Conflict-of-interest (COI) editing on Wikipedia occurs when editors use Wikipedia to advance the interests of their external roles or relationships. The type of COI editing of most concern on Wikipedia is paid editing for public relations (PR) purposes. Several Wikipedia policies and guidelines exist to combat conflict of interest editing, including Wikipedia:Conflict of interest and Wikipedia:Paid-contribution disclosure.
Controversies reported by the media include United States congressional staff editing articles about members of Congress in 2006; Microsoft offering a software engineer money to edit articles on competing code standards in 2007; the PR firm Bell Pottinger editing articles about its clients in 2011; and the discovery in 2012 that British MPs or their staff had removed criticism from articles about those MPs. The media has also written about COI editing by BP, the Central Intelligence Agency, Diebold, Portland Communications, Sony, the Vatican, and several others.
In 2012 Wikipedia launched one of its largest sockpuppet investigations, when editors reported suspicious activity suggesting 250 accounts had been used to engage in paid editing. Wikipedia traced the edits to a firm known as Wiki-PR, and the accounts were banned. Although the company's CEO Jordan French was credited for partnering with the Wikimedia Foundation to overhaul paid editing transparency, 2015's Operation Orangemoody uncovered another paid-editing scam, in which over 380 accounts were used to extort money from businesses to create and ostensibly protect promotional articles about them.
Wikipedia is edited by volunteer contributors. The conflict-of-interest Wikipedia guideline is a "generally accepted standard that editors should attempt to follow". This guideline strongly discourages COI editing and advises those with a financial conflict of interest, including paid editors, to refrain from direct article editing. The paid-contribution-disclosure policy, which has legal ramifications, requires that editors disclose their "employer, client, and affiliation" with respect to any contribution for which they are paid, including talk-page contributions.
Companies have argued for greater leeway in conflict-of-interest editing, citing Wikipedia:Ignore all rules, a policy, which states: "If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it."
The Federal Trade Commission has published a guide to its regulations to implement federal law concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising at Endorsement Guidelines and Dot Com Disclosures.
In May 2012 the Munich Oberlandesgericht court confirmed a ruling against a company which edited Wikipedia articles with the aim of influencing customers. It viewed the edits as undeclared commercial practice according to The Act against unfair Competition Section 4, 3 as it constituted covert advertising, and as such were 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 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.
In December 2005, it was noticed that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales had edited his own Wikipedia entry. According to public logs, he has edited his biography 19 times, as of 9 September 2013, seven times altering information about whether Larry Sanger was a co-founder of Wikipedia. It was also revealed that Wales had edited the Wikipedia article of his former company, Bomis. "Bomis Babes", a section of the Bomis website, had been characterized in the article as "soft-core pornography", but Wales revised this to "adult content section" and deleted mentions of pornography. He said he was fixing an error, and did not agree with calling Bomis Babes soft porn. Wales conceded that he had made the changes, but maintained that they were technical corrections.
In 2006, it was discovered that more than 1,000 changes had been made to Wikipedia articles originating from United States government IP addresses. Changes had been made to articles about Representative Marty Meehan, Senator Tom Coburn, Senator Norm Coleman, Representative Gil Gutknecht, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Conrad Burns, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Tom Harkin, Representative David Davis, Tennessee state representative Matthew Hill and then-Representative Mike Pence. The edits removed accurate but critical information and embellished positive descriptions. In response to the controversy, certain affected IP addresses were temporarily blocked.
In August 2006 Gregory Kohs, a market researcher from Pennsylvania, founded MyWikiBiz, a company offering to write inexpensive Wikipedia entries for businesses. In January 2007, Kohs said that in his view Wikipedia's coverage of major corporations was deficient, stating that "It is strange that a minor Pokémon character will get a 1,200-word article, but a Fortune 500 company will get ... maybe 100 words". A few days after issuing a press release about his business, Kohs' Wikipedia account was blocked. Kohs later recalled a phone call with Jimmy Wales who told him MyWikiBiz was "antithetical" to the mission of the encyclopedia. Kohs said it surprised him that PR agencies were discouraged from editing articles: "There are around 130 'Fortune 1,000' companies absent from Wikipedia's pages ... How could they not benefit from a little PR help?"
In January 2007, Australian software engineer Rick Jelliffe revealed that Microsoft had offered to pay him to edit Wikipedia articles on two competing code standards, OpenDocumentFormat and Microsoft Office Open XML. Jelliffe, who described himself as a technical expert and not an advocate for Microsoft, said he accepted the offer because he wanted the information on technical standards to be accurate. Microsoft subsequently confirmed that it had offered to pay Jelliffe to edit the articles, stating that they were seeking "more balance" in the entries, that articles contained inaccuracies, that prior efforts to get attention from Wikipedia volunteers had failed, and that Microsoft had agreed that the company would not review Jelliffe's suggested changes. Microsoft also said they had not previously hired anyone to edit Wikipedia.
Heated debate resulted after the revelation over whether such practices called Wikipedia's credibility into question. In response to the incident, Jimmy Wales said paying for edits to Wikipedia was against the encyclopedia's spirit. Wales said the better, more transparent choice would have been for Microsoft to produce a white paper on the subject, post it online, and link to it from Wikipedia. He also stated "Although agencies and employees should not edit our pages, they do – but perhaps less than you would expect."
Volunteer Wikipedia spokesperson David Gerard said, "[Wikipedia] tends not to look favorably in terms of conflict of interest, and paying someone is a conflict." Gerard added that public relations representatives commonly get blocked from editing by Wikipedia administrators.
In the same month that had seen conflict of interest issues raised by both Microsoft and MyWikiBiz, Wales stated that editors should not be paid to edit, and PR agencies would be banned if they persisted.
