Wikipedia talk:Conflict of interest

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This page has been mentioned by multiple media organizations:

Sources on conflict of interest[edit]

(chronological)

Unsolicited contacts from paid editors[edit]

I recently ran into a situation that reminded me of the discussion on the Orange Moody "shakedowns". In the Orange Moody case the concern was that paid editors appeared to be making unsolicited offers to editors who were the subjects of articles that had recently be deleted or turned down at AfC. The paid editors apparently pitched their services to the other editors via email with the implication that they had some sort of special privileges on-Wiki to get paid article approved. In the worst scenarios, the paid editors would start an AfD on the subject's article or turn the article down at AfC, or vandalize an article already in main-space. In other words, the discussions were about a protection racket or even straight-forward extortion. I should stress that I haven't seen a complete documented example of extortion on-Wiki, but there were enough accounts banned in the Orange Moody scandal to give some credibility to the accusations that were made.

I can't really discuss the recent situation I ran into except to say that it was serious enough that I reported it to the WMF and made sure the person complaining got in contact with them. It did also reinforce my belief that there are shakedowns on Wikipedia. We don't currently have a system of warning new editors about this type of activity, nor do we have an organized system of reporting such activity. After the Orange Moody case there was a special email address for reporting, but I don't believe it is still working. Over at AfC there is a paragraph amid all the instructions there and a link to a general AfC complaint page. We need to do better.

Part of our response might be a new section here. To start off the discussion I'll suggest a new section under "miscellaneous"

Unsolicited contacts from paid editors

Paid editors should not send unsolicited offers to other editors to edit articles for them. They should not state or imply that they have privileges on Wikipedia that allow them to post paid-for articles in main-space. Editors may report such unsolicited offers at  ?????

Any solicitation should contain basic information such as:

  • the full name and permanent e-mail address of your contact
  • the name of the company he or she works for
  • the company's website
  • the full terms of the service offered, as well as
  • a link to the paid editor's user page showing a paid editing declaration.
No editor should accept such an offer without confirming this information.

This obviously needs work. I'd love to see your suggestions.

Smallbones(smalltalk) 03:53, 22 June 2017 (UTC)

I'm not sure I follow.
Who has sent messages? And to whom?
  • Editors offering their services have sent messages to new users participating in AfDs — these new editors presumed to be affiliates to the subject of the article?
  • "Paid editing houses" have sent messages to experienced users, offering them remuneration in order to vote/act a certain way?
I also don't see what it is you refer to as extortion? Both cases are highly problematic, but neither seems to be extortion. Changing this policy is not done on a whim — and I think we need a good understanding of the issue in order to address it properly. Carl Fredrik talk 04:19, 22 June 2017 (UTC)
@CFCF:Thanks. I'll clarify
  • the people sending the emails are paid editors, most likely paid editing houses
  • the people receiving the emails are usually newbies or people who have had an "article for creation" rejected, or a main-space article deleted at AfD.
  • the message is that "we can get the article approved for $$$", with the subtext "and we can make sure that it doesn't get approved if you don't pay."
  • there have been accusations that some paid editors go beyond this - that they themselves or a colleague have rejected the AfC or given an article the 3rd degree, before contacting the newby editor. Of course, at this point, the accuser doesn't give details - accusing a specific person of extortion could end up in a very nasty lawsuit.
  • I've seen enough evidence that I strongly believe this type of thing is going on. Perhaps even more important, newbys and some people outside Wikipedia say they believe this type of thing goes on.
  • Wikipedia has inadvertently made this scam possible for paid editors, it is up to us to stop it.
  • Including some text in WP:COI is just a part of the overall solution - one which will give some authority to the other parts. But text here will not accomplish anything by itself.
  • Other parts of the solution probably include having a very visible warning to the newbies, quoting text from WP:COI; having a clear strategy to prevent these schemes, and having a place to confidentially report to the WMF. I believe I can convince the WMF to make themselves available to receive the reports and advise the newbies, if we can handle the other parts.
Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:10, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I'm not sure that a Wikipedia guideline is going to have much impact unless we allow external identities to be associated with Wikipedia accounts, and even then, I think edits by paid proxies will limit any effect. In short, editors shouldn't engage in fraudulent practices: in your example of claimed privileges, well, no editor has the right to post specific article text without being subject to community review and editing. If the WMF or some other person/organization body is going to be pursuing such claims with, for example, the United States Federal Trade Commission, then I agree with doing whatever we can within policy to facilitate such pursuit. But otherwise the community doesn't have any ability to do anything about misleading advertising on its own, beyond blocking accounts and their proxies one by one. Regarding advice for paid editors or for potential clients, we can provide it, but we can't dictate how third parties behave outside of Wikipedia or what their contract terms should be. Plus, it gives a mixed message to strongly discourage conflict of interest editing while also giving instructions on what type of client engagement is acceptable. The first message implies that no form of client engagement is acceptable, while the second message implies that some forms may be. isaacl (talk) 16:25, 22 June 2017 (UTC)
@Isaacl: at this point I'm not looking for reasons that we can't do anything about these schemes. I'm looking for possible solutions. Let me put this to you directly: "What would you say if a newby asked you what he or she should do after being approached by one of these schemes?" Right now I'm just not going to accept answers like "Sorry Charlie, what do you think I can do about it?" I'm looking for answers that can have a real effect, that can help both Wikipedia and the newby. Just accepting the current situation is not in my playbook right now. Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:10, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
"at this point I'm not looking for reasons that we can't do anything about these schemes." Wikipedia doesn't operate under a 'we must do something' mantra. You have to convince the community that there is an issue that needs to be fixed before you try to get something changed. As Isaacl points out, you haven't done that.

