In a practice which is classified as “black hat editing” editors were making money by creating promotional pieces and protecting against “vandalism”.
Outlining the development on the Wikimedia blog Ed Erhart and Juliet Barbara, editorial associate and senior communications manager at the Wikimedia Foundation respectively, said that after “weeks of investigation” it was determined the editors were engaged in “undisclosed paid advocacy”.
“Neutrality is key to ensuring Wikipedia’s quality. Although it does not happen often, undisclosed paid advocacy editing may represent a serious conflict of interest and could compromise the quality of content on Wikipedia,” they added.
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As well as blocking the 381 accounts volunteer editors also deleted 210 articles cerated by these accounts. Revealing that many were related to businesses or business people, biased or skewed information was provided featuring unattributed material and “potential copyright violations”.
The blog went on to say that not all paid editing is a violation of Wikipedia policy as many museums and universities use employees to edit by disclosing official affiliations.
The scam of charging businesses to protect pages sees rogue editors pose as genuine editors or Wikipedia administrators, charging a fee for an edited article previously determined to be too promotional. Furthermore, some businesses were asked to pay a monthly fee to save from changes or deletion.
Keeping the integrity and validity of Wikipedia has been an ongoing struggle due to the ability for edits to be made freely. In 2013, a cease-and-desist letter was sent to a US PR company that was reportedly offering to help clients by editing entries favourably. The PR firm had been found to have created 300 “sockpuppet” accounts.
“Readers trust Wikipedia to offer accurate, neutral content, and undisclosed paid advocacy editing violates that trust. Sadly, it also deceives the subjects of articles, who may simply be unaware that they are in violation of the spirit and policies of Wikipedia. No one should ever have to pay to create or maintain a Wikipedia article,” Erhart and Barbara said.
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