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Wikipedia beefs up disclosure rules regarding paid edits

New terms of use require volunteer editors to disclose whether they have been compensated for their contributions.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

In an effort to address concerns over Wikipedia edits paid for by third-party agents, the foundation that administers the online encyclopedia has unveiled new rules intended to increase transparency.

The Wikimedia Foundation on Monday amended its terms of use to require volunteer editors and contributors to "disclose [their] employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation."

The foundation said its hope is that the new rules will stimulate greater discussion among those in the Wikipedia community regarding the practice of making paid edits, which it sees as a threat to the site's reliability and reputation.

"We believe that undisclosed paid advocacy editing is a black hat practice that can threaten the trust of Wikimedia's volunteers and readers," the foundation said in a statement explaining the new rules. "We have serious concerns about the way that such editing affects the neutrality and reliability of Wikipedia."

The new rules come less than a week after a high-profile dispute over paid edits on the site led a group of nearly a dozen large public relations firms to vow to comply with the online encyclopedia's rules. 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 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.

Wikipedia's terms of use have long expressly forbidden "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."

Noting the "complexity of the issue," Wikimedia said it would monitor the effectiveness of the new amendment and would make adjustments deemed appropriate.