"Just accepting the current situation is not in my playbook right now." Too bad, you don't own the project, this page, or the guideline. You don't get to decide. If you can't handle it, log off for awhile.--v/r - TP 01:15, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

Back off. If you can't handle it, quit the project again. Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:30, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Oh, I'm just fine, thank you. I'm not telling other editors to shut up with their opinions and dictating to the community what it's allowed to do based on my moods. Bottom line, not your rodeo. Isaacl can have whatever opinion they want and there is quite literally nothing you can do to stop them.--v/r - TP 01:37, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Isaacl can have any opinion he wants, and so can I. My opinion is that we need to concentrate on what we can do right now. We're not even at a proposal stage yet, so I want to know what we can do, not what we can't do. If you are going to go into your usual mode of personal attacks against me and pure disruption, I'll deal with that later. For now I'll just ignore you. Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:18, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
If Isaacl can have any opinion they want, why are you telling them what you will and will not accept on this page as if you own it?--v/r - TP 02:32, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Can you please bring us up to date on why paid editing is a hot-button issue for you? I'd rather hear your version rather than dig back through old posts. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 20:55, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

Restart[edit]

I've said that having something in this guideline will help, but we need to have an overall strategy. My general idea is something like this:

  • WP:COI outlines the problem and gives all editors something to refer to.
  • It also warns newbies not to be taken in by the unsolicited offers, and do what any person should do before considering an unsolicited offer - get information on the person or company that is making the offer. This is not saying that if they give personal contact info that the offer is acceptable, only that it's clearly unacceptable if they are not willing to give that info. Many scammers might be scared off at this point - giving out real, checkable contact info is not part of their plan.
  • A warning page, or perhaps a template/box should be put at AfC and maybe AfD to let newbies know that these schemes have been reported. A key problem is getting these warnings to the right people at the right time. Perhaps the warning box could also be placed at WP:COI and WP:COIN as well. Perhaps a "no-contact from paid editors" template could be set up for user pages - not that I fear getting an unsolicited e-mail from these guys, but if enough people put them on their user pages, newbies would be more likely to see it.
  • A simple easy confidential contact with the WMF be set up. Right now there is a paragraph at AfC that links to a general talk page for complaints about the AfC process. For everybody's protection, we need confidential reporting to somebody who can deal with something that might be as serious as extortion.

