for explaining. – SJ + 00:54, 28 November 2013 (UTC)
"If publicists were to overtake the voluntary editors, much of the site would become online billboards (perhaps with deceptively neutral writing). But as it stands now, the protection against biased writing — dogged hounding from voluntary editors, and disorderly debates — is narrowing the field of voluntary editors, and most likely turning off potentially valuable contributors." (Salon 23 October 2013 [10]) The techniques currently used to combat paid advocacy editing (automated tools like Stiki, aggressive enforcement of WP:NPOV and WP:V) are part of what is causing the decline. This was confirmed by Aaron Halfaker's assessment of the current decline in Wikipedia (MIT Technology Review October 22 2013 [11]). "Overall, the site’s community of editors has done a decent job of weeding out the worst self-promotional offenders, or at least moderating their contributions. But according to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia’s parent entity, the tactics being used to force content onto the site are becoming more advanced and more widespread ... It’s this type of “astroturfing” activity that Wikimedia is struggling to identify and contain." (Digiday 26 November 2013 [12]). With the failure of this proposal, this will be the sixth(?) proposal that has failed to help solve this problem. Many users here who have taken part in conflict of interest editing themselves insist there is no problem, or that more data is needed before any action is taken. WMF executive director Sue Gardner, WMF founder Jimbo Wales and virtually everyone in the technology press who is analyzing this issue seem to disagree. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 22:48, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

@SJ I would make this observation about comparing WP to a lot of legacy knowledge forums as mentioned here: I am surprised that you would suggest this, Mike. In my experience, it is an axiom in journalism, academic publishing, and civic reporting that COI contributions and paying people to write about you invalidates the value of the resulting work. Your experience in those fields is undoubtably as you say, but the big difference and one that I think WP will struggle with for the next decade. We are entering a era of free knowlege. Whereas in journalism and academic publishing, there is instrinct value in your work because people pay for the knowledge, it isn't free. When the knowledge is free, as in WP I think the rules will change. All that said, if our content is NPOV, reliably sourced and free, those who consume it will care little about how or by who it was contributed. I believe that as long as we enforce NPOV and RS, no matter how hard that might be, our reputation among the millions of readers who consume our free knowledge won't be harmed a bit. IMHO --Mike Cline (talk) 23:15, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

@Ate this will be the sixth(?) proposal that has failed to help solve this problem. I think the reasons these proposals failed, is not because a lot of editors don't think COI or paid promotional edit isn't a valid issue, they do, They just think that these proposals won't solve the issue and would as written cause more harm than benefit. That's my take and opinion. --Mike Cline (talk) 23:31, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

I believe, in their zeal to influence the discussion, a number of people chose to release their own proposals. While their enthusiasm is great to see, it had the unfortunate effect of diffusing discussion. This has happened with many Wikipedia initiatives; progress is typically best made when there is a concerted effort to converge towards a consensus view. isaacl (talk) 23:48, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
I don't want to make your job any harder, but you really need to fix your "self-edit" exemption to make it consistent with current COI practices. If you do, I can may support this. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 00:14, 27 November 2013 (UTC)

Comparison with existing COI policies[edit]

I would appreciate a list of COI policies in various other industries and networks. The FTC has a policy which CorporateM and others have mentioned; as do many conusmer-advocacy, journalism, marketing, and other groups. Many of the arguments "against" having a COI policy assume that marketers and PR firms would try to avoid them. However I have the sense that most established companies and firms expect such policies and go out of their way to abide by them where they exist. It is simply confusing for those groups when we do not have one.

Having a selection of existing policies to refer to / draw language from would help speed parts of this discussion. – SJ + 22:32, 26 November 2013 (UTC)

I'm going to try to get some. We also may want to look more broadly at codes of ethics elsewhere. Coretheapple (talk) 19:14, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Another way to mitigate COI impacts[edit]

I suspect someone has proposed this before, but if they haven’t I am more than willing to take credit for this brilliant idea. Wikipedia has an very interesting essay: Wikipedia:Ethical Code for Wikipedians. I didn’ know it existed until tonight. The fifth paragraph succinctly discusses to perils of COI. Wikipedia also has an article on Conflict of Interest in which the concluding paragraph contains this language: Codes of ethics help to minimize problems with conflicts of interests because they can spell out the extent to which such conflicts should be avoided, and what the parties should do where such conflicts are permitted by a code of ethics (disclosure, recusal, etc.). Thus, professionals cannot claim that they were unaware that their improper behavior was unethical. Although this would not solve serious COI by currently registered editors, this procedure might prevent new editors from unknowingly falling prey to our COI policy. My suggestion is that all new account registrations be required to acknowledge they’ve read our code of ethics. Now we can’t force them to read them or follow them, but we certainly can record the fact that an account has had the opportunity to read them. As I experienced as a new editor, the community cannot assume editors are aware of COI rules before they violate them. Once that happens, the COI police attack and all is lost. There is a reason they post speed limit signs prominently. --Mike Cline (talk) 02:57, 27 November 2013 (UTC)

Great idea. Many sites have similar "read this and acknowledge" on sign-up, involving code of conduct and terms of use. First Light (talk) 03:37, 27 November 2013 (UTC)
I like this too. One thing I have noticed is that in the motto that greets people, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", the link under "anyone can edit" leads to Wikipedia:Introduction which says nothing about COI, which I think steers people the wrong way, with the best of intentions of being welcoming... Jytdog (talk) 23:04, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

Could professional editing be made safe?[edit]

Reading @SilkTork's oppose (diff) made me wonder whether there's any possibility that professional edits could be made acceptable, if their editors would consent to sufficiently rigorous conditions. For example:

  • Professional editors promise to abide by specific policies about how they edit and interact with other users.
  • These policies would include strict rules about notability, verifiability and reliable sources that would apply to all their contributions.added 09:45, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
  • If they fail to adhere to these policies, they can be complained about in a specific venue similar to AN/I. They can be admonished, blocked or banned.
  • Professional edits may only be made with a special SUL account set up for this purpose. This account is individual, not corporate. It is distinct from any account used for normal "unbiased" editing. The professional account-holder must identify to the foundation (or similar), so any one individual can only have one professional account in their lifetime (or at any one time, perhaps).
  • Their usernames must end with a standard string such as "(COI)", "(POV)" or "(PAID)".
  • Their user pages have a standard format that lists their affiliation(s). Professional editors don't have discretion about how this is presented.
  • Professional editor accounts are technically marked as such: it's a sort of user right, and it cannot co-exist with any of the discretionary rights like autopatrolled, rollbacker etc.
  • An edit filter logs their contributions e.g. "(Tag: professional edit: please check for COI)". All their edits are globally opted-in for edit count statistics.
  • They can't create a new article directly. Instead, they must use the proposed draft namespace.
  • Perhaps they can't edit an existing article that is being watched by very few people (at least 30 watchers probably means any COI will be detected).

...and so on. I'm just putting this up as a thought-starter: I'm not claiming to have considered it deeply yet. The details would require extensive discussion and there are edge cases (e.g. is unpaid professional editing in scope?) that need to be agreed. It just seems to me that since almost all the advice to potential COI editors is "Don't directly edit" (e.g. WP:NOPAY, WP:PUBLICISTS, WP:PLAINSIMPLECOI, WP:BESTCOI) we are pretty much guaranteeing to drive underground something that is probably already happening to some extent. By replacing the muddy middle ground with a distinct class of editor, highly visible and subject to specific policies and sanctions, we could be much clearer about the bright lines around COI editing. Thoughts? - Pointillist (talk) 13:33, 28 November 2013 (UTC)

I think this is much more practical than the proposals to ban it entirely. Mr.Z-man 20:43, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
In some ways I like what you are doing here - allow, with clear boundaries. Freedom, with heightened responsibilities. The downside of this, is that the rest of us are volunteers, and this would seem to put us at risk of opening the door wide to something we don't have the bandwidth to properly manage. Following you out onto this limb.... on the federal level, the way this is handled is to require user fees so that there can be staff on hand to handle the demand (see PDUFA for an example). In our case, user fees could perhaps go to WMF to pay for staff to audit/follow the activity of Registered Professional Editors (RPEs, to risk an acronym). What about something like that? Jytdog (talk) 22:58, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Thanks for commenting @Jytdog. I should have made it clearer that all such professional editors will still have a duty to make neutral, verifiable contributions. Like the rest of us, their edits must improve wikipedia. If licensing professional editors doesn't add enough value to significantly outweigh the admin overhead of on-boarding them, we shouldn't do it. - Pointillist (talk) 21:38, 1 December 2013 (UTC)

I think that what you're suggesting is a good idea, up to a point. It would take care of the issue of internally identifying professional editors to other users. Current proposals would permit them to continue to make proposals in talk pages, and right now there is no mechanism for identifying who they are, that Editor X is working for the subject. Sometimes they disclose. Sometimes it's part of their username. Sometimes they "forget." Or sometimes there's no disclosure at all; it's just a "big mystery." That would deal with that issue. What they do, how much they can do, is a separate issue. I'm not in favor of them creating articles, in draft space or any space, including Articles for Creation. One point that needs to be considered is whether our notability standards for corporations and organiztions (the main locus of paid editing abuses) need to be tightened up in general. Coretheapple (talk) 22:50, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

I think @Coretheapple is making a useful point about organization/brand/product notability issues, which can waste a lot of time on talk pages, AfD etc. But we could prevent non-notable articles from professional editors because (a) our rules would demand that their edits be built exclusively on reliable sources and cc-by-sa'd media, and (b) they wouldn't be allowed to start new mainspace articles anyway. If their client/employer's organization/brand/product hasn't received mainstream press coverage yet, then it won't be possible for a pro editor to produce an acceptable draft article about them. Underlying all this – frankly blue-sky thinking – is the assumption that pro editors will have a vested interest in behaving properly if they are named, disclosed to the Foundation, checkuser'd, labelled as potentially NPOV, and subject to scrutiny and sanction if they abuse the system. Maybe they'd become collectively self-policing to some extent. If we could get the marketing/PR community to accept a system with explicit rules like this, it would be easier for us to target "amateur" COI editing, wouldn't it? - Pointillist (talk) 09:35, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
Responsible PR people want to do the right thing at Wikipedia, which is to disengage. See this recent article by a PR person] on how the PR industry needs to disengage from Wikipedia. I think that we need to discourage engagement, not encourage engagement. Another useful exercise would be to adopt a Code of Ethics that would cover best practices that would include a ban on paid editing but go beyond it, to include unpaid advocacy editing. Elements of that are scattered throughout Wikipedia policies. Why not centralize them and make them formal policy? Coretheapple (talk) 14:54, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
While responsible PR people may want to do that, they have to strike a balance between what's responsible and what will keep them employed. The fact that an organization like Wiki-PR exists means that there is significant demand by the corporations hiring PR people specifically for editing Wikipedia, which means that PR people who choose to disengage do so at the risk of losing their jobs. Mr.Z-man 15:26, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
That's a problem PR people face in general from their ethical standards. If their clients are wise, they'll abide by their PR counsel and and not engage in activities that could bring them into disrepute. Coretheapple (talk) 19:13, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
Though well intended, this would seem to represent a manifestation of "policy creep" that would be accompanied by bureaucratic bloat, not to mention adding a rather unwieldy strata classification to the editor body politic.
If there is to be a policy, it has to be minimal and aimed at prevention of abuse and preservation of the editing environment as well as conservation of administrative resources, not a cumbersome assignment of new rights.
On the other hand, I would basically agree that the creation of quality content should be facilitated, albeit indirectly through mechanisms that serve to create a buffer zone of sorts.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 14:56, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
We already have something like 15-20 user groups. How much time was spent in the sockpuppetry investigation of Wiki-PR? Trying to prevent it entirely still has the potential to require significant amounts of resources. We can try to prevent abuse, or we can try to save time, but I don't think we can do both. Mr.Z-man 15:26, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
I think that I basically agree with your points here. If creating "professional editors" would constitute a new "user group", then as described above, I would oppose that.
Regarding the prevention of abuse and saving time and conserving resources, the emphasis I have tried to focus on prevention is related to these points. I don't see this policy as a rallying call to gather bounty hunters gunning for COI editors, but more of an enforcement tool that can help streamline administrative action in the case that a problem occurs and is recognized. As Sue implied below, WMF can take legal action against Wiki-PR types without a community policy, as such companies are already in violation of the Terms of Use, so this policy would more about lower intensity actions at the community level, but the policy would also explicitly proscribe the activities engaged in by Wiki-PR types at the same time.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 16:29, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
Except in the case of Wiki-PR, the main problem wasn't figuring out what to do with paid editors, it was finding all their socks and meatpuppets. We didn't really need a paid editing policy because they were violating so many other things. If we had a policy that set out clear ways for paid advocates to edit with proper scrutiny, the entire investigation may have been avoidable: Wiki-PR may have chosen the "white hat" route and disclosed their COIs. Or, if there was a set of straightforward rules for PR editors to follow, the entire Wiki-PR business model may have been unnecessary as companies could deal with their Wikipedia articles in-house rather than having to hire contractors. Mr.Z-man 16:56, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
Well, aren't we glossing over the fact that companies pay entities like Wiki-PR because they want to see themselves portrayed in a positive light on Wikipedia even if that means engaging in tendentious POV-pushing, etc., over and against what RS say about them and their activities? Companies would not want to be seen to be engaged in such conduct themselves, as the reverse of the desired effect would result upon exposure.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 17:04, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I wonder if it would be worthwhile to reach out to companies that hired WIki-PR to ask them about this.Jytdog (talk) 17:08, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Flawed wording[edit]

