Wikipedia tightens rules for PR content

A week after a coalition of big public relations firms vowed not to secretly edit their clients’ Wikipedia pages, the foundation that runs the online encyclopedia is going a step further by strengthening its rules against the practice.

Beginning Monday, changes in Wikipedia’s terms of use will require anyone paid to edit articles to disclose that arrangement. Other rules beyond the new terms of use may also apply, depending on the section of Wikipedia involved, and could require further disclosure or prohibit paid advocacy editing altogether. In extreme cases, companies secretly editing articles about their clients could be violating federal guidelines, the Wikimedia Foundation points out in a “frequently asked questions” list accompanying the new rules. The foundation cites Federal Trade Commission guidelines that “the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose” any relationship to a company being mentioned as well as to “readers of the message board.”

The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation and the big PR firms said their announcements were not connected. Although the foundation was aware PR firms were working on the issue, “We didn’t know the PR firms’ statement was going to be published,” Maher said. “No one from the foundation was consulted.” Throughout February and March, the Wikimedia community extensively discussed the issue of undisclosed paid editing, resulting in 320,000 words of discussion on the site and 6.3 million views of the proposal that is being adopted.

As a current example of the problem, volunteer Wikipedia editors point to an ad posted on the freelancing bulletin board Elance offering more than $10,000 for “crisis management” of the Wikipedia page for Banc de Binary. The Cyprus firm has been cited for unregistered options trading by the Security Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Along with the ad seeking paid editing of the page, volunteer Wikipedia editor Peter Ekman of Media, Pa., said the page shows many signs of biased editors seeking to remove mentions of the company’s problems with U.S. regulators.

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