In 2007 Virgil Griffith created a searchable database that linked changes made by anonymous Wikipedia editors to companies and organizations from which the changes were made. The database cross-referenced logs of Wikipedia edits with publicly available records pertaining to the internet IP addresses edits were made from.
Griffith was motivated by the edits from the United States Congress, and wanted to see if others were similarly promoting themselves. He was particularly interested in finding scandals, especially at large and controversial corporations. He said he wanted to "create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike (and) to see what 'interesting organizations' (which I am neutral towards) are up to." He also wanted to give Wikipedia readers a tool to check edits for accuracy and allow the automation and indexing of edits.
Most of the edits Wikiscanner found were minor or harmless, but the site was mined to detect the most controversial and embarrassing instance of conflict of interest edits. These instances received media coverage worldwide. Included among the accused were the Vatican, the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Democratic Party's Congressional Campaign Committee, the US Republican Party, Britain's Labour Party, Britain's Conservative Party, the Canadian government, Industry Canada, the Department of Prime Minister, Cabinet, and Defence in Australia, the United Nations, the US Senate, the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Montana Senator Conrad Burns, Ohio Governor Bob Taft, the Israeli government, Exxon Mobil, Walmart, AstraZeneca, Diebold, Dow Chemical, Disney, Dell, Anheuser-Busch, Nestlé, Pepsi, Boeing, Sony Computer Entertainment, EA, SCO Group, MySpace, Pfizer, Raytheon, DuPont, Anglican and Catholic churches, the Church of Scientology, the World Harvest Church, Amnesty International, the Discovery Channel, Fox News, CBS, The Washington Post, the National Rifle Association, News International, Al Jazeera, Bob Jones University, and Ohio State University.
Although the edits correlated with known IP addresses, there was no proof that the changes actually came from a member of the organization or employee of the company, only that someone had access to their network.
Wikipedia spokespersons received WikiScanner positively, noting that it helped prevent conflicts of interest from influencing articles as well as increasing transparency and mitigating attempts to remove or distort relevant facts.
In 2008 Griffith released an updated version of WikiScanner called WikiWatcher, which also exploited a common mistake made by users with registered accounts who accidentally forget to log in, revealing their IP address and subsequently their affiliations. As of March 2012 WikiScanner's website was online, but not functioning.
In 2008 the pro-Israel activist group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) launched a campaign to alter Wikipedia articles to support the Israeli side of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The campaign suggested that pro-Israeli editors should pretend to be interested in other topics until elected as administrators. Once administrators they were to misuse their administrative powers to suppress pro-Palestinian editors and support pro-Israel editors. Some members of this conspiracy were banned by Wikipedia administrators.
In 2010 two pro-settler Israeli groups, Yesha Council and Israel Sheli, launched courses to instruct pro-Israel editors on how to use Wikipedia to promote Israel's point of view. A prize was to be given to the editor who inserted the most pro-Israel changes.
In 2008 a long-running dispute between members of the Church of Scientology and Wikipedia editors reached Wikipedia's arbitration committee. The church members were accused of attempting to sway articles in the church's interest, while other editors were accused of the opposite. The arbitration committee unanimously voted to block all edits from the IP addresses associated with the church; several Scientology critics were also banned.
During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, changes made by both Barack Obama's and John McCain's campaigns made news. A user who later claimed to work for the McCain campaign made changes to Sarah Palin's article just before the announcement that she would run for vice-president.
In 2010, Koch Industries began employing New Media Strategies (NMS), an internet PR firm specializing in "word-of-mouth marketing". Shortly afterwards, it was discovered that employees of the company, editing from IPs controlled by NMS, were editing the Wikipedia articles for Charles Koch, David Koch, Political activities of the Koch brothers, and The Science of Success (a book written by Charles). Under numerous usernames, NMS employees edited Wikipedia articles "to distance the Koch family from the Tea Party movement, to provide baseless comparisons between Koch and conspiracy theories surrounding George Soros, and to generally delete citations to liberal news outlets." These activities were exposed at Wikipedia and described in the press. A large group of editors who were editing from NMS IPs became the subject of a sockpuppet investigation, were blocked, and later unblocked.
In June 2011 PR Week reported on a "fixer", a known but unnamed London-based figure in the PR industry, who offered services to "cleanse" articles. Wikipedia entries this person was accused of changing included Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross, Von Essen Group chairman Andrew Davis, British property developer David Rowland, billionaire Saudi tycoon Maan Al-Sanea, and Edward Stanley, 19th Earl of Derby. According to PR Week, 42 edits were made from the same IP address, most of them removing negative or controversial information, or adding positive information.
In December 2011, blogger Tim Ireland, The Independent, and the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) discovered that Bell Pottinger, one of the UK's largest public relations companies, had manipulated articles on behalf of its clients. Wikipedians discovered up to 19 accounts, 10 of which had over 100 edits each, which traced back to Bell Pottinger's offices; as a result of the investigation 10 of the accounts were blocked. Bell Pottinger was accused of using sock or meatpuppets to edit pages to create the appearance of support for changes in articles. One of the most noted accounts was registered under the name "Biggleswiki" (an internal Wikipedia investigation resulted in several such cases). Bell Pottinger admitted that its employees had used several accounts, but said that the company had not done anything illegal. Analysis of the edits demonstrated that the changes had both added positive information and removed negative content, including the removal of information regarding the drug conviction of a businessman and Bell Pottinger client, and changing information about the arrest of a man convicted for commercial bribery.
Undercover BIJ reporters made inquiries while posing as members of the Uzbek government; Bell Pottinger told them that the company offered "sorting" of negative information and criticism on Wikipedia articles, as well as other "dark arts".
