Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2013-10-09/News and notes

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These allegations were first publicized by Simon Owens of the technology website Daily Dot, whose reporting and investigation were done entirely separate from the Signpost. Owens reported that various Wikipedia editors, including DocTree, Rybec, and Dennis Brown, were involved in "the battle to destroy Wikipedia's biggest sockpuppet army". Owens emailed a "few dozen" companies who had articles that were created under the sock accounts, and received four replies. All declined to be named directly but told him that "they hired a company called Wiki-PR to make pages for them".

The replies to the Daily Dot, although a small sample, expressed dissatisfaction and surprise at the service. One client told Owens that after they noticed their page was deleted, they emailed Wiki-PR, only to receive a response that was "obviously a lie". These deletions were blamed on notability and activist volunteer administrators; the clients claimed they were never aware that Wiki-PR was breaching Wikipedia's policies to create the articles. Problems with these articles were far from limited to notability—for example, references to external websites were frequently misleadingly labeled to obscure their true origins. Links to CNN's iReport and Yahoo's Voices, their citizen journalism arms, were in at least one case labeled to appear official "CNN" or "Yahoo" sites, revealed as fraudulent only when the targets were directly audited. According to Owens:

After being told of the Daily Dot's exposé of Wiki-PR, Jimmy Wales responded on his talk page, "Incredible. I've been hearing rumblings about this for a few days, and I'm very eager that we pursue this with maximum effect."

PR professionals weigh in

Historically, there has been a stormy relationship between PR professionals and Wikipedia editors, with Jimmy Wales being a vocal advocate for a "bright line" to forbid paid editing of Wikipedia. In this case there seems to be widespread agreement in professional PR ranks that Wiki-PR stepped over an ethical line.

In reaction to the Daily Dot piece, Phil Gomes, senior vice president for the public relations firm Edelman and founder of CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement), expressed his dismay at Wiki-PR’s actions:

CREWE operates as a Facebook group consisting of PR professionals and Wikipedia editors who discuss critical issues concerning PR and the editing of Wikipedia articles. Gomes has been vocal in the past about avoiding Wiki-PR's strategies, stating that it is imperative the PR industry "demonstrate by cooperation and good behavior that it can work with the Wikipedia community instead of taking the quick, easy-fix route." He was a major contributor to the development of a freely licensed flowchart that teaches PR firms how to avoid direct editing of articles in favor of community engagement.

Gomes' co-authored flowchart guides PR firms as they navigate Wikipedia's complex rules

The prominent British PRs body, CIPR, gave strong guidance in this area in June 2012 when it published a Wikipedia Best Practices Guidance "document" (PDF).. This guide warns against clandestine editing by companies (see Signpost coverage): "There is another interpretation of public relations, commonly referred to as "spin". If this is your mode of operation then you are urged to steer clear of Wikipedia altogether in the performance of your job … You are reminded that 'dark arts' are the antithesis of best practice public relations. Intentional deceit and anonymous or incognito activities are breaches of professional codes of conduct."

While PR industry groups like CIPR have put considerable time and effort into developing such guidelines, they have proved to be no match for the desire to harvest big profits from this volunteer site.

Alex Konanykhin of rejects not only Jimmy Wales' zero-tolerance "bright-line rule", but does not reveal his relationships with clients on Wikipedia because "that would expose our clients to being unfairly targeted by anti-commerce jihadists." In recent days, he has been an unabashed defender of his firm's editing activities in the CREWE group.

Previous coverage of paid advocacy

Efforts at paid advocacy have been greatly frowned on by the Wikimedia community, but have received support from some editors. The Signpost has reported on the evolution of the phenomenon over the past seven years. The genesis of paid advocacy is usually traced to Gregory Kohs, who founded a company (MyWikiBiz) with the express purpose of creating and editing Wikipedia articles on behalf of paying corporations. As the Signpost reported in 2006, he offered to write articles for between US$49 and $99, assuming the company met his own eligibility guidelines, which were based on those of Wikipedia. Soon after, Kohs was brought before the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee and blocked by Jimmy Wales, the site's co-founder.

The Signpost has covered issues such as Microsoft's attempt to monitor articles and "diploma mills" in 2007, the Nichalp/Zithan case in 2009, and a PR firm's edits ("The Bell Pottinger affair") in 2011. Paid advocacy received its most substantial treatment in 2012 with a series of interviews with paid editing supporters, a skeptic, and Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. On the site itself, a full conflict of interest guideline was developed in response to the perceived threat of paid editing.

The Signpost's "In the media" writer, Jayen466, reports that the story has been picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and the German internet portal ( "Sleepers in Wikipedia: admins on the payroll?")—a tea-leaf-gazing feature that partly translates the Daily Dot coverage and partly provides commentary on what they describe as admins' temptation to make money from their position.

On the German Wikipedia, a major vote has been started as part of a paid €80,000 study on Wikimedia projects by Dirk Franke (Southpark), funded by the German chapter. Many editors of the German Wikipedia have opposed the request because Franke is being paid for it.

Tony1, Kevin Gorman, and Andrew Lih assisted in researching, writing, and editing this story.

In briefs

  • How much is Wikipedia worth?: An intriguing article on, based on a paper by Jonathan Band and Jonathan Gerafi, asks the provocative question of what Wikipedia would be worth in monetary terms. By looking "at what other sites that get similar traffic are worth, how much people would be willing to pay for Wikipedia if it weren’t free, and how much it would cost to replace the site", the researchers determined that Wikipedia is worth "tens of billions of dollars" while having a replacement cost of a bargain $6.6 billion.
  • Indian chapter governance issues: Last week we provided an update on the issue of three members of the executive committee (one of whom, Moksh Jujeja, newly elected in August, did not disclose to voters that he employed two sitting members). Former executive-committee member Anirudh Bhati posted a rejoinder on the chapter's mailing list, pointing out that one of the three—Karthik—had been an intern for Moksh Juneja's firm on only a small retainer. Bhati praised the volunteer contributions of all three men to the chapter and advised anyone with any doubts about the issue to contact them directly. This does leave unanswered whether stricter guidelines for future elections in India will be in place and enforced, including full disclosures of potential conflict of interest and adherence to the rules requiring the advance publication of voter lists.
  • Jimmy Wales and TED: Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, was featured this week on The TED Radio Hour, part of an episode on "why we collaborate".
  • WMF report: The August 2013 report of the Wikimedia Foundation has been published on Meta.
  • GLAM newsletter: The newest edition of This Month in GLAM, the monthly newsletter reporting on interactions between the Wikimedia and galleries, libraries, archives, and museums communities, has been published.