Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-03-12/Paid editing

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Report of diploma mill offering pay for edits

By Michael Snow, 12 March, 2007

The possibility of outside organizations paying people to edit Wikipedia articles to their benefit has come up again, with reports that an unaccredited "university" was seeking someone to keep out unwanted information from its article.

This case involved Almeda University, one of a number of organizations operating in the United States that purport to offer college degrees with little or no coursework required, based on such factors as "life experience". Widely considered diploma mills, these organizations commonly have operations that are difficult to trace; they may be illegal in some jurisdictions, and their degrees are often worthless on the job market.

Last week, Wikipedia editor Randywombat reported that he came across an ad for "Wiki Requirements" on Guru.com, a site that bills itself as a marketplace for freelance talent. The ad complained of a "negative Wikipedia review" and offered to pay $50 weekly on an ongoing basis to revert changes and maintain "valid/positive comments" in the article. In response to Randywombat's follow-up, the company seeking this service was identified as Almeda University.

From the ad and subsequent communications, Almeda was objecting to "slanderous" comments based on media accounts about its operations. Articles about alleged diploma mills have sometimes been a focus of sustained efforts to keep out negative information, and these organizations frequently raise complaints through multiple channels if the information persists in the article. Meanwhile, due to the frequently scant information available elsewhere, Wikipedia has become a popular resource regarding unaccredited institutions of higher learning. In this case, the Wikipedia article ranks just behind Almeda's own sites atop the non-sponsored search results for "Almeda University" on Google.

Declining to pursue the offer, Randywombat instead posted the contents of the messages to the Almeda University talk page, and also shared an accompanying document that complained at length about Wikipedia practices and the treatment of Almeda's article. The document's author said that "newspapers only print negative stories" and objected to the reliance on such sources. Like many Wikipedia articles on unaccredited colleges, the article itself is carefully footnoted to news articles, education and government sites, and Almeda's own website.

Almeda University did not respond to a request for comment on this story. The incident strikes an ironic note given the current atmosphere, notably the controversy over fake degrees claimed by Wikipedia contributor Ryan Jordan and the ensuing proposals for verification of credentials claimed by editors.

While a number of editors have questioned the official stance that effectively prohibits any paid editing, William Pietri and David Gerard pointed to this situation as an illustration of why a strong response is needed to discourage such efforts. By clearly seeking a "positive" slant to the article, the offer lacked even the sophistication of the approach taken by Microsoft, in its controversial proposal to pay someone to monitor articles without attempting to maintain editorial control over the work.


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