Jimmy Wales called Bell Pottinger's actions "ethical blindness." Timothy Bell, the chairman, launched an internal review, but disagreed with Wales's view. He said, "You can destroy someone's reputation in one minute and it will take years to rebuild," and continued: "It's important for Wikipedia to recognise we are a valuable source for accurate information," and "apparently if you are not-for-profit what you say is true but that if you are a paid-for advocate you are lying." The head of digital at Bell Pottinger blamed the incident on Wikipedia's "confusing" editing system and "the pressure put on us by clients to remove potentially defamatory or libellous statements very quickly, because Wikipedia is so authoritative."
In 2016 Bell Pottinger staff were reported to have edited Wikipedia articles relating to South African individuals and companies, while the agency was working for the Gupta family. Substantial editing of the Wikipedia page about the Guptas was also reported; a Bell Pottinger employee was said to have emailed much of the content to a Gupta account for it to be uploaded. In December 2016, South African billionaire Johann Rupert dropped Bell Pottinger as the PR agency of Richemont, accusing Bell Pottinger of running a social media campaign against him, to divert attention away from persistent 'state capture' allegations leveled at the Gupta family. In February 2017, Rupert alleged that Bell Pottinger had maliciously altered his Wikipedia page.
In January 2012, British MP Tom Watson discovered that Portland Communications had been removing the nickname of one of its clients' products ("Wife Beater", referring to Anheuser-Busch InBev's Stella Artois beer) from Wikipedia. Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) CEO Jane Wilson noted, "Stella Artois is on the 'wife-beater' page because it is a nick-name in common currency for that brand of strong continental lager. The brand managers who want to change this have a wider reputational issue to address, editing the term from a Wikipedia page will not get rid of this association." Other edits from Portland's offices included changes to articles about another Portland client, the Kazakhstan's BTA Bank, and its former head Mukhtar Ablyazov. Portland did not deny making the changes, arguing they had been done transparently and in accordance with Wikipedia's policies. Portland Communications welcomed CIPR's subsequent announcement of a collaboration with Wikipedia and invited Jimmy Wales to speak to their company, as he did at Bell Pottinger. Tom Watson was optimistic about the collaboration: "PR professionals need clear guidelines in this new world of online-information-sharing. That's why I am delighted that interested parties are coming together to establish a clear code of conduct."
Around the beginning of 2012, Joe DeSantis, the campaign communications director for American presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, argued for and made changes to Gingrich's Wikipedia article. Some changes which DeSantis requested were minor, but his initial efforts tried to remove negative details which he thought unduly biased the articles, including details about Gingrich's extramarital affairs, information about his financial expenditure, ethics charges against him, and his political positions on controversial issues.
The incident was notable for DeSantis' switch from editing articles about the politician and his wife directly, to following Wikipedia' conflict of interest guideline by using the linked discussion pages for each article to suggest edits rather than make them himself. He said, "I stopped making direct edits in May 2011 because I was alerted to the COI rules...Earlier I thought that simply disclosing my affiliation was enough but it wasn't. So I started posting requests on the Talk page. This has been far more successful and the other editors on Wikipedia have largely received this very positively." He told the political journalism organization Politico that his approach of working with the Wikipedia community by discussing edits on talk pages to be more successful than making the changes himself. Wikipedia editor Tvoz was quoted as critical of the practice; she wrote: "... I have to say this micro-managing by a Gingrich campaign director is a matter of concern to me even though you now are identifying yourself. Pointing out factual errors is one thing, but your input should not go beyond that, even [on a Talk page]."
In March 2012, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered that UK MPs or their staff had made almost 10,000 edits to the encyclopedia, and that almost one in six MPs had their Wikipedia articles edited from within Parliament. Many of the changes dealt with removing unflattering details from during the 2009 expenses scandal, as well as other controversial issues. Former MP Joan Ryan admitted to changing her entry "whenever there's misleading or untruthful information [that has] been placed on it." Clare Short said her staff were "angry and protective" over mistakes and criticisms in her Wikipedia article and acknowledged they might have made changes to it. Labour MP Fabian Hamilton also reported having one of his assistants edit a page to make it more accurate, in his view. MP Philip Davies denied making changes about removing controversial comments related to Muslims from 2006 and 2007.
The Sun newspaper alleged that in 2007, Labour MP Chuka Umunna, under the name Socialdemocrat, created and repeatedly edited his own Wikipedia page. The newspaper highlighted edits such as those describing Umunna as the British Barack Obama. Umunna told the Daily Telegraph that he did not alter his own Wikipedia page, but the paper quoted what they called "sources close to Umunna" as having told the newspaper that "it was possible that one of his campaign team in 2007, when he was trying to be selected to be Labour's candidate for Streatham in the 2010 general election, set up the page."
In September 2012, controversy surrounded Wikimedia UK trustee Roger Bamkin, who along with OCLC Wikipedian in Residence Maximillian Klein, had been organizing an effort named Gibraltarpedia to create articles about Gibraltar in partnership with the Gibraltar Tourism Board. Articles written under this program were featured on the Wikipedia mainpage an unusually high 17 times in the course of a few weeks. This issue brought attention to organizational conflicts of interest regarding Wikimedia Movement partners, leading to an investigation of WMUK. Bamkin stepped down as trustee following the media response. Jimmy Wales commented, "It is wildly inappropriate for a board member of a chapter, or anyone else in an official role of any kind in a charity associated with Wikipedia, to take payment from customers in exchange for securing favorable placement on the front page of Wikimedia or anywhere else."
In February 2013, for-profit prison company GEO Group received major media coverage when a Wikipedia user under the name Abraham Cohen edited the entry on the company regarding naming rights to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Stadium. GEO Group's Manager of Corporate Relations at the time was named Abraham Cohen, who is an FAU alumnus, former FAU student body president, and former ex-officio member of the FAU board of trustees. Eleven edits constituting the majority of all those changes had been made in a single day under a Wikipedia account named "Abraham Cohen", the only day on which that account has ever been used.
