Wikipedia:Conflict of interest

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Conflict of interest (COI) editing involves contributing to Wikipedia about yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial or other relationships. Any external relationship can trigger a conflict of interest. (The word interest refers here to something in which a person has a stake or from which they stand to benefit.)[n 1]

Conflict of interest is not about actual bias. It is about a person's roles and relationships, and the tendency to bias that we assume exists when roles conflict.[2] That someone has a conflict of interest is a description of a situation, not a judgment about that person's state of mind.[3]

COI editing is strongly discouraged. It undermines the public's confidence in Wikipedia, and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals being promoted. If it causes disruption, accounts may be blocked. Paid editing, being compensated for contributions to Wikipedia, is a subset of financial COI. Paid editors are required by the Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use to disclose their employer, client and affiliation.[4] Paid advocacy is another subset; this involves being compensated to promote outside interests. Paid advocates are very strongly discouraged from direct article editing, and should instead propose changes on the article's talk page.

When investigating COI editing, be careful not to reveal the identity of editors against their wishes. Wikipedia's policy against harassment takes precedence over this guideline. Editors discussing changes to this guideline should disclose whether they have been paid to edit Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's position[edit]

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Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion. As such it should contain only material that complies with its content policies, and Wikipedians must place the interests of the encyclopedia first.

COI editing is strongly discouraged. COI editors causing disruption may be blocked. Editors with a COI who wish to edit responsibly are strongly encouraged to follow Wikipedia policies and best practices scrupulously.

  • If involved in an area where you have a COI, you should disclose the COI on your user page and during any discussion about the affected topic.
  • You can propose changes on the article talk page by using the {{request edit}} template. These proposals may or may not be acted upon.
  • You can also suggest changes on the conflict-of-interest noticeboard.

Note that you do not control articles and others may delete them, keep them, or add information that would otherwise have remained little known. While Wikipedians generally avoid naming editors and their paymasters, other media routinely do. This has led at times to embarrassment for the organization concerned.

What is conflict of interest?[edit]

External relationships[edit]

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Further information: Conflict of interest and Self-dealing

While editing Wikipedia, an editor's primary role is to further the interests of the encyclopaedia. When an external role or relationship undermines that primary role, or could reasonably be said to do so, that person has a conflict of interest. For example, a judge's primary role as an impartial adjudicator is undermined if he or she is married to the defendant. Philosopher Michael Davis describes the "standard view" of COI:

A conflict of interest is a situation in which some person P (whether an individual or corporate body) stands in a certain relation to one or more decisions. On the standard view, P has a conflict of interest if, and only if, (1) P is in a relationship with another requiring P to exercise judgment in the other's behalf and (2) P has a (special) interest tending to interfere with the proper exercise of judgment in that relationship. The crucial terms in the standard view are "relationship," "judgment," "interest," and "proper exercise."[5]

Any external relationship – personal, religious, political, academic, financial and legal – can trigger a COI. How close the relationship needs to be before it becomes a concern on Wikipedia is governed by common sense. For example, an article about a band should not be written by the band's manager, and a biography should not be written by the subject's spouse. But subject-matter experts are welcome to contribute within their areas of expertise, subject to the guidance on financial conflict of interest, while making sure that their external roles and relationships in that field do not interfere with their primary role on Wikipedia.

Actual, potential and apparent conflict of interest[edit]

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  • Actual conflict of interest: An editor has a COI with respect to a certain judgment and is in a position where the judgment must be exercised.[6]
N Example: A company owner has an actual COI if he edits articles and engages in discussions about that company.
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  • Potential conflict of interest: An editor has a COI with respect to a certain judgment, but is not in a position where the judgment must be exercised.[6]
YesY Example: A company owner has a potential COI with respect to articles and discussions about that company, but no actual COI if she stays away from those pages.
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  • Apparent conflict of interest: There is reason to believe that an editor has a COI, but he does not.[7]
Question? Example: An editor has an apparent COI if he edits an article about a company and for some reason appears to be the company owner, but in fact he has no such connection. Apparent COI causes bad feeling and should be resolved wherever possible.[7] Editors should try to allay suspicion through discussion.[n 2]

COI, bias and neutrality[edit]

Further information: WP:ADVOCACY
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"A person is judged to have a conflict of interest on the basis of being in a conflicted situation, whether or not that person thinks he or she is capable of resisting the temptation or corrupting influence of the interest that could interfere with her judgment."