If you have other steps or pieces of the puzzle, please suggest them below. Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:18, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

Is there some reason AN/I can't handle this problem? Is it running into the "outing" issue, or what? If they called you, it's not "outing". We've had detailed public discussions before over ads for paid editing. John Nagle (talk) 02:25, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Ultimately something as serious as possible extortion has to be handled confidentially and with a supportive tone. That sounds a lot more like the WMF than AN/I. A major part of the problem is warning the newbies beforehand so they'll know that this type of activity is not acceptable and that they have a place to turn to. Getting the newbies to ask for contact information would be a bonus. That way they'll have something to report other than "I got an email from somebody named Bob - do you think that is their real name?" (those last 8 words are a quote from a recent e-mail I got). I checked out the recent case enough to know that there was a real problem there. So I didn't have an answer anything better than to put them in contact with the WMF. So what should we be able to tell these folks? Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:42, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Since I don't know what you have been discussing with WMF, it's hard for me to give a recommendation, but as I said, if someone is going to deal with reports of fraudulent advertising, by all means let's communicate this to editors/readers.
To be consistent with our strong discouragement of paid editing, the recommendation we ought to give to newbies is "Don't hire editors to make edits." (And perhaps "Don't believe anyone who says they can guarantee specific content in a Wikipedia article; they're lying.") Then the rest of it becomes moot. (We should then give newbies a path of how to ensure the article of interest is appropriately updated, but as has been pointed out in many other conversations, edit requests tend to languish indefinitely.)
I don't have a solution for newbies who choose to ignore this strong discouragement, because in that case, I see no reason to believe they will listen to any other advice we have to offer. So while there's probably no harm to newbies to give them advice like "check the credentials of those editors who, by the way, we're telling you not to hire", it feels like it will just eat up a lot of the community's time unnecessarily with wordsmithing that will produce very little change in the newbies' behaviours. isaacl (talk) 03:07, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
For the scenario you described above, I don't think we should recommend that a newbie contacted in that manner ought to vet the paid editor, instead of just saying "no, thank you" and reporting suspicious behaviour. (If an experienced editor wants to prepare a sting, I think they can do it without needing advice from this page.) isaacl (talk) 03:29, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
  • "Don't hire editors to make edits." and
  • "Don't believe anyone who says they can guarantee specific content in a Wikipedia article; they're lying." (with some rewording)
are exactly what we should put in this guideline. But newbies aren't going to even read this unless we put it in warnings where they'll see it. So far, it seems that we agree. I don't think we need to bring in the speed of response to edit requests. We don't need to be perfect before we deal with possible extortion. Getting newbies to request real contact information will stop a lot of solicitations before they start. It's not a sting - it's just standard procedure if you get an unsolicited offer. And if the paid editor won't give that info, it's almost equivalent to saying "no, thank you" except for the middle word. Smallbones(smalltalk) 03:46, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I don't see the point in asking them to request real contact information if we are saying they should ignore solicitations in any case. (I don't bother responding to solicitors saying I've won a cruise to provide me credentials.) As has been brought up before, what leads good-faith newbies to use paid editors is either a misunderstanding of Wikipedia's standards of inclusion, or frustration that their attempts to use the system as intended seem to lead nowhere. So we can certainly tell newbies to use the edit request system, but unless we address how to make that system effective, we may not be convincing newbies to not try using paid editors.
As to where to tell newbies not to hire editors, that's a much more difficult problem if they aren't editors. We can start with the scenario of editors who submit articles to the Articles for Creation process. Can a message be placed in an appropriate location within that workflow that editors should not resort to hiring someone to make conflict of interest edits? isaacl (talk) 03:56, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
We cannot control (or even patrol) what people do off-WP; including something like "don't hire editors to make edits" would be unpoliceable and unenforceable. You would need an RfC to add something like this and I very much doubt it would fly.
About trying to help new editors be smarter consumers... I don't think that is useful to do in the COI guideline, which is something people don't arrive at first thing when they come. Where to fit in consumer education in the midst of all the other information new editors need to learn about the basics of editing (how to use a talk page, how to sign, what a "reliable source" is, what NPOV actually means...etc) is a hard call. Not sure. But that would not go here. Jytdog (talk) 05:23, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I was responding directly to the question what would I tell newbies? It would only be advice and not a policy or a guideline—I said the same thing as you regarding unenforceability and the inability to govern what people do off-site. isaacl (talk) 11:46, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Smallbones, if you have evidence of this occurring - for example, original emails with intact headers - you should consider sending that evidence to the arbcom or functionaries list, and to the WMF. That advice is also a component of a good response to newbies who say they've received such messages. But I emphasize evidence because no one can meaningfully act on your stated strong belief until you provide the basis for that belief. Opabinia regalis (talk) 05:36, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Opabinia regalis I sent the evidence in the specific case to the WMF several days ago. For the more general case, see Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2015-09-02/Special report and Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities from the Independent