In March 2013 it was reported that a member of BP's press office had submitted drafts to rewrite the company's article, including sections dealing with its environmental record; the drafts were reviewed and added by other editors. Estimates of the size of the contributions were as high as 44 percent of the article. The BP press officer, who called himself "Arturo at BP," said he had chosen that name to make his affiliation clear, and noted that he had not directly edited the page. The development caused concern because the content was being produced by an employee, while "readers would be none the wiser." Jimmy Wales was quoted in Salon.com, saying "I think that accusing [BP employee] Arturo of 'skirting' Wikipedia's rules in this case is fairly ludicrous – unless 'skirting' means 'going above and beyond what is required in order to be very clearly in compliance with best practice.' So, I would consider that a blatant factual misrepresentation." The Wikipedia community intensely debated the ethics of the incident and how to handle it and other similar cases.
This company affirms that "WikiExperts employees do not directly edit Wikipedia. Instead, we act as a consulting company which outsources such editing to most suitable affiliated experts."
In 2012, Wikipedia volunteers launched possibly one of the largest sockpuppet investigations in its history after editors on its website reported suspicious activity suggesting a number of accounts were used to subvert Wikipedia's policies. After almost a year of investigation, over 250 sockpuppet accounts were allegedly found, operated by two independent networks of users. Wikipedia editors traced the edits and sockpuppetry back to a firm known as Wiki-PR, leading to a cease and desist letter by Sue Gardner issued to the founders of the organization. The accounts were banned. On 25 October 2013, a community ban was further placed on Wiki-PR and any of its contractors.
In 2015 the Wikipedia community blocked 381 accounts, many of them suspected sock puppets of the same people, after a two-month investigation, Operation Orangemoody, revealed they had been used to blackmail firms "struggling to get pages about their businesses on Wikipedia." These businesses had been told by Wikipedia users that articles about them had been "rejected due to concerns of excessive promotional content." In a few cases, the users asking for money were the same accounts that had earlier rejected the articles for publication.
The scammers asked for hundreds of pounds to "protect or promote" the firms' interests. Wikipedia deleted 210 articles related to UK businesses, most of them of middle size. Individuals were also targeted. The investigation was named OrangeMoody by Wikipedia editors after the name of the first identified account. An unnamed Wikipedia spokesperson stated that "undisclosed paid advocacy editing may represent a serious conflict of interest and could compromise the quality of content on Wikipedia."
In September 2015 former senator Jim Walsh admitted editing his own Wikipedia entry, claiming it had been edited by "a person from the gay lobby groups". He said that he had removed "certain erroneous comments" but did not say which edits he made. T.J. McIntyre, a law lecturer at University College Dublin, drew attention to edits made from an IP address belonging to the Oireachtas. Edits made from that address included removal of controversial comments made by the former senator about gay people or the Marriage Equality referendum.
On April 12, 2017, Burger King released a commercial in which an employee states that he could not explain a Whopper in 15 seconds, after which he states "OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?". The dialogue was designed to trigger voice searches on Android devices and Google Home smart speakers configured to automatically respond to the phrase "OK Google". The specific query causes the device to read out a snippet sourced from Wikipedia's article on the Whopper. However, prior to the ad's premiere, the article had been edited by users, including one named "Burger King Corporation", so that Google's automatically-generated response to the query would be a detailed description of the Whopper burger that utilized promotional language. The edits were reverted for violating Wikipedia's policies against blatant promotion.
Furthermore, the snippet became the target of vandals, who edited the article to claim that the sandwich contained such ingredients as "cyanide", "a medium-sized child", "rat meat" and "toenail clippings", while some users reported that Google Home had relayed information from these vandalized revisions. Soon after the release of the commercial, Google blacklisted its audio so that it would not trigger the always-on voice detection. Wikipedia also protected the Whopper article to prevent the promotional descriptions or vandalism from being re-inserted. In turn, Burger King modified the commercial in order to get around this block.
In September 2012, there was media attention surrounding two Wikipedia employees who were running a PR business on the side and editing Wikipedia on behalf of their clients.
Edits involving Daimler AG were reported in March 2012. In August that year, the communications director for Idaho's Department of Education, Melissa McGrath, edited the article on her boss, Tom Luna. In September it was revealed that Tory Party charmain Grant Shapps had changed the information about his academic record as well as donor information. Also in September, writer Philip Roth wrote a piece in The New Yorker chronicling his difficulty changing information about one of his novels.
In October 2012, the Occupy Melbourne article was edited from a City of Melbourne IP address to alter language about recent protests, in the week leading up to the election of lord mayor Robert Doyle. Doyle denied any involvement or motive.
In January 2014, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that Sarah Stierch was "no longer an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation", after evidence was presented on a Wikimedia mailing list that she had "been editing Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients" – a practice the Wikimedia Foundation said was "frowned upon by many in the editing community and by the Wikimedia Foundation".
In June 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that Banc de Binary, which had been cited for unregistered options trading by U.S. regulators, posted an advertisement on a freelancing bulletin board "offering more than $10,000 for 'crisis management'" of its Wikipedia page.
In March 2015, The Washington Post reported that The New York Police Department had confirmed that at least some edits to Wikipedia entries about people who died following confrontations with NYPD officers were made from computers on the department’s servers.
Phil Gomes, senior vice-president of a PR firm named Edelman Digital, created a Facebook group called "Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement" (CREWE) in January 2012. According to Gerard F. Corbett, CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, CREWE is based on four principles: 1) Corporate communicators want to do the right thing; 2) communicators engaged in ethical practice have a lot to contribute; 3) current Wikipedia policy does not fully understand numbers 1 and 2, because of the activities of some bad actors and a misunderstanding of public relations; and 4) accurate Wikipedia entries are in the public interest.
