User:Jimbo Wales/Paid Advocacy FAQ

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Jimmy Wales' position on paid advocacy[edit]

I am opposed to allowing paid advocates to edit in article space at all, but am extremely supportive of them being given other helpful paths to assist us in our efforts to be comprehensive, accurate and authoritative.

This is a very simple rule that constitutes best practice: do not edit Wikipedia articles directly if you are a paid advocate. Instead, contribute proposed edits to the talk page, and escalate to appropriate venues on Wikipedia if you are having trouble getting people's attention.


Q: What constitutes paid advocacy?

A: Receiving a payment to promote the interests of a client or employer, as happens in the public relations industry and in the communications departments of many kinds of organizations, is a form of paid advocacy. The reason for doing this is generally to maintain a certain point of view about the client in the eyes of the public.
Paid editing also includes other conduct having the same effect as directly editing an article for pay, such as accepting money from the subject of an article and then encouraging another editor to make the edits or create the content desired by the source of the article.
Our policy should not be construed as a slight against paid advocates everywhere, but rather a ban on unethical forms of advocacy within the Wikipedia context.

Q: Why should there be a ban on accepting payments for advocating in Wikipedia articles?

A: The vast majority of edits to Wikipedia articles are made by unpaid volunteers. This helps to ensure that Wikipedia can cover a truly encyclopedic range of subjects in a neutral way. In contrast, paid advocates show interest mainly in editing the articles of corporations, organizations or individuals who are able to use their wealth to influence the editing process.

Q: Under the updated policy what types of edits can be made by paid advocates?

A: Paid advocates will be generally required, outside of emergency situations outlined elsewhere in this FAQ, to use article talk pages, noticeboards, WikiProjects, and userspace drafts to discuss topics on which they are acting as an advocate.

Q: What types of edits should not be made by paid advocates?

A: Paid advocates should never directly edit any article on a topic for which they are an advocate. Edits to discussions pages and other fora should be in line with usual Wikipedia standards. Ideally, paid advocates should offer specific suggestions for edits on the talk page of articles; these suggestions should be well-referenced, justified by policy, and well-written. There is no limit on the length of such offerings - in some cases, paid advocates may find it helpful to offer an entirely new version of an article on a sub-page of the talk page, for discussion and ultimate acceptance or rejection, in whole or in part, by the community.

Q: The terms "paid editor" and "paid advocate" are used a lot in discussions. How are they different? How are they the same?

A: There are huge distinctions between the two terms. Imagine a history professor specializing in World War I at a university which recognizes the value of contributions to Wikipedia, who receives flexible time at work to edit articles and who works to improve entries about World War I. Such an editor is not advocating anything. Now imagine a PR representative for a consumer brand whose job is to work online to improve the image of the company and the brand. Such an editor is an advocate.

Q: Should any editor be allowed to make uncontroversial edits to articles, such as removing obvious vandalism?

A: Under the proposed new policy against paid advocacy, "emergency" edits, such as removing vandalism or libel can be undertaken by paid advocates. Such edits will be subject to strict scrutiny after the fact, and abusing this will be grounds for banning. The typical followup response to a legitimate case of such edits may be semi-protection of the article.
For uncontroversial edits that do not constitute an emergency, paid advocates must go through the appropriate procedures.

Q: Would this strategy make it harder to remove disruptive material from articles quickly?

A: The first port of call for a paid advocate concerned about the general content of a Wikipedia article should be the talk page of the article. Comments and edit requests added to talk pages usually receive prompt replies. If the material is seriously disruptive, the matter can be raised at the Administrator's Noticeboard, which should produce a response from administrators and experienced editors, often within a few minutes.

Q: Yeah, that's nice, but I see so many paid advocates advocating freely. Why should I listen to anything you say?

A: Because it is in your best interests to do so. If you want to be successful as a paid advocate, you must obtain the respect of the community. If other editors know that you are a paid advocate who respects the boundaries set by Wikipedia, you are more likely to get the co-operation necessary to build good articles, and are less likely to find yourself frequenting ANI, or end up being blocked or banned. If the community respects you, your work on Wikipedia will be of a better quality, you will get more clients and you will be a better-compensated paid editor.

Q: Wouldn't all the same arguments apply to editing a Wikipedia biography about yourself? Being paid by X to edit an article about X has a similar COI to being X and editing an article about X. Yet while editing your own BLP is discouraged, it is not outright prohibited.

A: I am open to us placing the same restrictions on self-edits to a BLP, but while the situations are similar, they are not identical, and the remedy need not be precisely the same. The main thing I'd like to point out is that perfect consistency is not necessary for us to begin improving Wikipedia's policies today. The issue of autobiographical editing of BLPs is important, but we need not solve it today.