So two years after an apparent extortion scheme was uncovered, our only response is to send the scammed editors to this public help page. We've got to do better than that, if only to protect our own reputation. Actually there is a lot more at stake than just our own self-interest. Do we want our hobby to be turned into a forum for extorting people? Do editors really want to participate in that even indirectly?
And please do remember that it cannot be just adding a paragraph or two on WP:COI. We have to have a full strategy. Smallbones(smalltalk) 14:14, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
So, the last time this happened was two years ago?--v/r - TP 14:20, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Perhaps I should state the obvious - extortion is a form of fraud, which is banned by our terms of use. The fraudsters benefit from keeping their targets (or marks) quiet, often by shaming or by threats. This is a form of harassment. Nobody should be against stopping this fraud and harassment.
What we need is 1) a couple paragraphs in WP:COI that will identify this type of unsolicited offer for what it is, 2) a proper system of warning the marks, and 3) encouraging the marks to report the unsolicited offers to the WMF, or other place where they can report confidentially, without being publicly shamed, and where somebody can take serious action when required. Smallbones(smalltalk) 15:49, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Several editors have taken issue with your use of "extortion" saying it is alarmist and not representative of what is happening. Furthermore, your claim that "what we need is" jumps the gun. There is still vast, and I mean vast, disagreement with you that there actually is a problem. Not a single editor here has supported that proposal. You are currently 0-5 on convincing anyone that the problem exists. Your citation for the problem is two years old and stale. Your solution for the problem is an unenforceable feel good that has no practical effect on the problem. Instead of trying to railroad everyone else in the conversations, how about backing up and trying to convince people that the problem is 1) A problem, and 2) A solvable problem.--v/r - TP 16:17, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
(edit conflict) Smallbones, no one is saying these are good things; everyone agrees they are bad things. You have not addressed the problem with this being off-wiki behavior that the community cannot regulate via this guideline. We are not helpless - as Opabina suggested, I believe that if Arbcom would be provided evidence that was definitive about EditorX behaving this way off-WP -- and especially if EditorX made related edits in WP -- that Arbcom would indefinitely block EditorX under any number of policies.
TParis the orangemoody thing did happen. I don't doubt that it does happen from time to time. As far as I know, the community never considered whether any policy or guideline should be changed as or after the orangemoody thing emerged, nor if orientation materials should be updated. Are you aware of any such discussion? Jytdog (talk) 16:28, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Yes, I'm aware it happened although I wasn't around during that period. Doesn't change the fact that only one example has been cited. That doesn't make a trend or a problem that is as much of an alarm as it's being made out to be. That the community never considered a policy change at the time should be taken as an indicator that it's not warranted now. The Wikipedians at the time were aware of such things like policies, they had no reason not to if they wanted to.--v/r - TP 17:09, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I agree that there does not appear to be a Big Crisis now and also find the original presentation unfortunate. But orangemoody was a big deal (hundreds of hours of volunteer time figuring it out and dealing with it, something like 300 accounts blocked and around the same number of article deleted) and you should go read about it if you aren't aware. :) Sounds like you are not aware of any discussion about what we could do differently now that we know about that. OK then. Jytdog (talk) 17:18, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I'm aware of it. I've caught up on my wiki-history since my time away.--v/r - TP 18:38, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I know you don't want me to talk about why changing this guidance page won't do anything, but since you keep bringing up changing this page.... I don't understand why you don't want to discuss it, since you said yourself that "text here will not accomplish anything by itself." What can be done within Wikipedia is limited: frankly, you don't need an account to try to fleece unsophisticated readers into paying you money to keep content from being deleted, so there may not even be anyone to block. Addressing this issue requires filing official complaints regarding fraudulent advertising, getting editors with conflicts of interest to understand what they can and cannot influence in Wikipedia, and getting the system for incorporating the legitimate contributions of these editors to run smoothly, so editors aren't tempted to hire someone to solve what, to them, seems like a PR problem. isaacl (talk) 21:49, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