As I mentioned in my comment in the RFC section, the fact that this needs so many examples of things that "don't count" means the wording is probably fatally flawed. The biggest problem I see is the phrase "paid by." Other potential edge cases I can see:

  • A university professor in the US funded by an NIH grant. Is he allowed to edit the NIH article? The United States Department of Health and Human Services article? Any article about the federal government?
  • Would a doctor be allowed to edit the articles on insurance companies that his practice accepts?
  • Would people be allowed to edit the articles of companies they own stock in? Even if it's only 1 share? What about bonds (where the interest rate is fixed and the payout is essentially unrelated to how well the company does)?
  • Are sub-contractors considered "paid by" all of the companies in the supply chain? If I work for Company A that provides sheet metal to Company B that makes parts for Delphi Automotive, that makes parts for General Motors, obviously I'm paid by Company A, but am I also "paid by" Company B, Delphi, or GM?

Another issue is the "engaged in competition" clause. How direct does the competition have to be?

  • Are 2 universities in the same state, or same country "in competition?"
  • Would a restaurant be considered to be in competition with every other restaurant that has locations in the same region(s) as them? Just ones in the same price range? Same cuisine?
  • Using the supply chain example from above, Delphi and Visteon (which makes parts for Ford) are both in the same general market, but they make parts for different companies. So are they in competition? Since GM and Ford are obviously in competition, would a Delphi employee have a COI if editing the Ford article?
  • What about internal divisions within the same company. Does an employee for GE Lighting have a COI on Rolls-Royce Group PLC, because another division at GE makes jet engines and turbines?
  • Does a player on a Triple-A baseball team have a COI with other teams in the league? Other players on those teams? Other players on his own team? The coaches and managers of the teams? MLB teams? Lower-level leagues?

These are all things I came up with in around 20 minutes. I can't imagine how many more would come up in actual use. The problem is that this tries to lump paid advocacy in with all other types of COI editing. Paid advocacy is the real problem. There is no reason to treat bookkeepers and IT staff, whose pay is probably not tied in any direct way to the success of the company, the same as their PR people or top management, whose compensation and continued employment may be contingent on the image of the company. Mr.Z-man 20:42, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

Thank you for working on this policy[edit]

I didn't know this policy was in development: I'm happy to have just now stumbled across it.

As ED of the WMF it's very common for me to get questions from non-Wikipedians, particularly public figures, journalists and PR people, about this issue. Most frequently I'm asked "is it okay for me to edit the article about me," "is it okay for my colleague or student to edit the article about me," "can I correct errors of fact in the article about my [employer/school/whatever]," "is it okay for me to hire [somebody else: a firm or individual] to edit the article about me," and "if I hate the article about me, where can I send corrections, comments or additional information." I've tried to be helpful but it hasn't been easy, because although there is a lot of policy and practice on the enWP it has never (AFAIK) been boiled down to a few sentences that are understandable for people who don't know much about Wikipedia or how editing actually works in practice.

I believe those people would find this policy extremely helpful.

I saw upthread that some editors were expressing concerns about how policy like this could or would be enforced. That's a legitimate conversation, but it focuses solely on bad-faith actors, which IMO misses a large part of the intended audience for this. My experience is that there are many people who generally respect Wikipedia and want to play by its rules, but who don't know what those rules are: they don't know how the projects are actually built in practice, and so they're unsure about what's okay to do and what's not. (This may be particularly the case for the kinds of people who are notable enough to warrant a BLP, and/or company execs who're interested in how their organization is portrayed on Wikipedia: those people skew older and therefore probably generally aren't super-comfortable with online conventions/tropes/norms etc.)

I believe that if enWP makes it clear what it wants people to do, the vast majority will be happy to do it. That's why I think a succinct, accessible policy is really important, and I am very glad to see this one in development. Thanks Sue Gardner (talk) 21:00, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

Good to see you, Sue, and your timing is good too ... I won't close this until the 30 days run on 9 Dec, but we've got enough from this vote/discussion/RfC/whatever (and from the other 6 simultaneous votes, all closed now) to give you guys some preliminary results. What you just said about what you need is clear and helpful. Bottom line: the supporters in these discussions have been unsatisfied that we've got only a COI guideline; they want a new COI policy. In a way, that simplifies the job here: a new policy page would need to be supported by people representing basically all of the significant POVs on the subject among Wikipedians. Taking all 7 discussions together, we've got no better than 25% support for what's currently under discussion, or anything like it. The opposition isn't about the message that COI editing is perilous (which WPians are agreed on), it's about wanting to avoid the question whenever possible of who's a suitable editor ... I think the opposition doesn't come so much from arguments pro and con as it comes from our day-to-day experience of what happens on article talk pages: when people are talking about the quality of the edits, things have a way of turning out okay; when people start talking about who is and isn't suitable to be editing articles directly, things just have a way of going all to hell, no matter how well-intentioned the question. Having said that ... Wikipedians have a tendency to decide that some questions are "too hard", and back away, and I've always had a concern that not being willing to tackle the harder questions leaves us vulnerable ... and also, unable to give Foundation things that it asks for and needs. I hear you saying that the Foundation needs some things here that it doesn't have yet, including basic guidelines on how people can edit "safely", without being attacked for violating some rule they didn't know about, is that right? - Dank (push to talk) 21:31, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
Herostratus made what I thought was a lucid observation on Jimbo's talk page concerning the adoption/non-adoption of a "Bright Line Rule" as formal poliucy: "It's essentially impossible to get significant broad written rules (as opposed to minor tweaks) adopted here anymore. It's essentially impossible because (to elide and simplify a lot) you need a supermajority, and that's hard, quickly approaching impossibility as the number of participants and proliferation of side-issues multiplies. I think that the last big written rule adopted here was WP:BLP, which passed in 2007 I think (and could probably never pass now). The days of making sweeping changes by adopting formal rules on the Wikipedia are over, I think."[13] I think he's basically right, and the opposition to such a rule is so strong, and is especially intense among experienced users and administrators, that it doesn't seem likely at all to be adopted. The only chance of some kind of formal stricture being adopted in the foreseeable future is if the Foundation takes the matters in hand, and makes it part of the Terms of Use, so it's really your call. Coretheapple (talk) 21:49, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
We've got the low-hanging policy fruit in hand already; if there's more policy to be had, it's harder to reach, and Wikipedia has the same problem that every corporation and organization does: people gravitate toward the easy questions and avoid the hard ones. (And I think it's probably time someone did something about that; I'm working on a relevant Signpost column as we speak.) - Dank (push to talk) 22:16, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
Yes, I think that's right. It comes down to how strongly the Foundation feels about the subject, and whether it is willing to live with the status quo since most Wikipedians are not adverse to it. Coretheapple (talk) 22:45, 29 November 2013 (UTC)
Hm. Let me ask some questions and make a couple of comments :-)
First, just reflecting back what I think is happening on this page: am I right that there've been a number of attempts lately to make or formalize policy on paid advocacy editing / COI editing / paid editing, and that all of them have thus far failed, except (so far) this one? And Dank, what you're saying is that thus far this one is likely to fail too, except it won't close until 9 December, and so it's still theoretically possible it would pass? That's what it looks like to me, reading this page, and I just want to check to be sure I'm understanding it right.
A couple of comments.
  • I think it's true that it's hard to make new policy on enWP these days, because in the absence of near-consensus we default to the status quo. That said, I think I read Jimmy somewhere saying that policy on enWP has historically derived out of practice -- in other words, policy has successfully been enshrined after the fact, following actual working practice, rather than the reverse. I wonder if that points to a way forward here. Going back to the people I mentioned upthread (the article subjects, etc.) in actual practice their edits have been frowned upon. The trouble is that "frowned upon" isn't very useful for them: they want more clarity than that offers. A clear policy would help them.
  • I hear you Dank on enWP generally wanting to focus on edits rather than editors when it comes to policy. I get that and I sympathize with it, particularly given that increasing participation on the projects is the WMF's top goal. OTOH, this policy I think primarily addresses people or institutions in the context of an inherent conflict of interest. It would not be saying someone employed by e.g. the Smithsonian cannot edit Wikipedia, but it would be saying she could not edit the article about the Smithsonian, or about her aunt who happens to be a famous talk show host. That seems reasonable to me.
  • On Wikipedia policies are determined by the people who bother to show up to discuss them, and I worry we don't have a large-enough group engaging in these discussions. I worry about that particularly on this topic, because it means we risk people with a vested interest (paid editors, and people who might be accused of paid editing) having an outsized effect on what happens. (I'm not saying that's actually happening: it just strikes me as possible.) Not sure what could or should be done about that.
  • Last comment. Please don't see a policy as something the WMF "needs" from editors: we don't. That said, I certainly think, both as ED and as an editor myself, that a policy would be a good idea -- for the projects, and for (as I said above) good-faith article subjects and PR firms and people who would like to edit articles about their employers. Clarity is good, especially for non-Wikipedians who can't be expected to have a sophisticated understanding of how WP works :-)
