PR firms agree to play by Wikipedia's editing rules

Eleven large PR firms issue statements agreeing to comply with the online encyclopedia's rules after an investigation into paid edits on the site.

Wikipedia.png
Wikipedia

In the wake of a dispute over paid edits of Wikipedia pages, 11 of the largest public relations firms have agreed to comply with the online encyclopedia's rules.

The move comes after Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that administers Wikipedia, threatened a public relations agency last year with legal action for what it called "suspicious edits" of the online encyclopedia's pages to promote organizations or products.

Acknowledging that "prior actions of some in our industry have led to a challenging relationship" with Wikipedia editors, the firms vowed in a statement Tuesday to abide by the site's policies and guidelines as well as its terms of service. The firms also promised to police their own industry and counsel their clients in regard to proper conduct on the site.

"On behalf of our firms, we recognize Wikipedia's unique and important role as a public knowledge resource," the statement reads. "Our firms believe that it is in the best interest of our industry, and Wikipedia users at large, that Wikipedia fulfill its mission of developing an accurate and objective online encyclopedia. Therefore, it is wise for communications professionals to follow Wikipedia policies as part of ethical engagement practices."

The issue came to a head last October when the Wikimedia announced it had shut down more than 250 editing accounts as part of an investigation into an increase in paid edits on the nonprofit site by sockpuppets, or online identities used for purposes of deception. Reports in The Daily Dot and Vice linked the rise to a service called Wiki-PR, which formerly billed itself as "Wikipedia writers for hire."

Wiki-PR's services pages formerly promised clients a "page management service" so that their Wikipedia presence wasn't "left up to chance." Although those references have been removed, the services page includes "crisis editing," which is designed to help clients who feel they are being treated "unfairly" on Wikipedia "navigate contentious situations."

After discussions failed to resolve the issue to its satisfaction, Wikimedia sent a cease-and-desist letter to Wiki-PR CEO Jordan French in November that warned it was "prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights."

Wiki-PR did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the firms' statement, but French told CNET last October that Wikipedia had been overzealous in its investigation.

"Senior Wikipedia administrators closed the sockpuppet investigation after concluding that we were paid editors paying other editors," French wrote in an email to CNET. "Volumes of Wikipedia pages we didn't work on were wrongly swept into that investigation. We do pay hundreds of other editors for their work -- they're real people and not sockpuppets."

Wikipedia's Terms of Use expressly forbid "attempting to impersonate another user or individual, misrepresenting your affiliation with any individual or entity, or using the username of another user with the intent to deceive."

The firms signing the agreement included Beutler Ink, Ogilvy & Mather, FleishmanHillard, Peppercomm, Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Voce Communications, Edelman, Allison+Partners, and Glover Park Group.

CNET has contacted Wikimedia for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

 

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