CREWE lobbies for greater involvement by PR professionals on the site, with the stated goal of maintaining accurate articles about corporations. Some Wikipedia editors, including Jimmy Wales, joined the group to discuss these issues. In an open letter to Wales, Gomes argued that Wikipedia's prominence as a top search result adds a level of responsibility to be accurate. Gomes also criticized allegedly inaccurate or outdated articles and the lack of timely response to issues raised in existing channels. He further argued that allowing PR representatives to fix minor errors such as spelling, grammar, and facts leaves too much ambiguity about what are acceptable changes to make. He made the comparison between PR editors and activists, challenging that activists seem to enjoy "much more latitude," and argued that in certain situations direct editing of articles by PR reps was called for.
In January 2012, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK began to collaborate with the regional Wikimedia UK chapter (WMUK) to provide guidance for CIPR members on how to interact with the Wikipedia community. Jane Wilson, CIPR CEO, said in February 2012: "For the time being, we may have to start with an acceptance that Wikipedians have a problem with our profession and this reputation has unfortunately been earned. We can't change this overnight but by working in partnership with Wikimedia UK and Wikipedians, through outreach, diplomacy and dialogue, we can make a difference."
In January 2012, Gerald Corbett, head of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), said "We believe there is a case to be made for PR professionals to responsibly edit client Wikipedia entries in an ethical and transparent manner." In June, he commended CIPR for reaching a point of agreement with Wikipedia, but said "... nothing has changed at all".
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) devoted their September 2012 CW Bulletin to paid editing on Wikipedia. PR pro Mark Estes said that: "As an advocate, a public relations professional is accountable to his or her client or organization. As a voice of social conscience, however, a public relations professional is accountable to the public at large. Thus, the innate conflict between the two identities. The theory of responsible advocacy attempts to reconcile that conflict and provide guidance to achieve common ground. PR professional David King recommended "collaborating with nothing to hide," emphasizing transparency and the importance of not editing articles directly. He explained: "When legal and marketing departments establish their corporate Wikipedia strategy or policy, they often feel they are faced with only two choices: Ignore one of the world’s most influential websites with a hands-off policy or engage in the risky, controversial and ethically ambiguous practice of direct editing. In some circumstances these are both good strategies, but most companies can find more effective middle ground by engaging in PR or content marketing with Wikipedia’s citizen journalists—a safe and ethical way to make improvements that is valuable both for the organization and Wikipedia.
On 6 January 2012, a Wikipedian created WikiProject Integrity (formerly WikiProject Paid Advocacy Watch). The goal of this Wikiproject is to "discuss, raise awareness of, and hopefully address issues regarding paid editing on Wikipedia, in which people are compensated to create and edit Wikipedia articles."
Days later, on 10 January, another editor created WikiProject Cooperation; the project page says that it "facilitates collaboration with editors paid to edit Wikipedia." The group is made up of both paid and volunteer Wikipedia editors. The group provides "education and outreach to public relations and marketing professionals, freelance editors, and employees working on assignments from their employers" with the goal of "support[ing] ethical, transparent paid editors that opt-in to collaborative efforts to meet Wikipedia's encyclopedic goals, serve the public's interest and avoid even the perception of impropriety." The main avenue for accomplishing its goals is a paid editor help page, where paid editors and representatives can requests changes to an article and have it reviewed by an experienced editor. WikiProject Cooperation echoes the COI guideline in strongly discouraging paid editors from making direct edits to articles.
In June 2014, 11 major public relations companies signed a statement agreeing to comply with Wikipedia's policies on conflict-of-interest editing.
The Robert and Renée Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (also known as the Belfer Center) is a permanent research center located within the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Since 2017, the center is led by Director Ash Carter, former US Secretary of Defense and Co-Director Eric Rosenbach, former Assistant Secretary of Defense.Belfer was founded in 1973 by biochemist Paul M. Doty as the 'Program for Science and International Affairs' within Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences to provide analysis on arms control and nuclear threat reduction. Following a grant from the Ford Foundation, the program was re-established as the Center for Science and International Affairs, becoming the first permanent research center at the newly formed School of Government. In 1997, following further endowment, the center was renamed as the Robert and Renée Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in honor of Robert A. Belfer, founder of Belco Oil & Gas Corporation.
In 2012, the Stanton Foundation provided funds for a paid Wikipedian in residence at the Belfer Center. This became controversial due to links between the Belfer Center and the Stanton Foundation (the directors of each are a married couple) and public concerns about conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia. The center is organized into subgroups with specific areas of focus; for example, an energy technology innovation policy group led by Laura Diaz Anadon.Bell Pottinger
Bell Pottinger Private (legally BPP Communications Ltd.) was a British multinational public relations, reputation management and marketing company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. On 12 September 2017 it went into administration (bankruptcy) as a consequence of a scandal caused by some of its activities in South Africa.