Thanks Sue Gardner (talk) 06:05, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Sue, I happen to agree with the points you raise above, but I am in the minority. To be frank, pretty much all your points have been made previously and have been rejected by the majority of editors in discussions. If you peruse the RfC discussion toward the top of the page, and the discussions on Jimbo's page over the past few months, where paid editing comes up regularly[14], as well as the several other paid editing proposals that have been discussed and rejected in recent weeks, you will find the same outcome. I also understand that restrictions on paid editing have been periodically discussed for many years and have always been soundly rejected. Thus the chances of this proposal being adopted are nil.
I think that it's a mistake to think that the opposition is confined to or dominated by paid editors. True, paid editing is not disclosed so we don't know for sure. Also true, on Jimbo's page one of the most vehement opponents (in a now-archived discussion) was an editor who had accepted money in the past to edit an article. But he was also an administrator and a respected one, and that's important to mention. The opposition to paid editing strictures has been dominated by administrators and experienced users who oppose this proposal and similar ones on principle. It's also a mistake to think that the lack of support for these proposals is caused by not enough people discussing it, as this and other paid editing proposals were advertised on every Wikipedian's watch list for weeks.
The point is often made by opponents of this and similar proposals that we're pretty much "done" with this issue and I tend to agree with them. I feel that the ball is in the WMF's court. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw that establishing a policy was futile, I had a lengthy section on the evils of paid editing on my user page. But today, if you go to my user page, you can see that that's gone, and it's reduced to a discussion of why paid editing is a reputational issue for the Foundation. My feeling is that people like myself should not get worked up into a tizzy, and waste a lot of time over a futile issue like this if you're not willing to do something about it by making appropriate changes in your Terms of Use to protect your brand name and franchise. Coretheapple (talk) 15:02, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
There is still hope that this proposal can be worked into a more acceptable form to a wider cross section of editors. WMF has already demonstrated that recourse to available legal measures will be made in the case of egregious efforts by large scale PR ventures that threaten to commercialize and undermine Wikipedia.
To that end, I've slightly revised the proposal to more fully address the objective of facilitating good faith contributions in the case of a potential COI.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 16:32, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)Frankly, this proposal is not that different from the first one except that it uses an even broader definition. I'm assuming this was an attempt to address some of the concerns that paid advocacy is not the only type of COI. Unfortunately it does that in a fairly ham-handed way that tries to treat all cases of COI exactly the same. So the cousin of a BLP subject is treated the same as someone engaged in a lawsuit against him. A company's janitors would be treated the same as their PR department.
But the biggest unresolved problem is that of enforcement. Any proposal that focuses on the editor rather than their edits is going to have this problem. WP:OUTING, which probably has really strong community support, says that digging up off-wiki info about an editor is bad. Since a paid advocate would have to be a moron to self-disclose when the policy effectively prevents them from doing anything (as this does), enforcement would have to rely heavily on assumptions, which leaves it open to abuse. The proposal here mentions CheckUser, but it's debatable whether confirming suspicions about this would even be allowed by the m:CheckUser policy. It would rely on questionable reasoning: The CU policy allows identifying information to be revealed when necessary to stop disruption, so if we create a policy saying paid editing is automatically considered disruptive, we can reveal personal information of paid editors. This isn't like sockpuppetry where it can be confirmed without revealing any information. If they're editing an article on a company, and CU says they're probably editing for pay, it's pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together to see that they're editing from that company's network. Which means we know their employer and probably their location.
I think the earlier proposals were right to try to separate actual paid advocacy from other types of COI editing. They just did a bad job of defining it. For more mundane types of COI (low-level non-PR employees, BLP subjects, minor stockholders), the current COI guideline is probably sufficient. A new policy needs to just focus on actual paid advocacy (ideally all advocacy, but that may not be practical) - people whose compensation or continued employment are actually contingent on editing Wikipedia. Not people who are being paid by a company and also happen to edit the article about it in their spare time, but people who are being paid by a company to edit their article. Previous proposals have treated these 2 groups exactly the same, which doesn't make any sense. It would be like gun control laws treating a hunting rifle the same as tank. One is probably mundane enough that most people can be left to self-regulate. The other obviously needs some oversight. Mr.Z-man 16:42, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
(ec) This particular page wasn't one of the COI discussions mentioned in the watchlist notice (see this diff), but those pages did point prominently to this page, and this page is currently advertised through RfC and WP:CENT. Otherwise, I basically agree with what Core just said until the last paragraph; I don't think it's a settled question that there's nothing Wikipedians could possibly agree on. Sue, your point is well-taken that we know exactly how the community responds in many cases, and it might be a good idea to write that down ... for instance, if someone winds up making millions of dollars operating a business that advertises that they'll "manage" how companies appear in Wikipedia, I don't think there's any mystery how Wikipedians are going to react to that. I haven't seen a discussion yet that was intended to figure out where everyone is willing to draw the line; all we know so far is that the seven recent proposals (including this one) haven't even been close to the levels of support traditionally needed for a new community-generated policy page. My personal belief is that, compared to past discussions on COI, the job here is simplified by the fact that the various supporters seem to be agreed that nothing less than a new policy will do ... we know what policy looks like, it has to be responsive to all points of view, and we've got a big pile of POVs reflected in the seven recent discussions. All that's needed is for someone here (not me, unless someone else offers to close) to get to work on asking a representative cross-section of the opposition where they personally would draw the lines, and see what we can get a strong consensus on. That could theoretically happen before the close date on this RfC. - Dank (push to talk) 16:54, 30 November 2013 (UTC) (P.S. Z-man and Ubikwit, what you're saying is probably helpful too, but I can't respond pro or con of course. Isaac, thanks for the note on my talk page ... I'm not backing off, I can help, I'm just saying that progress seems unlikely unless someone surveys opinions and pares the page down to something there's wide agreement on.) - Dank (push to talk) 17:28, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Dank, there's no question that the community has dealt with this issue in a fragmented manner. Still, I think that it's useful to examine what happened to Wikipedia:Paid editing policy proposal. This proposal would have actually permitted paid advocacy as long as it was disclosed. I and other editors who favored strictures on paid advocacy opposed this proposal, because it would have validated the status quo and permitted paid editing. Despite the fact that it would actually facilitate paid editing, it went down to defeat not because it was too weak, but because it was too strong, because it singled out a class of editors, those with COI, with a disclosure requirement. Not even that could be agreed to. So by all means let's try to reach consensus on a proposal; but let's not be under any illusions that what will emerge from such a discussion would in any way resemble what we have here. Given the feelings of the community, in all likelihood what I think we'd get (if anything; I think "no consensus" is more likely) would be a weaker version of Wikipedia:Paid editing policy proposal, with disclosure encouraged but not required. Again, if this is what the owner of the Wikipedia brand is willing to live with, I for one am not going to try to be more Catholic than the pope. It's really up to Sue and the WMF board. If they want a rule banning paid advocacy, they need to act at the Foundation. If they don't act, nothing will be done here. The community has already spoken loud and clear on this issue. Coretheapple (talk) 17:19, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
(ec) As for your hypothetical: There's no question that in any field there are going to be smart players and stupid ones. The smart ones will engage in paid advocacy while paying lip service to Wikipedia policies, and indeed will cynically use Wikipedia policies on behalf of their clients, to spin articles for themselves and against their competitors, and will use those same policies against editors who have problems with the activities of paid advocates. That's been the case in the past, and in fact it is the kind of thing that got me interested in this subject matter. Coretheapple (talk) 17:34, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────@Mr.Z-man It seems to me that almost all of your arguments are strawmen. First and forememost, this policy is aimed at prevention of the egregious COI editing and facilitating good-faith editing in the case of a potential COI. Accordingly, enforcement is not a prominent issue because failure to comply is already a violation--as you indirectly point out, in a somewhat suspect manner, by stating that "a paid advocate would have to be a moron to self-disclose when the policy effectively prevents them from doing anything (as this does)". The policy doesn't "prevent them from doing anything"; it requires them to follow certain specified procedures to contribute to corresponding (i.e., COI) articles. Do you have a problem with that?
The point of this policy is to implement the content of the guideline plus reinforcements based on recent developments in a succinct manner that prevents people from attempting to game the system by claiming that Wikipedia only has a guideline for COI, not a policy.
WMF can file lawsuits, but that is an excessive and costly measure against individuals. This policy--which needs work--would effectively solve more than one problem at once.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 17:59, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