– George G. Brenkert, Tom L. Beauchamp, 2012.[n 3]

Conflict of interest is not simply bias. Beliefs and desires may lead to biased editing and advocacy, but they do not constitute a COI. Deciding that someone has a COI is a description of a situation, not a description of someone's state of mind.[3]

COI emerges from an editor's roles and relationships, and the tendency to bias that we assume exists when those roles and relationships conflict.[2] COI is like "dirt in a sensitive gauge."[9]

The belief of an editor with a COI that she can remain neutral does not affect the determination that she has a COI. If a judge is involved with a defendant, her role as an impartial adjudicator is undermined no matter how convinced she is that she can remain impartial. Arguing that editors with a COI can remain neutral underestimates the extent to which their judgment may be impaired, the damage COI editing can inflict on public confidence, and the unease it causes within the community.

What is wrong with COI?[edit]

The first court case to use the term conflict of interest as currently understood was in 1949 in New York.[10] Until the 1950s COI in the professions was addressed by expecting the conflicted individual to act objectively. Brenkert and Beauchamp write that this was naive. COI causes impaired judgment, and conflicted individuals may not know the extent to which they have been influenced. Conversely, a conflicted person might overcompensate in an effort to be fair, leading to decisions he would otherwise not have made.[11] Davis identifies three problems in allowing a conflicted individual to act as if there were no COI:

  1. Those with a COI often "esteem too highly their own reliability," and fail to realize how much the conflict has affected their judgment.
  2. If other people rely on a conflicted individual without knowing about the COI, the latter is letting them believe that his judgment is more reliable than it is. He is betraying their trust.
  3. If the conflicted individual discloses the COI, there is no betrayal, but the technical problem remains, namely that he is less competent than he would otherwise be. In addition his actions may bring the organization into disrepute.[12]

Escape, disclosure or management[edit]

Davis suggests three ways in which a person with a conflict of interest might proceed.

  1. The situation causing the COI can be escaped by recusal, whereby the conflicted person removes himself from one of the competing relationships.
  2. The COI can be disclosed to anyone relying on the conflicted person's judgment, so that others can decide whether to remove that person, or seek a second opinion wherever that person's judgment has been exercised.
  3. The COI can be managed, with or without disclosure. For example, someone with a conflict might ask others to watch closely whenever he does something where his COI might impair his judgment.[13]

Whether to recuse, disclose or manage depends on the alternative courses of action, how serious the conflict is, the privacy implications of disclosure, and what the consequences would be of exercising compromised judgment.[13]

Financial conflict of interest[edit]

Financial relationships[edit]

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If you have a close financial relationship with a topic you wish to write about – including as an owner, employee, contractor or other stakeholder – you are advised to refrain from editing affected articles. You may suggest changes on the talk page of affected articles, where you should disclose your COI. You can use the {{request edit}} template to suggest changes.

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Overview, Wikipedians in residence[edit]

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Paid editing is the practice of accepting money to edit Wikipedia. It is one form of financial conflict of interest.

There are forms of paid editing that the Wikimedia community generally regards as benign. These include the reward board where editors can post incentives, usually to raise articles to featured- or good-article status. If you intend to participate in this kind of paid editing, transparency and neutrality are key.

Another benign example is the pratice of Wikipedians, including Wikipedians in residence (WiRs), being paid to collaborate with mission-aligned organizations such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums. WiRs serve as a liaison between the Wikipedia community and the mission-aligned organization. They must not engage in public relations or marketing for that organization, and they must operate within the bounds defined by Core characteristics of a Wikipedian in Residence at Wikimedia Outreach. They must work closely with a Wikipedia project or the general Wikipedia community, and are expected to identify their WiR status on their user page and on talk pages related to their organization when they post there.

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Paid advocacy – being paid to promote external interests on Wikipedia – is a subset of paid editing. It is the type of paid editing of most concern to the Wikipedia community, because edits by paid advocates reflect the interests of the paying client or employer. Advocacy is prohibited by our policies on neutral point of view and what Wikipedia is not, and paid advocacy, including advertising, promotion, public relations and marketing, is an especially egregious form. Sue Gardner, then executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote in 2013 that the Foundation regards paid advocacy as a "black hat" practice that "violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people."[14]

If the following applies to you:

you are receiving, or expect to receive, monetary or other benefits or considerations from editing Wikipedia as a representative of an organization (as owner, officer, employee, contractor or other stakeholder; or as employee or contractor of a firm hired by that organization for public-relations purposes)

then you are very strongly discouraged from editing affected articles where those external relationships could reasonably be said to undermine your ability to remain neutral.