Bell Pottinger offered services such as lobbying, speech writing, reputation management, and search engine optimisation to clients including companies, governments and rich individuals. It was the largest UK-based public relations consultancy measured by 2010 fee income. Lord Bell, who advised Margaret Thatcher on media matters, was a co-founder of Bell Pottinger, which, until July 2012, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Chime Communications plc. In June 2012, Lord Bell and Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson completed a £19.6m management buyout from Chime, with Chime retaining a 25% stake in the business.The firm has been described as having "the most controversial client list" in the PR industry. It has been criticised numerous times for conflict-of-interest edits that the company has made on Wikipedia pages that involve or are about their clients. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the company was hired by the Pentagon to work in Iraq, making fake terror and news-style videos, targeting al-Qaeda, for the reported sum of $540m.During 2016 and 2017, a sustained 'dirty campaign' by the firm came to light, in which it played on racial animosity in South Africa, including the creation of fake news, in order to benefit its client Oakbay Investments, which is controlled by the controversial and influential Gupta family in South Africa and had strong ties to the then President Zuma's government. In 2017, the resulting scandal saw the firm disgraced and expelled from its professional body. Chief executive and largest shareholder James Henderson departed, lead partner Victoria Geoghegan was fired, and Chime, its second-largest shareholder, wrote off its investment and departed. There was an exodus of major clients and other senior staff, with the result that many onlookers thought the UK firm was highly likely to close, while operations in the Middle and Far East could be sold to new owners. On 12 September 2017, it was announced that Bell Pottinger had entered administration, with some staff immediately being made redundant.A September 2017 review by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills concluded that the firm had breached ethical standards, lacked appropriate policies for managing controversial accounts, and had brought the PR industry into disrepute, and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) said the firm had received a "damning indictment", having breached four of its conduct charter clauses. The firm had previously claimed that the allegations were purely a smear campaign having no truth to them.Bomis
Bomis ( to rhyme with "promise") was a dot-com company best known for supporting the creations of free-content online-encyclopedia projects Nupedia and Wikipedia. It was founded in 1996 by Jimmy Wales, Tim Shell and Michael Davis. Davis became acquainted with Wales after hiring him at Chicago Options Associates in 1994, and Wales became friends with Shell through mailing lists discussing philosophy. The primary business of Bomis was the sale of advertising on the Bomis.com search portal.The company initially tried a number of ideas for content, including being a directory of information about Chicago. The site subsequently focused on content geared to a male audience, including information on sporting activities, automobiles and women. Bomis became successful after focusing on X-rated media. "Bomis Babes" was devoted to erotic images; the "Bomis Babe Report" featured adult pictures. Bomis Premium, available for an additional fee, provided explicit material. "The Babe Engine" helped users find erotic content through a web search engine. The advertising director for Bomis noted that 99 percent of queries on the site were for nude women.Bomis created Nupedia as a free online encyclopedia (with content submitted by experts) but it had a tedious, slow review process. Wikipedia was initially launched by Bomis to provide content for Nupedia, and was a for-profit venture (a Bomis subsidiary) through the end of 2002. As the costs of Wikipedia rose with its popularity, Bomis' revenues declined as result of the dot-com crash. Since Wikipedia was a drain on Bomis' resources, Wales and philosophy graduate student Larry Sanger decided to fund the project as a charity; Sanger was laid off from Bomis in 2002. Nupedia content was merged into Wikipedia, and it ceased in 2003.The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation began in 2003 with a Board of Trustees composed of Bomis' three founders (Wales, Davis and Shell) and was first headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, Bomis' location. Wales used about US$100,000 of revenue from Bomis to fund Wikipedia before the decision to shift the encyclopedia to non-profit status. Wales stepped down from his role as CEO of Bomis in 2004. Shell served as CEO of the company in 2005, while on the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. Wales edited Wikipedia in 2005 to remove the characterizations of Bomis as providing softcore pornography, which attracted media attention; Wales expressed regret for his actions. The Atlantic gave Bomis the nickname "Playboy of the Internet", and the term caught on in other media outlets. Scholars have described Bomis as a provider of softcore pornography.Church of Scientology editing on Wikipedia
A series of incidents in 2009 led to Church of Scientology-owned networks being banned from making edits to Wikipedia articles relating to Scientology. The Church of Scientology has long had a controversial history on the Internet, and has initiated campaigns to manipulate material and remove information critical of itself from the web. From early in Wikipedia's history, conflict arose within the topic of Scientology on the website. Disputes began in earnest in 2005, with users disagreeing about whether or not to describe Scientology as an abusive cult or religion. By 2006, disagreements concerning the topic of Scientology on Wikipedia had grown more specific. Wikipedia user and Scientology critic David Gerard commented to The Daily Telegraph in 2006 that some articles were neutral due to a requirement to reference stated facts.Revelations from software produced by Virgil Griffith in 2007 called WikiScanner made public the nature of edits on Wikipedia which were able to be traced directly back to Church of Scientology-controlled computers. CBS News and The Independent reported that edits by the Church of Scientology were made in attempts to remove criticism from the main article on the topic. The Times and Forbes noted that Scientologist computers were used to remove links between the Church of Scientology and a former anti-cult organization, since taken over by Scientology, the Cult Awareness Network. Der Spiegel reported that Wikiscanner revealed Scientology computers were used to promote Scientology's critical view of psychiatry, including adding links to the Scientology-founded Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and to websites of other groups affiliated with Scientology.In January 2009, The Register reported on a case involving Scientology before Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee. The Arbitration Committee on Wikipedia is composed of a group of volunteers elected by the editing community to resolve especially difficult conflicts. Wikipedia administrators presented evidence during the case that Scientology-controlled computers were used to promote the organization, using multiple user accounts. One user going by the pseudonym "COFS" admitted this pattern of editing, and stated the edits from Scientology computers would continue. In May 2009, the Arbitration Committee decided to restrict editing from IP addresses belonging to the Church of Scientology, to prevent biased edits by editors within Church of Scientology-administered networks. The decision accorded Scientology-controlled IP addresses the same blockable status as open proxies on the site. A large number of Scientology critics were banned as well. The committee concluded that both sides had "gamed policy" and resorted to "battlefield tactics", with articles on living persons being the "worst casualties".Arbitration Committee member Roger Davies wrote the majority of the decision, and commented to The New York Times that due to the controversial nature of the case, the decision was crafted so as not to focus directly upon any particular individual. Wikipedia media contact Dan Rosenthal emphasized in a statement to ABC News that it was generally accepted procedure on the site to ban users that had violated policy intended to prevent them from promoting propaganda. Wikimedia Foundation spokesman and head of communications Jay Walsh said to Bloomberg BusinessWeek the Arbitration decision was intended to help restore Scientology-related articles to an acceptable state on the site. Wikimedia Germany spokesperson Catrin Schoneville stated to Computerwoche that the decision impacted the English Wikipedia, and noted it was unclear whether a similar ruling might be applied to the German Wikipedia. Statements from Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw labelled the Arbitration ruling as a routine matter, and maintained there were still "gross inaccuracies" on the Scientology article. In a statement to CNN, Pouw denied the presence of an organized campaign by the Church of Scientology to manipulate Wikipedia. Scientology representative Tommy Davis emphasized to the St. Petersburg Times that users critical of the organization were also banned, and similarly denied that Scientology leadership arranged a campaign to manipulate entries on Wikipedia.Commercial use of Wikimedia projects
Commercial use of Wikimedia projects refers to any business or product selling content from Wikipedia or Wikimedia projects which it freely took. Wikimedia projects use free and open copyright licenses which means that anyone may share the information for any purpose.