I agree with you that this policy would be helpful, and that it would aid greatly the many legitimate organizations that want to do the right thing, as Sue has pointed out. However, I think it's a question of whether the subject has already been adequately discussed, and the community has already made a decision to not enact a policy. A search of Jimbo's talk page finds 145 hits under the search term "paid editing"[15]. Clearly this has been before the community amply. And then we have the policy proposals that have failed. Coretheapple (talk) 18:24, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Coretheapple, a little ways up, you referred to an earlier proposal that "would have actually permitted paid advocacy as long as it was disclosed. I and other editors who favored strictures on paid advocacy opposed this proposal, because it would have validated the status quo and permitted paid editing. Despite the fact that it would actually facilitate paid editing, it went down to defeat not because it was too weak, but because it was too strong...". I observed that discussion, and it seemed to me that it went down to defeat because of a combination of opposition due to being "too strong" and opposition due to being "too weak". It seems to me that one of the impediments to success has been the insistence by the various proposals' strongest supporters on either something that is sufficiently "strong" or nothing at all. (See our discussion above, where you pointed to where an edit you made, in response to my concerns about BLP got reverted.) It's a given that there is going to be community opposition from users who are simply opposed to any policy along these lines, but I'm not convinced that there is actually a consensus that the status quo is good enough and that no improvement should be implemented. Please let me suggest that a partial solution may be able to get consensus, if the strongest supporters will "settle" for it, and it may be better than nothing at all. --Tryptofish (talk) 19:56, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Oh dear Lord no, I beg to differ that the Paid Advocacy proposal was defeated by a combination of "too weak" and "too strong" !votes. Of the 38 opposes[16], I count only six thought it was too weak (me, Robert RE Harvey, Figureofnine, Mongo, Slimvirgin and Cush). Overwhelmingly, the sentiment was that the rule was either too much, unecessary, duplicative or unenforceable. Coretheapple (talk) 20:11, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Thanks, point taken. But I still think there's a case that 32 opposes would have been better than 38. Let's take it a step further. That proposal ran into opposition (from some of those 32) on the grounds of requiring disclosure. I can imagine proposals that would still center on disclosure, but with some flexibility, some limiting of the requirements. Such proposals would pick up quite a few supports from amongst those 32 remaining opposes; even the closing statement pointed that fact out, in effect. The question then becomes how much opposition would come from the 6, and from previous supporters who sympathize with those 6. I'm suggesting that such opposition is a matter of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good (or good enough). --Tryptofish (talk) 20:40, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
No, I think it's more a question of the meaningless being the enemy of the not meaningless. But as I said, it's really up to the Foundation to articulate what it wants and what is acceptable to it. I think that editors here have better things to do than to argue for a restriction on paid editing that the Foundation, as the party most affected, does not feel is necessary. Coretheapple (talk) 20:52, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Core, for what it is worth, I have made suggestions similar to Tryptofish's to you... Jytdog (talk) 22:26, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
And it's a pity, really, because no consensus to do anything seems to me to be the epitome of meaninglessness. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:48, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
(ec) What I'm suggesting is that the Foundation has a responsibility here, to itself, its mission and to Wikipedia readers, one that cannot be delegated to volunteer editors who have collectively demonstrated for many years no interest in effectuating a sound conflict of interest policy. Coretheapple (talk) 22:54, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
but see this is part of what you do, with this kind of extreme black and white view and framing of the issue. there has never been "no interest"; that's not accurate or helpful.... Jytdog (talk) 23:01, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Of course it's accurate and to an extent it is black and white. We don't have a conflict of interest policy, and while there are individual editors who are interested, they are in the minority, and collectively Wikipedia editors do not want one. The proof is that this is not a new issue but an old one, and one has never been adopted. I hate to burst your bubble, and I'm not going to get into another "yes I'm right and no you're wrong" argument of the kind you frequently commence, but that's a fact. Coretheapple (talk) 23:17, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Ubikwit "this policy is aimed at prevention of the egregious COI editing and facilitating good-faith editing in the case of a potential COI" Until a couple hours ago, it never even mentioned that. And the rest of the proposal still basically says otherwise. It continues to list family members in the same "list of COIs" as lobbyists and PR firms. It does not provide any avenue to facilitate good faith editing. It basically says that any user with a COI, as broadly defined by that list, cannot make any edits other than vandalism reversion and the removal of libel (and then still requires them to state their COI if they even dare to do that). And then says that "intentional violations of this policy may result in an editor being blocked" again with no distinction between good faith editors and PR firms. Anything that automatically treats BLP subjects with equal suspicion to PR firms is not assuming good faith.
"failure to comply is already a violation" - Right, but, the only way to prove that they're not complying (if they don't disclose their COI) is to prove that they have a COI. And if they don't disclose the information, it is effectively impossible to do that within the confines of WP:OUTING.
"in a somewhat suspect manner" - Suspect? What is that supposed to imply?
"Do you have a problem with that" - Obviously. If we want people to disclose their COI, there needs to be some benefit to them to do so. If we have one policy that says "COI editing is basically forbidden" and another policy that says "It's against the rules to dig up off-wiki info about another user (such as where they work or who they are)," then it's kind of in their best interest to keep their COI a secret, since then they can continue editing the article as long as they follow NPOV/RS, etc. But once they've declared their COI, then even if they can demonstrate that they can follow content policies they're still prohibited from directly editing the article.
I have dealt directly with BLP subjects and companies on OTRS. These are usually not "high-profile" people or Fortune 500 companies. They're band members and small businesses that don't have publicists or PR firms working for them and need to deal with problems themselves. Given the sheer volume of complaints, OTRS members don't have time to do all the research and editing themselves for every complaint. Unless it's an easy fix like removing unsourced libel or they say exactly what's wrong and provide a source for the correct information, we usually give them advice on how to work within the community. Our current general advice (it comes up often enough that we have a standard response template) is based on the current COI guideline and states that it we "encourage" them to use the talk page rather than edit directly. I, personally, would be rather uncomfortable telling a BLP subject that it is required, and that doing anything else would get them blocked. Many people try to deal with the issue on their own before contacting us. It's an often-confusing experience with a steep learning curve. If they get blocked, they're just going to be even more confused and infuriated when they contact us and it will be far more difficult for OTRS volunteers to deal with the situation. An overly strict and/or overly broad COI policy has the unintended potential to create an environment that is hostile toward article subjects getting involved in editing. Mr.Z-man 22:03, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
Mr Zman, you seem to be ignoring the language in the Administration section, that lays out a procedure for dealing with concerns about COI editing and makes it clear that going outside that procedure opens the concerned editor to sanctions. Your concern about witch-hunting is shared and has been addressed. Jytdog (talk) 22:26, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
The "Administration" section is rather open-ended and somewhat contradictory with regards to the rest of the proposal. "Take the user to WP:COIN" Then what? Without any evidence, it's unprovable. And unless the user chooses to disclose, there can never be any hard evidence, which again, means under this proposal it's generally never in a user's best interest to disclose their COI. Currently, bringing a dispute to COIN requires that the user in question be doing something else wrong, generally POV editing, or for cases where the user already has disclosed their potential conflicts and it just needs to be decided whether it's an actual COI or not for a specific situation. It's not really designed for investigations. The proposal says (in the administration section) to focus on the edits, not the editor, but it also says (in the intro) users can be blocked for violating the policy, even if (presumably) there is nothing actually wrong with the contents of their edits.
Though really, this being used as a weapon against article subjects is just a corollary of the core problem with this proposal: That it appears to elevate COI above content policies, allowing users to be blocked for making edits that are fully compliant with content policies, just because they have a COI.
And while a user who harasses or outs an established user, who knows how to file a complaint in the right places might get sanctioned, when it comes to a dispute between an established user and a new user, we all know who usually wins. I don't think the current wording is sufficient to be anything more than lip service. Most of these types of disputes are not going to be on highly-watched pages. They're going to be on low-traffic talk pages between the article's subject and 1-2 established users. While most policies can be abused, one that says users can be blocked for making edits that are otherwise unobjectionable and non-disruptive, so I think it is especially open to abuse. Mr.Z-man 00:40, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
OK, the policy needs some work, but the goal of facilitating good faith edits has not been adequately articulated, and the policy is not intended to promote some sort of vigilantism or witch hunt. Most people that aren't paid advocacy editors would likely simply follow the procedural guidelines set out in the policy. You are probably correct that paid advocacy editors and the like aiming to circumvent policy are still going to attempt to do that, but that is not a reason not to implement a policy that explicitly prohibits such activity on Wikipedia.
I don't know enough about the outing policy and don't have time to put into that, so hopefully you and others can further suggest ways to address those concerns. --Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 03:14, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
If there's no significant progress in finding which elements have the kind of broad support necessary for a new policy page in the next couple of days, then I'll suggest we get to work on a collaborative closing statement, and hopefully finish by the 9th. It seems to me there are some noncontroversial and potentially effective things we can offer the supporters so that they don't walk away empty-handed. - Dank (push to talk) 15:46, 1 December 2013 (UTC)
I think there are a few key aspects that a policy can address:
  • How to identify if you have a potential or apparent conflict of interest
  • How to manage your potential conflict of interest, so it doesn't become an actual conflict of interest
  • How to manage your apparent conflict of interest, so it isn't unduly disruptive to either the editing community or Wikipedia readers
  • What should be done to manage actual conflicts of interest that arise
I think there is a reasonable amount of common ground on the first three aspects, as evidenced by the degree of support enjoyed by Wikipedia's guidelines on conflicts of interest (WP:COI), whose first four sections deal with these points. Thus I think it would be possible to pursue further discussions on developing these portions of WP:COI as desired, with the view of making them into a policy. isaacl (talk) 00:24, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
Thanks, Sue. Also, thanks Isaacl, Dank, etc. for thoughtfully responding to the discussion here and elsewhere. I'm sure there is a lot of common ground from which something can be constructed. My original idea (at the top) was indeed to implement a minimal policy. By minimal, I meant: what most of us can accept. I believe all issues are intelligible. That is, if a proposal rules out too much, then it can be rewritten to avoid such negative consequences. If we can identify problems with proposals with our minds, then our minds are also capable of rewriting such proposals in order to make them avoid the problems. This aspect of intelligibility just seems like a truism to me. E.g., if almost all of us agree that editing articles when one has certain serious conflicts of interest should be discouraged and prevented by policy, then we can write such a policy which captures just enough and not too much.
From my side: Sue Gardner's point about enforceability is important. An argument that a policy is unenforceable does not seem to be an objection at all. This proposal (as almost all are) is independent: It does not prevent any other policies from being enacted. If the policy is unenforceable, then the worst that can be said about it on that point is that it has no positive effect, not that it has a negative effect. But Sue rightly identified a positive effect: Most users are good-faith editors and will follow policy to the best of their ability, even if they could get away with not following it. And editors who may otherwise want to flout community standards would have no excuse with which to justify their actions in the public eye. Editors have no policy which can be cited to inform users who may otherwise take part in paid advocacy. This is not a merely academic point. The person who ran WikiExperts, a paid advovacy firm, explained his not following the WP:COI guideline explicitly: It is just a guideline, and those are just suggestions that do not have to be followed, because they are not policy [17]. This is also the excuse that paid advocacy editor Michael Wood of Legalmorning uses [18]. And the infamous Wiki-PR says the same thing [19]. If there was a policy, then this excuse cannot be made. They need such excuses in order to legitimize and sell their services to clients, the vast majority of which want nothing to do with black hat practices that take advantage and infringe the policies of a charitable organization.
More from my side, back to minimal: Compromise is important for the creation of consensus. The position that no limits at all should be placed on serious conflicts of interest editing (because we should look at the "edits, not the editors") is not a compromise position, it is an extreme. Here's an example of a compromise position which I believe everyone on my side would support: "Do not edit an article if you are paid by the subject of the article to do so, unless you are correcting vandalism or a BLP violation." This captures only a selection of paid advocacy edits. Yet it seems that many on the other side do not even accept this most minimal limit, which I take to mean that they accept no compromise whatsoever, but maybe I'm wrong. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 01:54, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)@ Ate – Here’s why such language when used in policy is problematic and why many not “on my [your] side” object to it: Here's an example of a compromise position which I believe everyone on my side would support: "Do not edit an article if you are paid by the subject of the article to do so, unless you are correcting vandalism or a BLP violation." “If you are paid” – this is very vague language, what does it mean? People with jobs get paid. Does the payment have to come directly from the subject of the article? or a better question would be: How far removed from the payer does the payee have to be to not “be paid?” “The subject of the article”. The only subject of articles that can “pay” someone are living humans and organizations, yet the subject of an article can be all types of things—organizations, living or dead humans, events, biological organisms, diseases, products, et al. etc. etc., none of which except organizations or living humans can pay anyone. Who is “paid” and what is a relevant “subject of the article” is still very vague and open to COI inquisitions under such language. --Mike Cline (talk) 02:18, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
Take it under the most minimal interpretations: Paid by the subject of the article means paid directly by the subject, receiving money or kind. Yes, indeed, the actual subject of the article. The subject of the article Plato is Plato. The subject of the article Stephen Hawking is Stephen Hawking. The subject of the article British Petroleum is BP. If the subject of the article cannot pay the editor, then obviously such a minimal rule would not apply, because no editor would be paid by such a subject. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 02:42, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
So under the above interpretation, it would be perfectly legitimate for BP to pay a Wikipedia editor to edit the article Deepwater Horizon explosion, since this is an event, (the subject of the article in this case would not be the payer--BP). Am I correct in this logic? --Mike Cline (talk) 03:10, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
It wouldn't say that anything is perfectly legitimate, because it says nothing about legitimacy at all. The rule would simply not apply to that case, because it doesn't affirm the antecedent. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 03:25, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
I suspect the COI police would take an extremely liberal interpretation of the language and absent any clear, unequivocal agreement and interpretation of what "paid" and "subject of the article" really means, it is just a license to attack any perceived COI on the basis of a vague policy. My two cents. --Mike Cline (talk) 03:39, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
An object-oriented programming approach would seem to be capable of putting the "subject" in focus. The Deepwater Horizon explosion, for example, would be considered a subclass categorized under Business activities of BP (incidents), for example.
It is obvious that BP has an interest in portraying its activities in a positive light for business purposes, so the presence of a COI is clear. It doesn't seem that there are many legitimate semantics problems that would prevent the implementation of a minimally worded policy. The objective of the policy is preventative, so leaving the scope for interpretation broad is desirable, as most of these questions are easy to flesh out in terms of the presence or absence of a COI.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 15:56, 2 December 2013 (UTC)
As I pointed out in the section above, using "subclasses" does not solve the problem. There's still potential issues with companies that are "affiliated with" but not actually operated or owned by another company and companies along a supply chain. Then there's the issue with government agencies. Would an employee of the US Department of Agriculture have a COI on the US State Department article? They are, for most intents and purposes separate organizations, but the money for both comes from the same place. Would a doctor have a COI on articles about the insurance companies his practice accepts? He is being paid pretty directly by them, but he doesn't really have any sort of stake in the companies' future. In general, I agree with Mike that leaving it vague leaves it open to abuse. And, it still has the same problem that I've mentioned several times about treating all employees the same. A contracted PR firm, marketing department, or partner/owner has their continued employment and/or compensation directly based on improving the image of the company. They may even be specifically hired to use Wikipedia to do that. Contrast this to a "typical" employee like a secretary or a bookkeeper, who, unless the company goes out of business, probably makes the same amount of money regardless of how well the company does. Obviously the former has a much bigger COI than the latter, but most of the proposed policies would treat them exactly the same. Less than a third of Americans even like their jobs, so why assume that everyone is going to want to promote the company they work for? Mr.Z-man 15:07, 3 December 2013 (UTC)
You're right about the supply chain etc. In a situation like Deepwater Horizon explosion#Disposition of financial obligation, each company may have a reason to brief against the other, and their competitors can gain commercial advantage from discrediting them. - Pointillist (talk) 16:57, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I don't want to open a can of worms here, and perhaps the subject has already been raised (and I apologize if that is so), but you all do realize that BP does have a PR person weighing in on but not directly editing, this and other BP-related articles? This is a situation that is permitted by current rules as well as by this policy proposal, and is troubling enough that it has received widespread negative publicity. Indeed, that is how I became involved in this paid-editing maelstrom in the first place. Coretheapple (talk) 17:51, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