  • You may use the article talk pages to suggest changes or the {{request edit}} template to request edits. To find an article's talk page, click the 'talk' button at the top of the article. See WP:TEAHOUSE if you have questions about these things.
  • You must provide full disclosure of your connection, when using talk pages, making edit requests, and similar. Requested edits are subject to the same editorial standards as any other edit, and other editors may decline to act on them. The writing of "puff pieces" and advertisements is prohibited.

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Paid editors must respect the volunteer nature of the project and keep discussions concise. No editor should be subjected to long or repetitive discussions by someone who is being paid to argue with them. Paid editors may submit "billable hours," along with evidence of talk-page posts, to justify their salaries or fees. Volunteers should be aware of this before being drawn into long exchanges with such editors.

Any editor who refuses to accept a consensus by arguing ad nauseam will likely be violating several Wikipedia guidelines and policies, e.g. Tendentious editing, Disruptive editing, WikiBullying, OWN or Civility.

Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use[edit]

Paid contributions without disclosure
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Wikimedia Foundation RGB logo with text.svg

These Terms of Use prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. As part of these obligations, you must disclose your employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation. You must make that disclosure in at least one of the following ways:

  • a statement on your user page,
  • a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or
  • a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.
Applicable law, or community and Foundation policies and guidelines, such as those addressing conflicts of interest, may further limit paid contributions or require more detailed disclosure.[4]

Covert advertising[edit]

United States Federal Trade Commission[edit]

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All editors are expected to follow United States law on undisclosed advertising, which is described by the Federal Trade Commission at Endorsement Guidelines and Dot Com Disclosures. This guideline requires edits to be truthful and substantiated, and not advertising endorsements or subjective testimonials. It "broadly covers advertising claims, marketing and promotional activities, and sales practices in general." (p.2)

European fair trading law[edit]

In May 2012 the Munich Oberlandesgericht court ruled that if a company or its agents edit Wikipedia with the aim of influencing customers, the edits constitute covert advertising, and as such are a violation of European fair trading law (see the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive). The ruling stated that readers cannot be expected to seek out user and talk pages to find editors' disclosures about their corporate affiliation. The case arose out of a claim against a company by a competitor over edits made to the article Weihrauchpräparat on the German Wikipedia. The judgment can be read here.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK reached a similar decision in June 2012 in relation to material about Nike on Twitter. The ASA found that the content of certain tweets from two footballers had been "agreed with the help of a member of the Nike marketing team." The tweets were not clearly identified as Nike marketing communications, and were therefore in breach of the ASA's code.[15]

Copyright, licensing[edit]

Editors are reminded that any new text they contribute to Wikipedia is irrevocably licensed under the terms of a Creative Commons-Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 license and the GNU Free Documentation License. Any new writing, including article drafts and talk-page comments, can be freely copied, modified, deleted, reproduced, altered and quoted by third parties for commercial and non-commercial use, with the sole requirement that the work be attributed to Wikipedia contributors.

Other categories of COI[edit]

Legal[edit]

If you are involved in a court case, or you are close to one of the litigants, you should not write about the case, or about a party or law firm associated with the case.

Campaigning, political[edit]

Activities regarded by insiders as simply "getting the word out" may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with campaigns that engage in advocacy in the same area, you may have a conflict of interest. Similarly, editors should not edit articles in which they have a political conflict of interest. Examples:

  • Government employees should not edit articles about their agencies, government, political party, political opponents, opposition groups, or controversial political topics, with the intent to slant or spin an article in a manner that is politically advantageous to their employer.
  • Political candidates or their staff should not edit articles about themselves, their supporters or opponents.
  • Reliably sourced, notable material written in a neutral point of view should not be deleted from articles with the intent of protecting the political interests of a party, agency or government.

Writing about yourself, family, friends[edit]

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You should not create or edit articles about yourself, your family or friends. If you or they are notable enough, someone else will create the article. You should also avoid writing about yourself or people you know in articles on other topics. This includes people with whom you could reasonably be said to have an antagonistic relationship in real life. If you have a personal connection to a topic or person, you are advised to refrain from editing those articles directly, from adding related advertising links, links to personal websites and similar, and to provide full disclosure of the connection if you comment about the article on talk pages or in other discussions.