Commercial organizations which take without giving back may face criticism or social pressure.Conflict of Interest (disambiguation)
Conflict of Interest may refer to:
For conflicts of interest generally, see conflict of interest
"Conflicts of Interest" (Babylon 5), a 1997 episode of Babylon 5
Conflict of Interest (EP), an album by Darkwood
"A Conflict of Interest", a 1987 episode of Yes, Prime Minister
"A Conflict of Interests" (Life on Mars), an episode of Life on Mars
Conflict of Interest (novel), a legal thriller by David Crump
Conflict of Interest (film), a 1993 independent film directed by Gary Davis
Conflict of interest editing on WikipediaFreud Communications
Freud Communications is a public relations firm based in London. It was founded in 1985 by Matthew Freud—of the Public Relations dynasty of Edward Bernays—and great-grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud). The PR firm of Edward Bernays became Britain's largest independent consumer PR firm. The firm was bought in 1994 by another independent UK agency, Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV), in 1994 for about 10 million pounds only for Matthew Freud, together with other partners, to buy back the company in 2001, for a similar sum, when AMV was itself purchased by the US group Omnicom.The French Publicis Groupe (the third largest communications firm in the world) acquired a 50.1% stake in Freud Communications in June, 2005. In 2006 Freud purchased advertising agency DFGW.Freud Communications USA, which closed in February 2009, was based in New York City. The company had a turnover in 2011 of around £40million per year, a staff of more than two hundred and has been ranked by PR Week in their ranking system as 6th in the UK.In 1999 Leapman reported in The Times that Freud Communications had offered an Internet brand management service to its clients. This would "scour the Net for references to its clients" and if they were criticised, "the agency would use rebuttal tactics to minimise the potentially negative impact of online inaccuracy".In 2007 PR Week ran a story documenting the use of WikiScanner to track anonymous edits and link them to organizations through their IP addresses and found that "Freud Communications' London office was caught making Wikipedia edits on behalf of clients."James Heilman
James M. Heilman (born 1979/1980) is a Canadian emergency physician, Wikipedian, and advocate for the improvement of Wikipedia's health-related content. He encourages other clinicians to contribute to the online encyclopedia.With the Wikipedia username "Doc James," Heilman is an active contributor to WikiProject Medicine, and a volunteer Wikipedia administrator. He was the president of Wikimedia Canada between 2010 and 2013, and founded and was formerly the president of Wiki Project Med Foundation. He is also the founder of WikiProject Medicine's Medicine Translation Task Force. In June 2015, he was elected to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, a position which he held until he was removed on December 28, 2015. Heilman was re-elected to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees in May 2017.Heilman is a clinical assistant professor at the department of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia, and the head of the department of emergency medicine at East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook, British Columbia, where he lives.Jim Walsh (Irish politician)
Jim Walsh (born 5 May 1947) is an Irish Fianna Fáil politician and member of Seanad Éireann between 1997 and 2016.Ken Sunshine
Ken Sunshine is an American public relations consultant, co-CEO and founder of Sunshine Sachs Consultants. He began his career in New York City politics, including serving as chief of staff for Mayor David Dinkins.Orangemoody editing of Wikipedia
On August 31, 2015, the English Wikipedia community discovered 381 sockpuppet accounts operating a secret paid editing ring. Participants in the ring extorted money from mid-sized businesses who had articles about themselves rejected. Nicknamed "Orangemoody" after the first account uncovered, it was Wikipedia's biggest conflict-of-interest scandal at the time, exceeding the scope of the Wiki-PR editing of Wikipedia incident in which approximately 250 sockpuppets were found and blocked in 2013.
The story was reported by hundreds of English language and non-English language news sources, including Komsomolskaya Pravda, Le Temps, Le Monde and Die Zeit. The editing was described by various media as "black hat" editors (TechCrunch), "dishonest editing" (PC World), "extortion" (Wired), a "blackmail scam" (The Independent), and an "extensive cybercrime syndicate" (ThinkProgress).Portland Communications
Portland Communications Ltd is a political consultancy and public relations agency set up in 2001 by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair and Director of Communications at BSkyB. In 2012 a majority stake in Portland was purchased by Omnicom.Portland provides communications and public affairs advice to brands and high-profile individuals. Portland's website states that "Our team is recruited from the highest levels of the media, politics and government."Reliability of Wikipedia
The reliability of Wikipedia (predominantly of the English-language edition) has been frequently questioned and often assessed. The reliability has been tested statistically, through comparative review, analysis of the historical patterns, and strengths and weaknesses inherent in the editing process unique to Wikipedia. Incidents of conflicted editing, and the use of Wikipedia for 'revenge editing' (inserting false, defamatory or biased statements into biographies) have attracted publicity.A study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia's scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of "serious errors". Encyclopædia Britannica disputed the Nature study, and Nature replied with a formal response and point-by-point rebuttal of Britannica's main objections. Between 2008 and 2012, Wikipedia articles on medical and scientific fields such as pathology, toxicology, oncology, pharmaceuticals, and psychiatry were compared to professional and peer-reviewed sources and it was found that Wikipedia's depth and coverage were of a high standard.