@Coretheapple, I'd be interested to hear your comments on Could professional editing be made safe?, above. - Pointillist (talk) 22:41, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

If one accepts the premise that one of two primary objectives of a COI policy would be to preserve the editing environment of Wikipedia by preventing COI editing (i.e., its tendentious form), then a minimal approach based on the concept of negative liberty would seem to be the only feasible option, and would offer the advantage that it becomes unnecessary to define every potential case of COI because that would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis at AN/I or the like when a problem arises, with recourse to the more detailed guideline.

What the policy would produce is a enforcement measure, which the guideline doesn't. Whether that will streamline the process of dealing with COI editing is open to question. The reason being is that the manner in which to deal with COI editors intent on violating the policy by concealing their COI and directly editing articles probably doesn't change much. In that respect, the policy would primarily serve to help good-faith editors avoid COI problems. If it were to hel prevent the launching of Arbcom cases--such as the BP related case--then the advantages of having a policy are manifold.

Regarding the BP case discussed above, one would presume it obvious that all of the companies in the "supply chain" would have a COI in one form or another (e.g., items 4 and 5 on the "Behavior of editors with a COI" list), and should therefore not be editing related articles directly. Accordingly, basing the wording of the policy provisions on a the basis of a "freedom from...(tendentious COI editing)" concept facilitates the analysis of such COI by not constraining the scope. The present wording seems to facilitate the above even considering the use of the term "subject", though it will likely be improved upon in due time. Maybe introducing the concept of "agency" linked with "subject" would improve the text.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 00:58, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Sue, can you clarify for everyone that you are commenting here as an ordinary member of the community - your opening comments that "As ED of the WMF ..." might make it appear that you are speaking on behalf of the Foundation. If the Foundation do wish to enter into a dialogue with the community on the matter of COI editing, that needs to be made explicit and much more public, and a new discussion started with appropriate community notification. SilkTork ✔Tea time 16:30, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

Yes, that's a good idea. I was under the impression she was stopping by as WMF director, and she seemed to be saying that. Coretheapple (talk) 19:16, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
Hi SilkTork and Coretheapple. Yes, I am commenting here as ED, and what I've said here is informed by my experiences both as ED and as an editor. That said, I'm just speaking informally here -- if I were going to announce a decision or a WMF action or anything like that, I wouldn't do that casually like this. Thanks Sue Gardner (talk) 19:41, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
Sure, I think you were pretty clear on that. Hope you don't feel you were beaten up too much in the process; I'm sure that everyone was glad to hear from you. Coretheapple (talk) 21:38, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
Sue, I thank you, and am moved to put more cards on the table than I usually do. We met and spoke occasionally when I was a volunteer at the WMF offices in San Francisco a few years ago working with Cary Bass, who interviewed me for the post with Mike Godwin. I truly enjoyed my year as a part-time intern at the WMF, and only the fact of my move across the country prevented my continuing.
I say this not for my self-aggrandizement but to establish that I have a perspective few can claim: someone who has nearly 58,000 edits as a Master Editor, as well as spending nearly a year deep in the confidence of the WMF with access to IRC and OTRS. I think I can honestly say I have a fairly good overview of the totality of the project.
It is my strongly-held belief that the greatest threat to Wikipedia is paid COI editing. There is a growing and arguably justified perception that the encyclopedic values here are under attack by moneyed interests of various types. Coretheapple, who has spent much more time on this than I have, is completely in the right of it. The community cannot make this decision - we do not own the website. The WMF is the only body that can enact comprehensive policy, with strict enforcement provisions. Allow me to add that this policy should begin at home: the WMF itself should not accept donations over a cap of, say, 1,000 dollars. Money, power, and information access are intertwined in corrupting tangle, and the WMF needs to cut the Gordian Knot in the coming year. All other issues are secondary here, and indeed mostly radiate from this one. Thanks for your obvious concern and great work over the years. Jusdafax 22:02, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
Hi Coretheapple and Jusdafax. No, I don't feel beaten up at all. I've been reading this discussion with a lot of interest -- I'm super-busy lately but have been paying attention here. And I totally hear you, Jusdafax, and I can't say that I disagree. I don't know if paid COI editing is the single biggest threat to Wikipedia, but I do think it's a very serious threat. I say that because I was a journalist for 17 years, and so I know that for an information resource, credibility is everything. When Wikipedia first launched people were dismissive of it, and at the time that was reasonable -- it was new and unproven, and in the early days obviously not very comprehensive or high-quality. In my six years running the WMF though, I've seen people's trust in us grow as Wikipedia began to prove itself as a responsible source of unbiased information. We are not always correct, and people do sometimes see vandalism or errors, but they have an enormous amount of love for Wikipedia anyway, and that's because they trust it to always be trying to tell them the truth, untainted by whitewashing and commercial interests. Everywhere else in their lives, people are trying to spin and propagandize and sell to them, and in its neutrality, Wikipedia is really unusual and refreshing.
We *do* risk losing that public trust, IMO. When people see headlines like Wikipedia's Paid edits: How To Make Money, the WikiWay, Is the PR Industry Buying Influence Over Wikipedia? and Wikipedia being spun by spin doctors -- yeah, I worry this will damage people's confidence in us, perhaps irreparably.
So I thank you for sharing your views here. I believe it's the community's responsibility to make editorial policy, and that is what I would like to see happen. But at the same time, I recognize that the community is having difficulty here, and I realize (or at least I believe) that it'd be near-impossible for the community to come together and develop a cross-language policy, which may actually be what's needed. I am glad to see SJ here too: I think it's important for the WMF Board of Trustees to be paying attention to this, as well as me. Thanks Sue Gardner (talk) 03:54, 6 December 2013 (UTC)
I'm no expert on Wikipedia, just a relative newcomer, but here's an analogy that occurred to me. I was watching on DVR a History Channel special about the Kennedy assassination from a few days ago. Seems that a ridiculous percentage of the American people believe that a conspiracy claimed Kennedy's life. Now, imagine if you crowdsourced the Kennedy assassination, to find out who did it. You'd get everything but the truth, which people don't like, but which is that Oswald did it. You examine the evidence, and that's where it brings you. I think there's a rough analogy here with the effort to formulate a policy on paid editing. If you crowdsource it to the Wikipedia "general public," you'll find that opinion is all over the lot, that only a minority favor banning paid advocacy editing, just as only a small minority of the American people believe that Kennedy was killed by Oswald. The general median of the positions expressed, the "consensus," is that "we don't need a policy." That's the crowd's answer, but you have to decide if that is the right answer. Similarly, it's been shown in the past that when you poll the general public you find that people aren't so hot on the Bill of Rights. Some things just can't be crowdsourced - like your good name. Coretheapple (talk) 04:25, 6 December 2013 (UTC)

Distinguishing two issues[edit]

I like all of Mr.Z-man's comments on this page, and wanted to call out / amplify two of them:

A policy is needed for narrowly-defined paid advocacy
A new policy needs to just focus on actual paid advocacy ... people whose compensation or continued employment are actually contingent on editing Wikipedia. Not people who are being paid by a company and also happen to edit the article about it in their spare time, but people who are being paid by a company to edit their article [which] obviously needs some oversight.

A good proposal in this area can admit up front that enforcement is difficult: this is for paid advocates who want to do the right thing (of which there are many examples). Puppeteers will be covered by existing no-puppet policies. This would only cover how people whose compensation or employment are contingent on contributing to Wikipedia for their own company or for a client - and want to follow policy - should contribute.

On the supply side, such a policy would cover any groups that are found to be advertising their WP-editing services. On the demand side, it would cover any groups that are paying or advertising for contractors to update Wikipedia's content about themselves. When we do identify such contractors or employers, we should be able to point them to a clear policy and they should know whether they are in compliance or not.

I think it's possible to reach some sensible simple policy here mainly because some of the supporters of the idea are active paid editors and CREWE members, and because a majority of the opposition to recent proposals (such as Z-man's) have been for reasons related to gray areas of COI and policy creep.

Any COI-related policy should be a subset of the current COI guideline

A COI policy should briefly describe what is already accepted practice. It shouldn't try to alter the COI guideline. The guideline should by definition be stronger - while following the policy is almost always appropriate, guidelines may at times be ignored. – SJ + 01:39, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

I like the supply/demand sides distinction, because it is important that companies considering hiring PR firms on their behalf understand the parameters.
I think there are problems with two other points, though.
First, if you constrain the scope strictly to "paid advocacy editing", then you have to define all of the forms thereof. As I've mentioned above, that is generally cumbersome and ineffectual, which is one appealing aspect of using the "freedom from..." approach to define policy. It would also appear that the degree of efficacy with respect to prevention would be adversely affected by adopting such an approach. Is there any reason why requiring a company employee 'editing their company's article in their free time' to do so indirectly would be problematic?
Second, since policy per se is a superordinate category to guideline, the subset classification is inoperative. If, through working on the policy, aspects of best practice are elucidated in a manner not reflected in the guideline at present, it's easy to adjust the guideline. I don't think that the issue has been raised that the policy under development is overstepping the accepted bounds of current common practice. It is trying to redefine them in manner that facilitates their promulgation as policy. --Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 16:36, 6 December 2013 (UTC)
I think that's a good idea. However, it needs to be broad enough to cover corporate employees who are dispatched to Wikipedia for the purpose of editing their articles or creating articles. But I think the the general idea of zeroing in on a particular type of abuse is very worthwhile. Also I was not aware that SJ is on the WMF board. Thanks for coming here and participating. Coretheapple (talk) 16:44, 6 December 2013 (UTC)
I could be mistaken, but wasn't this idea of targeting paid advocacy editing only already run through the mill once with the failed "No Paid Advocacy" RfC? Since you seem to shifted from a position the either WMF promulgates a policy or Wikipedia is doomed to supporting a community generated policy, why not try to contribute something to the text of the proposed policy.
Part of the motivation for this minimal COI:limit" proposal was undertaken in an effort to overcome the problems with the other RfCs. The multiple discussions have been too much for me--and others, no doubt--to follow in detail, but we have to avoid going around in circles with this.
I was in favor of the "No Paid Advocacy" proposal, and would obviously support another attempt if this failed, but it would have to represent progress with respect to the specification of the provisions of the policy. Seeing more effort being put into actual text of provisions corresponding to any of the above-described suggestions might help ground the discussion.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 23:58, 6 December 2013 (UTC)
That's right. Such a proposal was rejected by the community. I don't see the harm of another attempt. That way WMF people can participate if they wish, or at least observe the group dynamics, and determine if it is satisfied with what is done or not done here and decide whether to proceed further. Coretheapple (talk) 02:01, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
There is one aspect being overlooked here, and that is the desirability of having a policy that facilitates good-faith contributions by editors with a potential COI, as expressed by Ms. Gardner in her WMF capacity.
As a contrast class, I've just added (to the bottom of the current text) a contracted version of the (copy edited) text limiting the scope to Paid advocacy editing. --Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 08:28, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
The problem with the "No paid advocacy proposal" was that it used such a vague, broad definition ("close financial relationship") that it could be construed to apply to almost any employee of a company and family members of BLPs. That, and it had the issue of focusing on the editor rather than the edits by prohibiting a class of editors from editing articles directly without regard to their ability to follow content policies. Mr.Z-man 14:55, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't recall the wording of that proposal and don't have the time to check it, but I believe that the wording of this one, now that I've copy edited it some more, is quite tight and approaching viability with respect to adopting the broader scope that includes the dual provisions for facilitating good-faith COI editing and preventing pernicious paid advocacy editing.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 15:39, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
The RfC at the top of the page does not seem to favor this wording, however. I'm not sure what's to be done about that. The closer (very wisely, I think) decided to keep it open for a while longer. But overall, reading all the comments, one doesn't come away with a feeling that this approach has a consensus. Coretheapple (talk) 16:35, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Well, you're right about that, but the expanded definition was originally added by DavidinNJ, I believe, and he restored it after I once reverted the addition (on November 17). That was quite some time ago, and before Sue initiated this section. I suggest you review the evolution of the text under discussion as well as the evolution of the discussion. Since you contributed some text after that series of edits, what approach, exactly, is it that you would be interested in seeing passed. I'm sort of getting tired of the abstractions here by people that are beginning to sound more like pundits than editors.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 17:31, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

Questionnaire[edit]

I can't tell where people stand on various questions that have been raised about COI, here and on other pages, present and past. How about if I post a questionnaire, and anyone can change the points or agree or disagree with any points? - Dank (push to talk) 17:49, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

I think that's a good idea, although the RfC at the top of this page does provide a general survey of people's views. Coretheapple (talk) 17:53, 3 December 2013 (UTC)
That's true, but many potentially useful points have been made at one point or another that have been addressed by few or none of the voters, at least so far. There's a chance that we may have made real progress here, but without more data, all I can do is guess. - Dank (push to talk) 18:03, 3 December 2013 (UTC)
True (though I wouldn't hold my breath about real progress). Coretheapple (talk) 19:18, 3 December 2013 (UTC)
Followup: my understanding of my job here is to say something when we seem stalled or when a deadline is about to run. We're certainly not stalled today, so I won't post my ideas for a questionnaire, but if any of you have questions that you think would clarify where everyone stands, go for it. I'm not going to shut things down on the 9th if we're in the middle of anything. (I can't speak for any other potential closers, though I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any, it's hard to get closers for COI RfCs.) - Dank (push to talk) 19:26, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
I guess I would ask whether there is sentiment for beefing up notability requirements for companies and organizations, as much paid advocacy centers in that area, and concerns companies and organizations of marginal notability under current rules. Someone suggested that once in one of the other discussions but it hasn't come up here. Coretheapple (talk) 20:50, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I think a questionnaire is a great idea to parse out points of agreement and points of disagreement, super clearly. Great idea.Jytdog (talk) 15:53, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

