Wikipedia to PR Firms: Sockpuppets Not Welcome


Wikipedia doesn’t want any more Sockpuppets.

Hey, that’s not our term — it’s a term Wikipedia actually used.

First, some marketers and businesses apparently faked tons of reviews on sites like Yelp. Now, marketing and PR firms may be using hundreds of fake accounts to try to improve clients’ images on Wikipedia.

In a post on the official Wikimedia Blog in November, Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Matthew Roth noted:

“On October 21, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) issued a statement from Sue Gardner, our [former] executive director, condemning the black hat practice of paid advocacy editing and sockpuppeting on Wikipedia. The statement followed widespread press coverage of an investigation undertaken by Wikipedia’s volunteer editor community into more than 300 sockpuppet accounts that were alleged to belong to a public relations firm. In Gardner’s statement, she noted that the ‘Wikimedia Foundation is closely monitoring this ongoing investigation and we are currently assessing all the options at our disposal.'”

Roth went on to share a cease and desist letter sent by the foundation’s law firm Cooley LLP to Wiki-PR, the PR firm in question, demanding the company stop editing Wikipedia posts until fully complying with the website’s terms of use.

Wikimedia also temporarily banned the firm and anyone suspected of working with the company. The action seems to have sent a shockwave through the PR and marketing community.

More recently, a collection of “the world’s leading communications agencies” gathered to offer a “Statement on Wikipedia from participating communications firms.” In the statement, leading agencies like Ogilvy & Mather and Voce Communications pledged to attempt to understand Wikipedia better and abide by its rules.

This week, the Wikimedia Foundation announced yet another step toward addressing the issue of biased editing on the Wikipedia website.

Changes in the site’s “Terms of Use” state that those editing as volunteers or for a library, archive or similar organization based on their expertise may carry on as before. However, those paid to edit by a client or business that might be covered in Wikipedia will face stricter guidelines including the requirement that they disclose their affiliation for all readers to see.

It’s one thing to update your company’s blog or the blog of a client or occasionally update their social media channels. etc. But business owners and other marketers should think twice before contributing to more objective sites without disclosing their interests and those of their clients.

Transparency, in this case, is in everyone’s interest. If caught without being honest about who you are and who you represent — and let’s face it, you probably will be — what impression will you have created of your business, brand or client?

Image: Wikipedia


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

3 Reactions
  1. I guess that’s good as it makes Wikipedia more reliable. This way, the self-promoted articles on brands will be limited. They must impose it. There really are too many brands trying to get a link from reputable sources like Wikipedia that it is bound to get insane if they don’t implement this.

  2. That’s a cute name for it; sockpuppeting. But really, with all the potential traffic involved marketers will always be looking to get their hands on this kind of stuff. Wikipedia is well within their rights to regulate their site and I applaud their dedication to maintaining the objectivity of the site (even though I think they go a little too far sometimes, hence marketers referring to Wikipedia editors as Nazis at times).

    • Robert: Wikipedia has a huge challenge to get new editors for the future, due to the harsh rules that they have to obey. The org. has of course the right to do whatever they please to do with their site.

      I think you should take everything on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, and sometime a whole teaspoon! 😉