Concerns regarding readability were raised in a study published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a study published in Psychological Medicine (2012), and a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Because Wikipedia is open to anonymous and collaborative editing, assessments of its reliability often examine how quickly false or misleading information is removed. A study conducted by IBM researchers in 2003—two years following Wikipedia's establishment—found that "vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly—so quickly that most users will never see its effects" and concluded that Wikipedia had "surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities".False information has sometimes lasted for a long time on Wikipedia. In May 2005, an editor sparked controversy by creating an article about John Seigenthaler that included false and defamatory statements. The inaccurate information remained uncorrected for four months. A biographical article on French Wikipedia portrayed a "Léon-Robert de L'Astran" as an 18th-century anti-slavery ship owner, which led Ségolène Royal, a presidential candidate, to praise him. A student investigation determined that the article was a hoax and de L'Astran had never existed. Journalists from a spectrum of publications have similarly been embarrassed by repeating mistaken or fake information.Sockpuppet (Internet)
A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term, a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an Internet community who spoke to, or about, themselves while pretending to be another person.The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a person or organization, to manipulate public opinion, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. Sockpuppets are unwelcome in many online communities and may be blocked.The Hunting Ground
The Hunting Ground is a 2015 documentary film about the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses in the United States and what its creators say is a failure of college administrations to deal with it adequately. Written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, it premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released on February 27, 2015, an edited version aired on CNN on November 22, 2015, and was released on DVD the week of December 1, 2015. It was released on Netflix in March 2016. Lady Gaga recorded an original song, "Til It Happens to You," for the film, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.The documentary focuses on Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, two former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students who filed a Title IX complaint against UNC in response to their rapes while enrolled. The use of Title IX in campus sexual assault cases became a model for universities across the country.Critics of the film, including writer Emily Yoffe and a number of Harvard Law School professors, have questioned The Hunting Ground's accuracy and objectivity. Among the issues raised by critics are the film's portrayal of one man as a rapist, while not disclosing that the university and the police had found him not responsible for the alleged sexual assault, and for use of controversial statistics. The filmmakers have actively defended their work, responding to most criticisms.The Signpost
The Signpost (formerly The Wikipedia Signpost) is the English Wikipedia's online newspaper. Managed by the Wikipedia community, it is published online with contributions from Wikipedia editors. The newspaper reports on the Wikipedia community and events related to Wikipedia, including Arbitration Committee rulings, Wikimedia Foundation issues, and other Wikipedia-related projects.It was founded in January 2005 by Wikipedian Michael Snow. Originally called The Wikipedia Signpost, the newspaper's title was later shortened to The Signpost. Snow continued as a contributor until his February 2008 appointment to the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees.Former editor-in-chief, The ed17, noted that during his tenure from 2012 to 2015, the publication expanded its scope to report on the wider Wikimedia movement in addition to Wikipedia and its community. In January 2015, Wikipedia editors Gamaliel and Go Phightins! succeeded The ed17 as editors-in-chief, followed by Pete Forsyth in 2016 and Evad37 in 2017. After reporting on the changes to European freedom of panorama law in June 2015, The Signpost was referred to by a number of publications for further information.The Signpost has been the subject of academic analysis in Sociological Forum, the social-movements journal Interface, and the New Review of Academic Librarianship, and was consulted for data on Wikipedia by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Dartmouth College. It has been covered by The New York Times, The Register, Nonprofit Quarterly, and Heise Online. The book Wikipedia: The Missing Manual called The Signpost essential reading for ambitious new Wikipedia editors.United States Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia
Some edits to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia by staff of the United States Congress have created controversy, notably in early to mid-2006. Several such instances, such as those involving Marty Meehan, Norm Coleman, Conrad Burns, and Joe Biden, received significant media attention. Others, such as those involving Gil Gutknecht, were reported but received less widespread coverage.
Biographical information on various politicians was edited by their own staff to remove undesirable information (including pejorative statements quoted, or broken campaign promises), add favorable information or "glowing" tributes, add negative information to opponents' biographies, or replace the article in part or whole by staff-authored biographies.Wiki-PR editing of Wikipedia
WikiScanner (also known as Wikipedia Scanner) was a publicly searchable database operating between 2002 and 2007 that linked millions of anonymous edits on Wikipedia to the organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on the owners of the associated block of IP addresses though it did not investigate edits made under a username. It was created by Virgil Griffith and released on August 14, 2007.In his "WikiScanner FAQ" Griffith stated his belief that WikiScanner could help make Wikipedia more reliable for controversial topics. He also indicated that he had never been employed by the Wikimedia Foundation and claimed his work on WikiScanner was "100% noncommercial."
On December 21, 2012, a research group from Fondazione Bruno Kessler released an open-source clone of WikiScanner called WikiWatchdog.By April 2013, attempts to run "WikiScanner Classic" from wikiscanner.virgil.gr returned to the WikiScanner home page, which identified itself as "WIKIWATCHER.COM"; and invoking "WikiScanner2 PreviewNew!" led to a "failure to load the page due to timeout" error.In the end, Virgil Griffith says he had to take wikiscanner.gr down, as it was costing him "several thousand USD per month."