I agree, a questionnaire is the best way forward. With all of the different proposals and comments it would be good to find areas of agreement and possibilities for consensus. Adding to the confusion is this failed proposal and all of the changes that were made after most people had already commented. First Light (talk) 22:58, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
Okay, at some point we need a questionnaire. The 30 days for this RfC will run tomorrow, so unless there are objections, I'll close the discussion tomorrow and say the obvious: that we don't have the levels of support in this RfC, or in the previous six simultaneous conflict-of-interest votes, that would be needed for a new policy page along any of the lines discussed here. But I understand that this is not an acceptable result for the supporters, that "no change" may not be good enough to deal with threats like this one ... and they may be right about that. So I think the next step is to do some research on how big the threat is, and survey opinion on acceptable countermeasures. I'll ask Wikipedians I know, and I'd be happy to get any input along these lines. I'll report anything significant back on this page. - Dank (push to talk) 01:51, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
Thanks very much. I agree that is the most productive way forward and appreciate your not only laying the plans but offering to execute them. Jytdog (talk) 02:23, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that's a good idea. Perhaps te Questionnaire would best be posted on the WP:COI Talk page in order to seek wider input there before deciding on the next (if any) step.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 05:25, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
  • Dank, where would you like to accept suggestions for your questionnaire? Here or on your talk page? Coretheapple (talk) 19:49, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
Here is good. - Dank (push to talk) 20:01, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
OK, a couple of areas come to mind that haven't been previously discussed very much. Perhaps you could ask about: 1) Tightening the standards of notability for corporations, as that is a center of much of the COI and paid editing that we see; 2) Expressly prohibiting cash payments on the Reward Board; there's a proposal to that effect on the talk page of the reward board but it hasn't received much input; 3) Creating a Code of Ethics that would have the force of policy and go beyond the Conflict of Interest guidelines, expressly prohibiting paid editing but also setting forth ethical standards for Wikipedia editors in general. The point of the COE would be that Wikipedia editing is a public service, and that selfish motives, such as advancing agendas and editing for pay, are contrary to Wikipedia's mission, reduce the project's credibility, create a burden on other editors, and hamper editor participation and retention. Coretheapple (talk) 20:36, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
I think, for the questionnaire to be effective in helping us find areas of consensus, questions should be narrow and yes/no, so we can get usable data. It might be useful to provide additional space for comments but we need data. Questions like this (very roughly stated): "1) Do you agree that many editors find editing by "paid advocates" (defined as editors who are paid to edit Wikipedia in order to advocate for a client) troubling, especially with regard to Wikipedia's reputation and integrity, and it would be useful to take community-wide action to address these concerns? Yes/no Comment: _______ 2) Do you agree that many editors fear action to address concerns over paid advocacy, especially with regard to our core principles of "content not contributor", our being "an encyclopedia that anyone can edit", and the potential for hounding by anti-corporate activists, and that these concerns must be addressed in any community-wide action under 1)? Yes/no Comment: _______ 3) Many editors perceive that POV-pushing editors cause as much if not more problems as "paid advocates" (there is no data to show whether this is true or false): in any case, should a community-wide effort to address conflict of interest in the form of paid advocacy also attempt to address conflict of interest in the form activism? Yes/no Comment: _______ 4) Would you accept any limits on what "paid advocates" can do on Wikipedia to content related to their client? Yes/no Comment: _______ 4a) Would you find acceptable, an obligation for such editors to disclose their "paid advocate" role? Yes/no Comment: _______ 4b) Would you find acceptable, an obligation for paid advocates to not edit articles directly, except to correct factual errors or violations of BLP? Yes/no Comment: _______ 4c) Would you find acceptable, barring "paid advocates" from any presence on WIkipedia? Yes/no Comment: _______ 4d) Would you accept a "registry" for "paid advocates", participation in which would allow paid advocates to freely edit? Yes/no Comment: _______ 5) If a COI policy were enacted, how should concerns about another editor's potential COI be addressed? i) polite note on their user page calling attention to COI policy; ii) COI notice board; iii) A new noticeboard or function? If so what _________ iv) what limits should be placed on investigations, if any? ________" I realize questions 1 and 2 are pretty leading :) but if we structure the questions right, the questions themselves can help people get consensus-oriented and they can help us identify islands of common ground. i wonder - is there any intra-wikipedia survey function, like what is used to conduct elections for Arbcom, that could be used to gather data? Jytdog (talk) 21:25, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
  • I would prefer simplicity of questions for the sake of clarity, especially the following main principles:
  1. Should editing by advocates paid by an individual or organization be prohibited?
  2. Should editing by advocates paid by an individual or organization be discouraged?
  3. Should editing by advocates paid by an individual or organization be allowed on talk pages only?
  4. Should we proactively engage with paid advocates by helping them to understand our core policies (WP:RS, WP:COI, WP:NPOV), and allow them to edit articles and/or talk pages?
  5. If paid advocacy were prohibited, how should it be investigated and enforced?

First Light (talk) 04:40, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

That's incredibly confusing, since all advocacy is already prohibited. "Proactively engage" is very leading - let's keep that nonsense out of a questionnaire. Smallbones(smalltalk) 04:59, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
I hear you. One of the key sticking points in this sprawling debate, is that many editors see no meaningful distinction between paid editors and paid advocates, and say exactly that -- that all advocacy is already prohibited. And this has led to a lot of the "oppose" votes. I think this is one of the hardest things to work through if we are to get a COI policy in place. I think defining "paid advocate" very clearly, is going to be crucial getting useful feedback - we need to write questions with that perspective in mind. It may be that we need to drop reference to "paid" altogether, if we are to get consensus. Jytdog (talk) 13:40, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
@smallbones, if all advocacy is prohibited, then any conflict of interest would be prohibited, since anyone with a COI is advocating on behalf of a POV. In practice that is not remotely true. (And smallbones, your attitude confirms many comments in these discussions regarding the "welcome" that advocates will and do receive if they are upfront about who they are. So much for new editor retention for those who do come out of the closet. Honestly, I would continue to encourage paid editors to stay in the closet until certain attitudes and editors change on Wikipedia). First Light (talk) 16:14, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

Lets get some strategic questions answered first[edit]

I think both Coretheapple’s and Jytdog’s proposed questions, while useful, are essentially merely collecting data to support tactical solutions. They don’t, in my mind, address the real strategic questions here. Which I think might be expressed this way: 1) Does the Wikipedia Community believe that the righteousness (NPOV, RS, NOR, etc.) of the contribution is more important than the status (COI, no COI, new or experienced) of the editor [contributor]? 2) Should a COI (however it is defined) situation involving new or inexperienced editors (a very routine occurrence where one assumes the editor has limited or no knowledge or understanding of Wikipedia’s COI guideline, let alone the myriad of confusing content and MOS guidelines.) license the community to deal with those editors in any way that might discourage them from becoming productive Wikipedia editors? The tactical questions that follow are almost limitless. The one question that I would characterize as semi-strategic/semi-tactical is this: What circumstances (stated as objectively as possible, leaving little room for subjectivity and situational interpretation by individual editors) constitutes an unwanted or undesirable nexus of COI and article editing?
  • In my mind Question 1 is the most strategic and fundamental question the community must answer. If the content contributed meets our content policy and guidelines, does it matter what the status of the contributor is?
  • Question 2 is almost as fundamental as #1. As a community, do we license ourselves to behave (thru process and discussion) in a manner that is inherently discouraging to new editors when those new editors have a COI/article nexus. (a situation that is routine and has a high probability of continuing as the norm for new editors)? Or do we recognize and understand the inevitable COI situations that new and inexperienced editors routinely find themselves in and make it our priority to encourage and mentor them to become productive members of the community instead of attacking their COI?
  • Question 3 is clearly the most difficult because it not only requires unequivocal clarity, but effective conciseness to achieve the desired effect—editors should be able to clearly understand what does and what does not constitute an undesirable nexus of individual COI and article editing from a Wikipedia community perspective.
  • Once these three questions are resolved, all the tactical solutions can be put on the table for discussion and resolution. Absent answers to these questions, proposing tactical solutions is pretty much a waste of time. Strategy without tactics is a slow route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat—Sun Tzu. I much prefer victory and the strategic approach. --Mike Cline (talk) 00:38, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Question 1 is ambiguous: Does it mean: 1a) "If the content contributed fully meets our content policy and guidelines, does it matter what the status of the contributor is?" Or does it mean: 1b) "If the content contributed partially meets our content policy and guidelines, does it matter what the status of the contributor is?" If it's 1a, then the answer is obviously no; but the question is also irrelevant and not fundamental at all. This is because no article fully meets the content policies and guidelines, because no article is perfect, and so the answer will simply never apply to any actual case. Question 1b is important, but the answer is obviously yes, because if content is created with a serious COI and lacks adequate coverage, neutrality or verifiability, then any such imperfection can reasonably be suspected as having been caused by the COI. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 01:14, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't think #1 is ambiguous at all. First the question deals with the quality of a specific contribution and the status of the editor contributing, not the perfection or imperfection of an article. If an editor creates a new article, then the entirety of that contribution would be the content under consideration. Since NPOV, RS, Notability and OR are in themselves somewhat subjective we should apply those subjectively interpreted policies in the same manner we do to routine contributions--something that's done everyday on WP. If an editor adds content to an existing article, we would evaluate the contributions exactly as we do today. If, in either case, the contributions don't live up to our subjectively interpreted content norms, then we have processes to correct. The causation of failure may indeed be a COI, but in my mind, the evaluation of the contribution, using our standard processes should proceed first, not a concerted effort to deal with the presumed causation prior to evaluating the content.--Mike Cline (talk) 01:35, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
So then, which one does it mean? 1a or 1b? Either is a fine interpretation of the question. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 01:42, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
I think Mike Cline's questions are good, and I don't think it's even helpful to split hairs. Edits are usually partially compliant, and the evolution of an article usually involves an evolution of compliance with the main policies. I think "generally compliant" would suffice. First Light (talk) 04:33, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Well if the answer is partially compliant or generally compliant, then my answer would be yes, it does matter—because a lack of compliance can reasonably be suspected as having been caused by the COI. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 05:13, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
I think we could find content in many wikipedia articles, and in all controversial ones, that is only partially compliant. I disagree that it's reasonable to suspect all of it to be caused by COI. First Light (talk) 05:18, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Agreed. I'm saying that when a COI does exist, a lack of compliance can reasonably be suspected as having been caused by the COI. Take for example the article on Dennis Lo. This article was, supposedly, written by a person paid by a business associate of Dennis Lo to do so. The article does not mention that Lo's process of fetal genetic screening has been criticized many times as a form of eugenics, even though there are many reliable sources documenting this. Is the reason for this lack of neutrality because of the COI? No one can know for sure. But can one reasonably suspect that it was caused by the COI? Absolutely; that's not an unreasonable judgement at all. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 05:31, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
In that handpicked case, perhaps. In all cases, no. I agree with Mike Cline below. First Light (talk) 16:06, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
@Ate – although an apparent COI (however it’s defined) may lead one to “suspect” the COI to be the cause of poor content, I think it is a huge mistake to presume that. The presumption that a COI has caused the poor contribution amounts to “guilty until proven innocent”, which goes against our WP:AGF policy. In my view, WP has four classes of editor:
  • The Righteous Editor: They understand the community norms, they follow them, and depending on their level of writing and research skills, they make quality contributions to the encyclopedia. A Righteous Editor may indeed have a COI/article nexus, but however they deal with that nexus, it is consistent with community norms.
  • The Clueless Editor: They don’t understand or even are aware of the community norms. They may be very subject matter knowledgeable and skilled in writing and research or they may not. Their contributions may fall short of our community expectations and norms, but the reason they fail short is that the contributor is essentially contributing blindly, without benefit of understanding the environment they are working in. The WP community, in my view, must assume good faith from the clueless editor until such time, as that good faith is proven wrong. Even if the Clueless editor has a COI/article nexus, they community should never presume the editor is a POV editor without first mentoring and counseling the editor appropriately. As a community, our job is to turn clueless editors into righteous editors as quickly as possible.
  • The POV Editor: They understand the community norms. They are aware of the policies and guidelines. They just choose to ignore and push their POV. They are easy to spot and I think the community does a reasonable job dealing with the POV editor. The POV editor may or may not have a COI/article nexus, but if they do, it is certainly evidence against them in any POV dispute. The POV editor, knowing the rules, tries to find clever ways to circumvent them, and hide their POV pushing from the community. We already have effective ways to deal with such circumventions. The difference between the POV editor and the Clueless editor is clear. The POV editor is consciously ignoring and circumventing the rules for whatever is motivating them, whereas the Clueless editor, when caught in a POV situation is only doing so because they don’t understand the norms.
  • The Vandal Editor: They may or may not know the rules, but their motivation is clear—disrupt, trash, vandalize, or other harass the Wikipedia community and its encyclopedia. We have ways to deal with that.
The real challenge here is to create COI related guidelines that don’t impede the process of turning the Clueless editor into a Righteous Editor. It is important that if COI is the root cause of POV editing, then our COI related guidelines are clear and useful in dealing with such motivations, but not at the expense of Clueless and otherwise good faith editors. --Mike Cline (talk) 12:16, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Mike, with all due respect, I think you're focusing far too narrowly, and in a totally speculative way, on the impact of COI on editors and not taking into consideration the reason why COI policy is required, which is the impact of COI on the content and on the reader. You're also losing sight of the impact of COI editors on editors who don't have a COI, who are demoralized and sometimes driven away from the project entirely by editors with both declared and undeclared COIs. I've personally seen it happen and that is why I am so passionate on this issue. If we are going to be drawn into a debate on how to rescue, counsel and rehabilitate editors who have ulterior motives, quite simply nothing will be done. It may indeed be one of the reasons that nothing has been done; that is, our priorities are misplaced. What's needed is to give editors, when they sign up, an explanation of best practices. I think that agreeing to a carefully drafted Code of Ethics, encompassing bans on both paid editing and unpaid POV pushing, and explaining the purpose of the project in case they're not familiar with it, would be a good way of helping everybody: the COI editor and the non-COI editor. Somebody once suggested this "sign up" requirement; I forget who unfortunately. Coretheapple (talk) 23:37, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Mike I am hearing you. Would you be more comfortable if a COI policy would make explicit reference to WP:BITE and would note that new editors need some training and need to be given the opportunity to comply?Jytdog (talk) 13:34, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