Q: If the paid advocate sees something genuinely wrong with an article – unsourced statement that the company's product contains ground-up babies, bad WP:UNDUE problem, or whatever – the paid advocate uses the talk page or other channels, and nobody fixes the article, must the company endure the bad article forever? If not, is there some time limit after which the paid advocate may edit the article since the rest of Wikipedia has shown itself to fail in properly maintaining it? (And if you say "Wikipedia never fails to maintain an article," I'll laugh.)

A: There are enough mechanisms to ensure that any obviously wrong or defamatory material can be removed from a Wikipedia article quickly. It is a straw man to use the ground-up babies argument to justify paid advocacy, which is usually about promoting or defining the image of a client. Any non-urgent message on a talk page should receive a reply within 24 hours, if not, the issue can be raised at the Adminstrator's Noticeboard.

Q: Should administrators and bureaucrats be allowed to function as paid advocates?

A: Since there could be a conflict of interest between their roles as administrators and bureaucrats and their duty toward their clients as paid advocates, no editor can be an administrator or bureaucrat and a paid advocate at the same time. Editors may, of course, take up a paid advocacy position after resigning as an admin or bureaucrat, or by requesting the suspension of their sysop tools for the duration of a paid advocacy assignment.

Q: What are the differences between an advocate who is paid, and one who is driven by ideological motive? Why does the former require specific policy?

A: Put bluntly, an agenda editor is likely to be banned if they can't check their bias at the door. So the paid advocate is getting a better deal here.

Q: How quickly are talk page requests answered?

A: This is a question that is hard to answer because it depends on the article in question. However, there are numerous ways by which you can deal with a situation where a talk page request is not answered. First, try placing the template Template:Request_edit on the talk page. If that doesn't attract attention, you could ping an administrator either by posting on the administrators' noticeboard or by contacting one directly (a list of active administrators is here). There are numerous forums where you can take other concerns or request assistance. BLP noticeboard for concerns about biographies of living persons. WP:NPOVN for concerns about an article presenting information in a non-neutral manner. Various dispute resolution mechanisms if you get into a dispute with another editor over material that you think should or should not be in the article. You can also post on the administrators' noticeboard if you just want more eyes on an article. Rest assured that there are many forums beyond article talk pages where you can look for help.

Q: How do you propose to catch and stop paid advocates who continue to violate this new policy? What about current "under the radar" paid advocates?

A: Wikipedia is a community built encyclopedia where editors work cooperatively and it does not have an active policing mechanism. Therefore, there will always be paid advocates who will continue to work under the radar and we have no formal mechanism for catching and stopping them. Current "under the radar" paid advocates are welcome to declare themselves at any time.

Q: Why should unpaid volunteers help deal with the flood of non-neutral, non-encyclopedic advocacy that advocates are being paid to overwhelm them with?

A: They should not. Individuals who flood the encyclopedia with non-neutral, non-encyclopedic advocacy should be banned.

Q: Since paid political operatives are rarely mentioned as part of the paid advocate debate, is everything you state about paid advocacy the same as your position on paid political operatives?

A: (Note: not User:JW) Yes, a paid advocate, or staff person, for a national political candidate can cause massive damage to their candidate's chances if they are detected editing the candidate's Wikipedia article. Such damage results from national media coverage rather than any action by Wikipedia volunteers.

Q: Does this policy apply to paid members of the Wikimedia Foundation, particularly when acting in a communications role?

A: Yes, especially so. It would be deeply inappropriate for paid staff of the Foundation to engage in advocacy in Wikipedia articles about Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation.

Q: You once stated, "[P]eople who are acting as paid advocates do not make good editors. They insert puffery and spin. That's what they do because that it is what paid advocates do." Do you still feel as strongly?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Where do you stand on individuals who are paid to consult on the processes of wikipedia (no direct editing)?

A: Done correctly, including teaching them the best practice of never editing article space directly, this can be a good thing.

Q: Do you consider this to be inherently in conflict with the idea that "Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute"?

A: No. Editing Wikipedia is a privilege, not a right. Edits are expected to comply with Wikipedia policies and guidelines, of which WP:COI is one.

Q: If someone writes a well-balanced article, including criticism of the company they are working for, and the article was vetted by veteran Wikipedians, would they be considered a paid advocate? How would you be able to tell, and would anyone find out about it?

A: Wikipedia has millions of articles which have been written by people who give their time free of charge. Conflict of interest editing is generally confined to articles where someone has the money required to influence the editing process. It is almost impossible to prove that someone has received money for editing, but the style and tone of edits, combined with repeated insistence that things must be done in a certain way, and gaming the system rather than complying with the letter and spirit of policies, are often a good indication of a conflict of interest.

Q: If someone was not aware of this policy against paid editing, how would you go about informing them? Would you use the standard user template warnings? Would they be immediately blocked or banned on the spot, then perhaps unblocked on condition they promise to abide by the policy?

A: Blocking and banning on Wikipedia are always a last resort when polite explanations have failed or have been ignored. A paid advocate should make only emergency edits and raise all other issues on the talk page.

See also[edit]