An exception to editing an article about yourself or someone you know is made if the article contains defamation or a serious error that needs to be corrected quickly. If you do make such an edit, follow it up with an email to WP:OTRS, Wikipedia's volunteer response team, or ask for help on WP:BLPN, our noticeboard for articles about living persons.

Citing yourself[edit]

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Using material you have written or published is allowed within reason, but only if it is relevant, conforms to the content policies, including WP:SELFPUB, and is not excessive. Citations should be in the third person and should not place undue emphasis on your work. When in doubt, defer to the community's opinion.

Advice for editors with a COI[edit]

Wikipedia's law of unintended consequences
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If you write about yourself, your group or your company, once the article is created, you have no right to control its content, or to delete it outside the normal channels. Content is irrevocably added with every edit. If there is anything publicly available on a topic that you would not want to have included in an article, it will probably find its way there eventually.

Declaring an interest[edit]

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Paid editors are required by the Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use to declare their conflict of interest, along with the name of their employer or client. In addition to this, public-relations professionals may be required to abide by a code of ethics, such as the GA code of ethics or PRSA code of ethics.

Editors with a COI who are not being paid are advised to declare their interest too if they involve themselves with affected articles. The benefits of disclosure are that most editors will appreciate your honesty and may try to help you; you can request help from others to review and post material for you. The disadvantage of disclosure is that people outside Wikipedia, such as reporters, may generate negative publicity for you. Some COI declarations have the effect of announcing your real name (see WP:Username policy § Real names).

Non-controversial edits[edit]

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Editors who may have a general conflict of interest are allowed to make certain kinds of non-controversial edits (but note WP:NOPAY above). They may:

  1. remove spam and revert unambiguous vandalism,
  2. remove content that unambiguously violates the biography of living persons policy,
  3. fix spelling and grammatical errors,
  4. revert or remove their own COI edits,
  5. make edits where there is clear consensus on the talk page (though it is better to let someone else do it), and
  6. add reliable sources, especially when another editor has requested them (but note the advice above about the importance of using independent sources).

If the article you want to edit has few involved editors, consider asking someone at the talk page of a related Wikiproject for someone to make the change. If another editor objects for any reason, then it's a controversial edit. Such edits should be discussed on the article's talk page.

Cultural sector[edit]

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See also: Wikipedia:GLAM

Museum curators, librarians, archivists, and similar are encouraged to help improve Wikipedia, or to share their information in the form of links to their resources. If a link cannot be used as a reliable source, it may be placed under further reading or external links if it complies with the external links guideline. Bear in mind that Wikipedia is not a mirror or a repository of links, images, or media files. For more information, see Wikipedia:Advice for the cultural sector.

Photographs and media files[edit]

Those with a potential conflict of interest are encouraged to upload good-quality digital media files that are appropriately licensed for Wikipedia and that improve our coverage of a subject. For more information, follow the instructions at Commons. In some cases, the addition of digital media files to an article may be a non-controversial edit that editors with a conflict of interest can make directly; however editors should exercise discretion and rely on Talk pages when images may be controversial or promotional. If the addition of an image is challenged by another editor, it is not uncontroversial.

Shared accounts[edit]

Do not create a shared organizational account or use the name of the organization as the account name. The account is yours, not your employer's. It is recommended that such editors declare their affiliation on their user pages.

How to handle conflicts of interest[edit]

On the one hand, if an editor already has directly disclosed information that clearly demonstrates that he or she has a COI as defined in this guideline, or has made one or more paid contributions as per the Terms of Use, and is making controversial edits (from a COI standpoint), then raise the issue with the editor in a civil manner on the editor's Talk page, citing this guideline. If the editor does not change his or her behavior to comply with this guideline and/or the Terms of use, create a posting on WP:COIN, following the instructions there. Relevant article talk pages may be tagged with {{Connected contributor}}, and the article itself may be tagged with {{COI}}. COI allegations should not be used as a "trump card" in disputes over article content.

On the other hand, if an editor edits in a way that leads you to believe that he or she might have a conflict of interest or might have made one or more paid contributions, remember to assume good faith. Consider whether the editor's use of sources complies with WP:RS and sourcing guidelines, and whether the issue may be advocacy. The appropriate forum for concerns about sources is WP:RSN. The appropriate forum for concerns about advocacy is WP:NPOVN. If there are concerns about sock- or meatpuppets, please bring that concern to WP:SPI.