Anything that helps protect the new, clueless editor, from inquisitional COI processes, is good. But your question prompted another thought. What if, instead of focusing on the very complex and difficult to define COI/Article nexus that the community deems undesirable, we focus on POV editing policy. That puts the focus on the righteousness of the contribution versus the motivations of the contributor. Clearly, POV editing can be motivated by COI, but focusing on the POV not the COI allow negates the need to clearly and unequivocally define undesirable versus allowable COI/article nexus. The great majority of the opposes in this RFC and others have said in some way "focus on the contribution not the contributor". A POV policy, vice a COI policy would do that and accomplish the same goal--improve and sustain the quality of the encyclopedia as laid out in NPOV, V, RS, etc. --Mike Cline (talk) 14:15, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Thanks for replying. But I am asking if you would be open to dropping your objections if a COI policy explicitly dealt with newbie issues. Would you? With respect to shifting focus away from COI per se... I really believe we need a COI policy and that it is irresponsible to out public and ourselves for Wikipedia to lack one. So I am unwilling to give up the focus on COI per se. I am sorry you have not heard me on that. I am pretty flexible about the specifics of the policy. I just want clarity on COI. Jytdog (talk) 14:31, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Actually, I have no objections to the idea that WP has a COI policy. Such a policy might be very useful and I will fully support (participate in) its development. My objections (if you want to call them that) stem from the absence of a clear community position on the questions I posed above. That's why I characterize them as strategic. Once we understand where the Wikipedia community comes down on these questions, then a COI policy can be crafted that respects and implements these positions. I don't mean to be beating a dead horse here, but as I've said before a number of times above, clearly and unequivocally articulating what does and does not constitute an undesirable COI/article nexus from the Wikipedia community perspective is a huge challenge. It has to apply to ~125,000 editors +. But I think it is a critical first step in outlining a COI policy. Such a definition will not be useful if it allows for whimsical, situation interpretation anytime someone has an ax to grind with another editor (new or experienced). I would much rather see an RFC that attempted to resolve this one question before any attempt was made to regulate what happens when an undesirable COI/article nexus occurs. --Mike Cline (talk) 15:52, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
It doesn't fail to assume good faith at all, nor does it presume someone is guilty. First of all, there is no requirement that readers assume good faith. But it is they whose trust must be kept. However, if a reasonable reader leaves an article with a misconception of the facts of the matter (due to lack of neutrality, verification, etc.), and then she later finds out the article was written with a potential COI, and that this imperfection could serve the conflicting interest, then she can reasonably suspect the COI caused the imperfection, and her trust is betrayed. Academic publishers/editors don't employ policies which target authors with potential COIs because they fail to assume good faith, they do so in order not to betray the trust of readers. Indeed, as the ICMJE says "the potential for conflict of interest can exist regardless of whether an individual believes that the relationship affects his or her scientific judgment" [20] (see [21] for a list of journals which follow ICMJE recommendations). This position has been upheld by numerous academic studies, see [22] for example: " Our results suggest that problems of conflict of interest may be more profound than is commonly assumed. It is not enough to consciously counteract potentially biasing influences on judgment; people might not be able to adequately correct for biasing partisan influence. Eliminating partisan allegiances may be the only way to eliminate conflict of interest." Even if users are judging that the conflict of interest caused the lack of neutrality etc., that's not a failure to assume bad faith, that's just following the consensus of reliable sources on the issue. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 21:23, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

I don't think it's necessary to answer any "strategic" questions first. It's not unusual for Wikipedia rules to overlap and contradict themselves. If we're going to view "question the content, not the contributor" as supreme and sancrosanct, then our hands are tied and it gets kicked over to the Foundation, which is probably where it belongs anyway. Coretheapple (talk) 02:40, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

To maintain the assumption of good faith, I think it is important to distinguish (as the current conflict of interest guidelines do) between potential, apparent, and actual conflicts of interest. Questions about the relative importance of a well-sourced piece of information versus the provenance of the editor who included it are related to the problems of apparent conflicts of interest as well as actual conflicts of interest. Depending on which one has come into play, different responses may be warranted. isaacl (talk) 16:16, 11 December 2013 (UTC)

Although the arguments being made are rational, they're not going to solve anything, because neither side in the seven recent votes gave much of a response to the arguments of the other side. (That is, the arguments are good, but I don't see much in the recent votes that encourages me that the bulk of the votes can be swayed all the way over to the other side by a clever argument, in either direction.) If anyone can see a compromise position, something that feels "halfway" between the two sides, please either post it or email it to me (using the link on my userpage). - Dank (push to talk) 03:09, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
amen brother. Jytdog (talk) 03:26, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Agreed. Dank, I think you know what's going on here well enough by now to craft a questionnaire if you still think that's the best way forward. The same main disputants can't even agree on the questions. A questionnaire might draw new blood into the discussion, and would at least give the community a big picture view of the main issues and how editors feel about them. First Light (talk) 03:56, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
I think WP:COI already has broad support, both through those who stated that it was sufficient, and through its citation in many discussions. Thus I believe it can act as a starting basis for a policy. isaacl (talk) 04:35, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

A poorly crafted COI policy will be a threat to new editor retention[edit]

One of the difficulties in trying to craft a COI policy such as this is creating language that is crystal clear in preventing abuse against new and inexperienced editors by veteran editors. Wikipedia wouldn’t need projects like this: Wikipedia:Snuggle and like this: Wikipedia:WikiProject Editor Retention if life as a new or inexperienced editor was easy. One of the supporters above lamented: This policy does a great job of providing clear guidelines that are already pretty well adopted by the Wikipedia community. As for enforceability, our three core content policies are often unenforceable. We have thousands of articles that are not notable, are unverified, and not neutral. But shouldn't these still be policies? I think so. My first thought when I read that was that there are thousands of potential new editors who might provide the verifiable content that would improve those articles, but they would probably get hammered by the COI police before they ever had a chance to contribute productively. If we create a COI policy, the language must be such that it not only prevents what we need to prevent, but that it will be understood and enforced in a manner that is not unwelcoming to new and inexperienced editors. Big challenge, but of utmost importance for the future of WP. --Mike Cline (talk) 14:59, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

I really hear your own experience as a new editor coming through, Mike. But even though you had that experience, you stuck it out, because you do care about the encyclopedia. If somebody's only interest in being here is a COI-driven desire to grind an ax or polish an image, and a COI policy would run them off, I think that is great, as it saves us the work of cleaning up after them. (I have had a strange little run of COI editors showing up at articles I work on, strange... and it has just been a huge time suck for me.) We would need to administer the policy wisely of course, so as not to lead to bruises like the ones you received, that still appear to smart even today. In some ways a clear COI policy probably would have saved you some of the pain you went through, as it would have been very clear to everybody involved what the boundaries were. Jytdog (talk) 15:48, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
My position here is much less about my experiences years ago, than it is about creating policies (and resultant community behavior) that drive away potential new editors that have access to verifiable content and the ability to improve scope and quality in the encyclopedia. This language in WP:COIN Once COIN declares that an editor has a COI for a specific article, COIN (or a variety of other noticeboards) may be used to determine whether an edit by a COIN declared COI editor does not meet a requirement of the Wikipedia:Conflict of interest guideline. makes it clear to me that the COIN process trumps NPOV and RS. Additionally, this one COIN example is a classic case of a COI inquisition. Wikipedia:COIN#Nevron_Open_Vision. Without a doubt, the suspect new editor probably has a COI related to the product, but not one word of encouragement or advice has been given, merely accusations of bad editing behavior.[23] Even without a thorough examination of the edits, which I assume weren't properly sourced, etc. (not unusual behavior for a new editor), its clear that the product Nevron Open Vision, is potentially notable in its own right, let alone being referenced in related articles. [24]. Yet, in the world of COI inquisitions, NPOV, RS, or welcoming, encouraging and mentoring new and inexperienced editors is of secondary importance. That's my concern. --Mike Cline (talk) 16:37, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
There's a good case for re-thinking our approach to editor recruitment and induction. Historically, the emphasis has been on encouraging new editors to contribute/correct content. Nowadays, we should be encouraging potential editors to begin by contributing references instead. It's a much safer way to learn about how Wikipedia works: once a newbie is comfortable with WP:RS there's a comfortable path to WP:N and WP:V before getting into the more difficult issues of WP:BLP, WP:NPOV and WP:COI that a new editor needs to grok before adding content. In the Nevron Open Vision case, I've some sympathy with Christo Bahchevanov, because it isn't made clear that any item added to List of platform-independent GUI libraries should have its own article. Having checked out your Google search, their website and a few other places I'm afraid it's not very likely he could find an independent source that would convince me their product is notable, though. - Pointillist (talk) 18:30, 5 December 2013 (UTC)
Discouraging COI editing from new editors is desirable. Editors with a COI will be discouraged from COI editing. Those without will be happy that COIs are prohibited. Coretheapple (talk) 19:03, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
I think that you put it the wrong way, in focusing on the COI and not on the new editors. Most new editors make COIs, I believe, because the subjects they have COIs in are the subjects they are most interested in. We should be *encouraging* new editors to turn to non-COI subjects. We should never be discouraging good-faith new editors at all. —David Eppstein (talk) 18:56, 9 December 2013 (UTC)
I think a Code of Ethics would go a long way toward giving that encouragement, if drafted correctly. The idea would be to provide a positive, uplifting message, not a "keep off the grass" sign.Coretheapple (talk) 19:38, 9 December 2013 (UTC)

Changes to criteria[edit]

Regarding this edit: I believe the modifications do not have broad support in the discussions that have been held so far, as they are overly expansive. If there is agreement on keeping this change, though, then I propose the following wording to make it easier to follow:

An editor shall not edit an existing article directly if he or she is:
  1. acting on behalf of the subject of an article;
  2. acting on behalf of a business partner of the subject of an article;
  3. engaged in competition, litigation, or lobbying for or against the subject of an article or an individual;
  4. acting on behalf of anyone or any organization associated with the subject of an article; or
  5. is paid by anyone in the above categories.

