Ethical Wiki

Ethical Wikipedia Marketing

Lessons from NYPD Wikipedia editing

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You may have heard that last month the newspaper Capital New York broke the story about 85 IP addresses traced to the New York Police Department's (NYPD) headquarters that were making self-serving edits to Wikipedia pages about police brutality, other police scandals and its political leadership.

This created the appearance of an organized effort by the police department to manipulate Wikipedia. According to the Wikipedia SignPost, media coverage on the event was predominantly critical of the New York police force, alleging that the public should feel uncomfortable with the force re-writing their own history.

NYPD spokespeople said this controversy was merely the outcome of employees using computers for un-authorized personal use. This version of events is more plausible than the sensationalized media gave them credit for. The offending 85 IPs were cherry-picked from 15-16 thousand IP addresses used by the police department and highlights a non-representative sample of edits from police force computers, which include many changes to pop culture articles. The NYPD has almost 50,000 staff and so it's not surprising that some of them would edit Wikipedia at work.

For any given large organization, it is inevitable that some of their employees will use work computers to edit Wikipedia pages on subjects that interest them; that some of them will have an interest in controversial matters related to their work; and that because they have a closer personal connection with these controversial subjects, they will make non-neutral edits to Wikipedia.

This is actually quite routine. I encourage all of our clients to incorporate Wikipedia into their social media use policies for employees, but we often encounter rogue employees ignoring or not aware of the policy. The simplest and most obvious method of deterring this kind of scandal is to blacklist access to URLs that contain both "Wikipedia.org" and "action=edit" using security settings with the IT department.

Ethical Wiki has created 20% of Wikipedia's best company pages

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Today Ethical Wiki made an announcement that 20 percent of Wikipedia's highest-quality company pages, based on the site's quality rankings, have been written by Ethical Wiki. Editors that participate on Wikipedia on behalf of a person or company the page is about have long been associated with self-serving edits that are destructive to Wikipedia's principles of neutrality; the announcement is a bit of showboating that our work is not only useful to clients, but for Wikipedia and the public as well.

Much of the discussion within the public relations and Wikipedia communities about ethical participation on Wikipedia has been about transparency. There's a long history of companies covertly manipulating Wikipedia by acting as if they were independent, crowd-sourced participants, a practice commonly known as "astroturfing". Disclosing that you have a financial connection with the company or person the page is about prevents the appearance of attempting to be sneaky.

However, when someone affiliated with a company or person biases a Wikipedia page openly and transparently, it's often seen as equally if not more offensive than covert tactics. Since there's no disclosure to Wikipedia's readers of the author's financial connection, promotional content may run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission's astroturfing laws, even if your affiliation with the company is disclosed to Wikipedia's editors (but not its readers). This announcement reinforces the importance of well-researched, neutral content in making your contributions ethical and positive.

Ethical Wiki operates under the principle that ethical contributions to Wikipedia are those that closely mirror what an experienced, independent Wikipedian not affiliated with the company would produce. This is not easy to do, since employees at the company have strong opinions about its history and an interest in aligning with brand messaging. It's hard work, but we've done it; we've producing a substantial amount of Wikipedia's best content about corporate histories on behalf of the subject of the article themselves and we're the first to do so.

More Wikipedia services are popping up with a mix of black-hat and white-hat tactics. Those of us that seek to do it ethically, not just transparently, could one day produce the majority of Wikipedia's better corporate articles.

5 Tips for making a good "Request Edit" on Wikipedia

RequestEdit
A "Request Edit" on Wikipedia is a request by someone with a conflict of interest - such as a PR professional acting on behalf of the article's subject - to make changes to a page. This is done on the Talk page of the article using the template seen here on the right. It is used to avoid the appearance of manipulating Wikipedia to serve your employer or client by asking that a crowd-sourced editor verify the merits of your suggested change.

Thanks to increasing awareness about the ethical issues surrounding PR participation on Wikipedia, and growing consensus on Wikipedia regarding how to handle it, the number of Request Edit submissions have grown ten-fold. However, many Request Edits are difficult to read and review, are poor requests or fail for other reasons. In this article, I wanted to share some basic, tactical, hands-on advice on how to make a good Request Edit submission.

Use a sandbox for drafts
Creating and sharing draft content directly on the Talk page of an article is a mess. Every section-title (marked with two equals signs on either side) will show up as a separate discussion string and the draft often requires extensive re-working to correct formatting or make citations appear so they can be reviewed. Instead, click on your username at the far left of the navigation bar at the top of the Wikipedia interface, go to the URL in your browser and add "/sandbox" to the end of the URL. An example would be something like "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:/sandbox". Create your draft there and share a link to it on the Talk page of the article.

Be specific
Unfortunately, most Wikipedia articles about people and companies haven't attracted volunteer editors with an intense interest in the subject, so your Request Edit is probably being answered by someone that doesn't have an interest in the subject-matter. Notes like "the article is missing my accomplishments as CEO of" is not going to be successful. For example, for a correction request, ideally you should quote the exact text in the article that is incorrect and identify the section and paragraph number it's located in. Provide a proposed corrected alternative with a credible, independent source that verifies the information.

Make it easy to review
The easier your Request Edit is to review, the more likely someone is to review it. This means using short, concise descriptions of your changes. If you are proposing a replacement of the current article-text with an alternative, make it easy for editors to see the differences between the two versions. One way of doing this is by creating an annotated draft, using bold text to indicate new content and strikeouts to show deleted text. You could also use Track Changes in a Word document and make an annotated Word Document available through a link so editors can see the difference. Take the extra time to avoid forcing a volunteer editor to compare two drafts.