Avoid outing[edit]

Wikipedia places importance on the ability of editors to edit pseudonymously. When investigating COI editing, the policy against harassment takes precedence; it requires that Wikipedians must take care not to reveal the identity of editors against their wishes. Instead, examine editors' behavior and refer to Wikipedia:Checkuser. In asking an editor if they have COI, the request should clearly indicate that it is entirely optional for them to answer.

Importance of civility[edit]

During discussions on articles' talk pages and at articles for deletion, disparaging comments are sometimes made about the subject of the article, its author, or the author's motives. Such comments should be avoided, since they may be seen as forbidden personal attacks, and may discourage the article's creator from making future valuable contributions. Remember to not bite the newcomers.

Dealing with single-purpose accounts[edit]

Accounts that appear to be single-purpose, existing for the sole or primary purpose of promotion or denigration of a person, company, product, service, website, organization, etc., and whose postings are in apparent violation of this guideline, should be made aware of this guideline and warned not to continue their problematic editing. If the same pattern of editing continues after the warning, the account may be blocked.

See also[edit]

Article
Policies, guidelines and official pages
Templates
Categories
Information page
Wikiprojects
Essays

These represent the opinions of individual editors:

Historical items, including failed proposals, former policies, obsolete essays, etc.

These items and the discussions surrounding them may show how Wikipedia consensus has changed over time. They may also include "good ideas" for editing behavior that go "above and beyond" official policies.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Interest (from Middle English, interess) originally meant "the possession of a share in or a right to something."[1]
  2. ^ One approach is to disclose personal information, either on Wikipedia or privately to a trusted editor, although editors should not feel obligated to do this.
  3. ^ Brenkert and Beauchamp quote legal scholar Bayless Manning, 1964: "[S]ubjective intent is not important [in conflict of interest law] ... If the wrong kind of outside interest in held, no amount of leaning over backward or purity of soul will satisfy [a confirmation] Committee or the statutes." [8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jay M. Feinman (ed.), One Thousand and One Legal Words You Need to Know, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 100.

    Angus Stevenson, Maurice Waite (eds.), Concise Oxford English Dictionary (luxury edition), Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 740.

  2. ^ a b Michael Davis, "Introduction," in Michael Davis and Andrew Stark (eds.), Conflict of Interest in the Professions, University of Oxford Press, 2001, p. 12.
  3. ^ a b Bernard Lo and Marilyn J. Field (eds.), Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice, Committee on Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice, Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, 2009, p. 49.
  4. ^ a b "Paid contributions without disclosure", Terms of Use, Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia:Terms of use.
  5. ^ Davis 2001, p. 8.
  6. ^ a b Davis 2001, p. 15.
  7. ^ a b Davis 2001, p. 18.
  8. ^ George G. Brenkert, Tom L. Beauchamp, The Oxford Handbook of Business Ethics, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 447.
  9. ^ Davis 2001, p. 11.
  10. ^ Davis 2001, p. 303, citing In Re Equitable Office Bldg. Corporation, 83 F. Supp. 531 (S.D.N.Y 1949).
  11. ^ Brenkert and Beauchamp, 2012, p. 461.
  12. ^ Davis 2001, pp. 11–12.
  13. ^ a b Davis 2001, pp. 13–15.
  14. ^ Gardner, Sue. "Press releases/Sue Gardner statement paid advocacy editing", Wikimedia Foundation, 21 October 2013.
  15. ^ Sweney, Mike. "Nike becomes first UK company to have Twitter campaign banned", The Guardian, 20 June 2012.

Further reading[edit]

Articles
  • Carson, Thomas L. "Conflicts of Interest and Self-Dealing in the Professions: A Review Essay," Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, January 2004 (pp. 161–182), p. 168.
  • Davis, Michael. "Conflict of Interest Revisited", Business & Professional Ethics Journal, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter 1993, pp. 21–41.
  • Luebke, Neil R. "Conflict of Interest as a Moral Category", Business & Professional Ethics Journal, Vol. 6, 1987, pp. 66–81.
  • McDonald, Michael. "Ethics and Conflict of Interest", The W. Maurice Young Center for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia.
Wikipedia and Wikimedia links
External links