My personal preference would be something more along the lines of my previous suggestion, based on the definition within the current conflict of interest guideline. Rather than trying to enumerate every situation, I believe the criterion should focus on the key aspect: does the editor have competing interests that result in a potential or apparent conflict of interest? A list of examples can be given afterwards. isaacl (talk) 18:20, 7 December 2013 (UTC)

Re No. 4, I'd suggest tweaking to read something like: "acting on behalf of anyone or any organization associated with or in opposition to the subject of an article". The same tweak should be made to the alternate language recently placed there, if it is to be kept. I think that what's outlined here seems to be equivalent in purpose while being simpler in construction. Coretheapple (talk) 18:54, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
So if it's an article about an abortion activist, the prohibition would extent to people working for the "People For Choice" and the "People Against Choice." Coretheapple (talk) 18:55, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)I would suggest simply reverting back to something like what people actually saw when they commented on the RFC. Since it looks highly unlikely that this proposal in anything close to its current form will get consensus, I think it's more important that the page reflect what people actually commented on, as a reference for any future proposals. Trying to make changes to the wording at this point seems more like rearranging the deck chairs. We should be working toward a compromise proposal, not trying to salvage this one. Mr.Z-man 19:02, 7 December 2013 (UTC)
@isaacl The new wording was inserted in light of concerns discussed above with relation to the term "subject", with an analogy being made with respect to BP and the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It is not expansive beyond including such events that can be attributed to a subject under the category of subject. I also eliminated one item on the list to simplify it.
The wording of the original proposal was substantially changed early on to include non-paid COI so I don't see why we should stop working on this now, though it would seem necessary to call a re-vote or launch the current (or revised text) in a new proposal.
The current text would seem to represent progress toward a compromise agreement, and after working on the text a little more and further adjustment of the scope, a new proposal based on it might be in order.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 02:27, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
The issue is that it's not a good idea to be reactive to the concerns of each individual editor, one at a time. Just because one editor says something doesn't mean the proposal text should be directly amended to suit, since this may not align with the overall consensus (as I do not believe is the case here), and can lead to a patchwork policy, which erodes overall support (as has already happened in each of these proposals). In addition, as stated above, it muddles things regarding knowing which version of the proposal was being discussed in each comment.
I think it would be better to start with the current conflict of interest guideline and have a discussion broken out by section, where improvements can be put forth and debated. Although I appreciate the inconvenience of changing venue once again, it would seem most logical to hold this discussion on the talk page for the conflict of interest guideline. Closers can be identified in advance to evaluate the consensus for changes to the conflict of interest guideline, and once an agreement has been reached, changes can be made to the guideline. If at that point there seems to be sufficient support for making the guideline (or portions thereof) into a policy, then an RFC can be opened. isaacl (talk) 03:14, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
It's not a bad idea to work on the guideline in conjunction with assessing whether there is consensus for the promulgation of a policy. After several proposals, with this the latest appearing to fail, the procedural approach you outlined might be the most efficient course forward. But I would think that the goal should be the establishment of a policy from the start. Otherwise there would appear to be little incentive to undertake the effort. Personally, I have little--if any-- more time to contribute to this undertaking.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 07:45, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
As has been discussed by Dank, policies generally arise from guidelines that enjoy broad support. They are in effect draft policies, so making the conflict of interest guideline ready to progress to a policy aligns well with the intentions of those who would like a policy to be put in place. For better or worse, discussion amongst a large group of people takes time. (It would be a lot easier if everyone would just agree with person X's proposal, but sadly there's no agreement on who person X should be.) isaacl (talk) 08:12, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
What seems to be an important point related to the pending indefinite result here is that the proposal itself turned out to be a work in progress, and the initial changes made to it were of a scope transforming level.
Without a re-vote or something, this proposal is effectively finished, but the work in progress can be moved to the guideline talk page and built on there. Some of the discussion and text produced here is decent 'raw material'.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 09:10, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't see the harm of tweaking the proposal insubstantially here and there. For instance, I'm dead set against letting COI editors create articles, but there's no point in my pushing that at the moment. Whatever is done on this, as I said, please fix it so that organizations opposed to the subject are included. Unless someone objects I'll add that language myself. Coretheapple (talk) 15:57, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
Item no. 4 on that list has been eliminated as redundant, so there is nothing to change. Also, it seems that it's down to me to point out that your well-intended efforts to prevent COI from creating articles runs against the momentum favoring the facilitation of good-faith positive contributions to the encyclopedia through the promulgation of a COI policy. That has been one of two objectives that have become focal points.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 16:30, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
The changes are broadening the scope for a potential or apparent conflict of interest from just the subject of an article to any organization associated with the subject of an article, which is a substantial change from the previous wording. I think it would be better to restore the earlier text until a more definitive agreement is reached.
Regarding your proposed change, I think it is adequately covered by item 3. isaacl (talk) 19:19, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
Looking at the wording - which I agree right now is much too complex - I think the main gap is with No. 2. If I'm the business partner of the subject of an article, I can't write about him. If I'm the business partner of somebody litigating against or lobbying against the subject, I can. We need to be sure that this applies to a conflict of interest in both a positive and a negative sense, to be fair. Coretheapple (talk) 20:40, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
If the business is suing or lobbying against the subject, then the potential conflict of interest is covered under item 3. I'm not sure if there is general agreement on a potential conflict of interest when your business partner is engaging in personal legal action or lobbying against a subject; this would mean you would have to be aware of all of your partner's personal activities. isaacl (talk) 23:22, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
If my partner is lobbying against a particular defense contract, but I don't happen to be, I shouldn't be editing the Wiki article on that subject. I can see such a situation arising. Coretheapple (talk)
I don't think you should be responsible for asking your business partners all about their personal lives and activities (are you lobbying for gay marriage? for health coverage initiatives? for a higher minimum wage? and so forth); it is intruding on their privacy. isaacl (talk) 23:58, 8 December 2013 (UTC)

Everyone working on this COI thing ought to read this[edit]

The Decline of Wikipedia

It provides an interesting perspective that ought to inform whatever we choose as our "COI Policy". --Mike Cline (talk) 16:16, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

What's your point, @Mike Cline? Do you want feedback on that article or on Aaron's "productive newcomer" model? Personally, I don't believe the currently available statistics are a satisfactory basis for reasoning. What I'd like to see is a timeline of sources being added, because that's the heart of the editing process. If you counted one point for each reference added to article space and zero for everything else, I expect you'd see a very different pattern of editor involvement and productivity. This has the great advantage that it can be measured directly and doesn't trip over all the problems with edit counts: if an editor prepares a big edit offline, adding five sources in a single edit, that will score five points; quick edits tidying up grammar and punctuation score no points, and so on. - Pointillist (talk) 17:51, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
My point is that it is an interesting perspective that shouldn't be ignored as we pursue this. No more, no less. --Mike Cline (talk) 17:58, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
I wish people could read that article with an open mind, without having a knee-jerk defensive reaction and attacking Mike for posting the link. "....90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage." That statement could be applied to many of the edits in this discussion ("abrasive") and I wouldn't be surprised if the combatants here were 100% male. Any paid or COI editors who see this discussion will continue to remain in the closet, out of fear of running afoul of some of the very same abrasive editors who have been trying to form a new policy here. First Light (talk) 18:24, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
I'm not attacking the link. My mind is still wide open. But as that article describes multiple perspectives, none of them specifically about COI, it's not unreasonable to ask which aspect Mike Cline finds "interesting". If the point is that a poorly crafted COI policy will be a threat to new editor retention, we already have a section above to discuss that! On the other hand, if Mike Cline is saying that in order to broaden Wikipedia's coverage we need to attract people who have a COI (and then presumably channel their efforts) then that's more along the lines of could professional editing be made safe? Either way, I don't think the existing statistics are going to be very helpful. - Pointillist (talk) 21:56, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
Indeed, that's why I've been citing the article both above (Wikipedia_talk:Conflict_of_interest_limit#Wikipedia.E2.80.99s_reputation_argument_a_Red_herring), and at Jimbo's talk page. --Atethnekos (DiscussionContributions) 18:37, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

evaluating threat size and countermeasures[edit]

Following the statement in the close: "I think the next step is to do some research on how big the threat is, and survey opinion on acceptable countermeasures." -- I've started a list below with a few that I've heard others discuss off the top of my head; feel free to edit, add, remove. – SJ + 05:07, 28 December 2013 (UTC)

Threat size and classification[edit]

Many commented that the biggest bias threats come from non-financial COI: things handled in the COI guideline but generally not in the 'paid advocacy' discussions. This is just classification and data about threats from PR firms and other organized paid-editing institutions:

  • Major PR firm cases: most recently wiki-PR in EN, wikiExperts in EN and ES; previously, Bell Pottinger in EN; another firm in ES a year ago (? : link needed). All in all, a few hundred+ accounts. Were these caught as soon as they were noticed? Where was there uncertainty about how to handle those cases? (WikiExperts has been debated as possibly "ok", or "ok if they commit to abiding by COI guidelines", or "ok if they abide by guidelines and list all past and present contractors")
  • Major corporate clients of PR firms: a few have made the news (after their contractors were blocked for policy-gaming PR practices). Is this an active problem for certain classes of firms?
  • Although this is just one example (there are hundreds), wouldn’t employees of this organization Wild Salmon Center be considered “paid advocates” if they edited articles related to the “advocacy” mission of the organization? The mission of Wild Salmon Center is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of wild salmon ecosystems across the Pacific Rim.[25]. Unlike, commercial organizations whose typical “mission” is the production of products and services (not advocacy of a POV), a great many non-profit organizations have a specific “advocacy” or POV promotion mission. In general, wouldn’t employees of these types of organizations pose a greater NPOV threat to Wikipedia? --Mike Cline (talk) 17:59, 28 December 2013 (UTC)
    • No, in short. That logic skirts the entire public interest issue vis-a-vis Wikipedia's own status as a "non-profit", basically.
While it is true that, overall, POV pushing not related to paid advocacy editing is a bigger problem to Wikipedia, that would appear to be a problem that Wikipedia has lived with for a long time. While I agree that the problem needs to be solved--through more stringent content related policies--that sort of POV pushing is not as easy to deal with as paid advocacy editing, policy wise, and does not pose a threat to the non-profit status, which is fundamental to the information provision ethos of Wikipedia. If Wikipedia becomes commercialized, it becomes a Frankenstein creature of the sponsors, not an open-sourced source of reliably-sourced information (hahaha).--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 19:09, 28 December 2013 (UTC)
I think the idea of "exempting" non-profit organizations from the "paid advocacy" label not only goes contrary to the definition of an organization in WP:CORP but demonstrates an extreme bias that has nothing to do with "public interest". In the example I cite (as I said one of hundreds I could cite), this organization in 2011 generated revenues of ~$9M, had salary expenses of ~$2.7M (paid advocates) and generated a gross profit of ~$3.7M.[26] They profit from their advocacy and they pay employees to advocate for their POV. They just don't pay income taxes. Why should we rely on the problem needs to be solved--through more stringent content related policies--that sort of POV pushing is not as easy to deal with as paid advocacy editing for this type of organization which profits from its advocacy and not for "for profit" entities? If we want to create a double standard then we ought to be very upfront about it. --Mike Cline (talk) 19:35, 28 December 2013 (UTC)
Right, I didn't mean to grant an outright exemption to non-profits, but the money trail and the difference in orientation makes them a different beast from PR orgs. There is a lot os corruption in the NPO/NGO sphere, but they are still more single purpose organizations more readily identifiable on a given article related to their field.--Ubikwit 連絡 見学/迷惑 19:50, 28 December 2013 (UTC)
I don't think Wikipedia's status as a non-profit should be the concern here. If that was a significant issue, I think this would be being handled by the WMF. Just as they don't ask volunteers to run their fundraising and defend them from legal challenges, they wouldn't ask volunteers to form a policy if their status as a non-profit depended on it. And this isn't a global policy, whatever we decide on here will only affect one of the hundreds of WMF sites (though enwiki policies are often used as a framework for other projects). I think we should be focused on concerns local to the English Wikipedia - NPOV, disruption, and our reputation. Mr.Z-man 21:32, 28 December 2013 (UTC)

Proposed countermeasures[edit]

What countermeasures have been proposed, and which were acceptable to whom?

COI-focused
  • More active implementation of the COI guideline
  • Making the COI guideline policy (periodically opposed)
  • Implementing a policy themed on the guideline (per the 6+ now-closed discussions similar to this one: no consensus to do this; but much participation)
Topic- and edit-focused
  • Better tools for flagging edits / topics that may be being gamed(?)
  • Better ways to flag topics for extra COi scrutiny, based on past editing patterns(?)
Transparency-focused
  • Increasing incentives for self-identification of conflicts. [extra lenience/support for self-id'ed editors; extra penalties/reversion for socking, or for those found not to have self-id'ed (?)]
  • Using a draft namespace to allow direct proposals of drafts and draft changes
  • ...
Just acknowledging I'm still watching; input on any of this would be appreciated. - Dank (push to talk) 17:35, 28 December 2013 (UTC)