This is far from a single example, e.g. the Independent article from 2015 link above starts out "Hundreds of small British businesses and minor celebrities have been targeted by a sophisticated blackmail scam orchestrated by “rogue editors” at Wikipedia" and they go on to give 10 pretty detailed examples with names and dollars (or pounds) given. The reason there haven't been more examples reported lately is obviously because we don't have a reporting system.

BTW, on rereading the Independent I see evidence there that one of the 10 cases there was done by the same person who tried to scam the person who contacted me. It's really quite remarkable. I'll pass that on to the WMF. Smallbones(smalltalk) 18:24, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

I think a notice to users of the prevalence of this practice is a good idea. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 20:51, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
The aspect of that, is how/where/when to inform new editors about scamming paid editing offers. Your thoughts? Jytdog (talk) 21:13, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Good question. One idea would be to create an essay, or perhaps a portion of this guideline, that can be made known to new editors in the welcome templates. A kind of "special caution" such as the State Department provides when you travel to a hot spot. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 21:18, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I think we could all agree that a central page linked to at WP:AfC would be one good place, but I think we need more places. Most of the people being victimized are relative newbies and don't know how to sort through a dozen policies and guidelines. I do think that central page should have some text that comes from some "official" source like WP:COI. It also needs a place where a confidential report can be made by the victims. Please, let's have a civilized discussion on this. We need a strategy to deal with this. BTW, it seems to be getting worse (next section in a bit). Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:38, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
Users with any kind of history in this area need to sit this one out. Figureofnine (talkcontribs) 21:42, 23 June 2017 (UTC)
I can suggest a nice warm place to shove that personal attack. You won't convince anyone with your vague threats, ad hominems, and attempts to silence others.--v/r - TP 00:12, 24 June 2017 (UTC)
@Slimvirgin and Jytdog: I told you both two years ago that this policy and that old persona non grata list at the top of this page would be used by these three to silence editors who disagree with them.--v/r - TP 00:14, 24 June 2017 (UTC)
Whatever else can be said in this discussion, I do think that it is a good idea to do more to provide usable information about paid editing to new editors early on. I've been working for some time on a proposal to offer, during account registration, to provide links to such information, for good-faith editors who indicate interest. I've been planning to post a restart of my own about these ideas on this talk page, and I'll do that soon. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:05, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

Son of Orange Moody?[edit]

There is another similar new case - this time on the open web [1] Its likely if one case shows up on the open web, that there's at least a thousand that folks haven't bothered to report (or don't know that they are being scammed yet).

The text of the email on the new case is almost identical to the text sent during the Orange Moody case. See e.g. The Telegraph Sept 2 2015

It strikes me that this is evidence of a major paid editing campaign, probably by a person involved in the Orange Moody case. We should gear up for a major effort. The folks who dealt with the original Orange Moody case should definitely be called in for their expertise.

@Opabinia regalis, DGG, and Risker: could you let us know how to report this to the proper on-Wiki bureaucrats, functionaries, etc. and what they can and cannot do? Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:53, 23 June 2017 (UTC)

Interesting, I use that software at home and it's pretty big software. They should probably have a Wikipedia article. I'm surprised they don't. I might write it.--v/r - TP 00:06, 24 June 2017 (UTC)
I've asked them to forward the mail to arbcom. Jytdog (talk) 02:16, 24 June 2017 (UTC)