Wikipedia Has Sent A Cease-And-Desist Letter Over A PR Company's 300-Strong Sockpuppet Army

Jimmy Wales WikipediaWikimedia CommonsJimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder

Wikipedia’s parent company, The Wikimedia Foundation, has sent a cease-and desist letter to Wiki-PR, the public relations firm that has recruited 300 sock puppetsto write and edit biased Wikipedia articles on behalf of paid, corporate clients.

Viacom and Priceline are among Wiki-PR’s clients.

The sockpuppet war comes during a period of crisis for Wikipedia, which has seen the quality of its editor corps called into question. There is an argument to be made that sockpuppets — people submitting contributions on areas outside their personal expertise because they’re paid to do so — only thrive because Wikipedia has failed to attract enough new editing blood to combat them properly.

Wikipedia has been battling the sockpuppet army since 2012, when one editor discovered five editor accounts being used for fluffy, PR-type writing that is not supposed to appear on Wikipedia. More than 250 accounts, allegedly controlled by Wiki-PR, have since been deleted.

The legal letter says:

Sockpuppetry and meatpuppetry are especially harmful when used to disguise secret works of advocacy purchased by clients to promote a particular product, idea or agenda.

Wiki-PR charges between $US500 and $US1,000 to have articles written and then $US50 a month for ongoing “page management” services.

For its part, Wiki-PR says it offers legitimate services to people who want to contribute to Wikipedia but have neither the time nor expertise to do so. The company offers translation services (for foreign language editions of Wikipedia) and “crisis editing” for when a page defames you.

CEO Jordan French says:

“We do paid editing and not paid advocacy,” he added, insisting that the network of linked user accounts uncovered by the investigation were all real people, many of whom also edited Wikipedia as volunteers in their spare time. As a result, he said, “Volumes of Wikipedia pages we didn’t work on were wrongly swept into that investigation.”

But the war may have been, in part, invited by Wikipedia’s own volunteer staff. Business Insider noted recently that Wiki editors are so hostile to newcomers that they drive them away. About 90% of editors are male, and they have resisted things that would make recruiting new blood easier, such as an editorial interface that doesn’t require writers to understand HTML code.

In that environment it is not surprising that companies would spring up to offer paid services to non-specialists who feel maligned by the internet’s premier encyclopedia.

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