Examples of Bias in Wikipedia: Paid Editing
Wikipedia claims to be edited by volunteers rather than by paid editors who are pushing the point of view of their clients. Paid Wikipedia editors have added a large number of biased articles on less than notable people and businesses.
In theory, Wikipedia articles are supposed to be written by disinterested volunteers based on reliable secondary sources. However, because Google will rank a Wikipedia article as the first result when a person searches on the article's title, Public Relations firms and "reputation management" companies work hard to remove any negative or controversial facts from Wikipedia articles relating to their clients. Although such paid editing is not allowed, Wikipedia does little to enforce its rules against paid editing and there are numerous examples of paid editors introducing biased content on behalf of their clients.
Indian Institute of Planning and Management
Perhaps one of the extreme examples is the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), an unaccredited business school in India. Even though the IIPM was in regulatory problems, an editor(s) Wifione managed to keep the Wikipedia article on IIPM and its President positive while adding negative items to IIPM's competitors. Adding to the problem is that Wifione is a Wikipedia administrator. The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee allowed this to continue for years before taking action.
Historically, Wikipedia did not give much coverage to the Paralympics, because most paralympic athletes did not receive much independent media coverage and hence did not satisfy Wikipedia's notability test for having articles in its online encyclopedia. However, in 2011, the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) issued an Request for Proposal to pay someone to write a history of Australia's paralympians. The original plans was for the resulting document to be published as a book. Instead, a team, which included the President (who was also then serving on the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee) and Vice President of Wikimedia Australia, won the contract and decided to post their work on Wikipedia. As a result, the APC hired one of them as a "Wikipedian in residence" and they also organized a competition to encourage volunteer editors to write about paralympians called "Wikimedians to the Games" offering as a prize two trips to London to cover the 2012 Paralympic Games. The contest did not draw many entrants nor generate much content. Most of the content was generated by the paid writer instead of by volunteers. At the last minute, they proposed a new combined Olympic/paralympic competition. Apparantly, the two people who are going to London to cover the Paralympics are the paid writer and her significant other. Their "wikinews" coverage gained about 300-400 readers, worldwide. In December 2012, there was a separate funding controversy as these individuals traveled from Australia to Colorado in the United States to photograph and write about a skiing competition for para-sport athletes. They sought $4,635 in funding from the Australia Wikimedia Chapter for their trip, but started the trip before hearing a reply and pressed their funding claim while already on route. If Wikipedia relies upon secondary sources, it is not clear why they should fund amateur photographers and journalist to travel to para-sport events on the other side of the globe. Nor was it clear why one of the thousands of Wikipedia volunteers in the United States could not have covered the event in Colorado instead of a three-person team from Australia. Perhaps to seek protection for this policy transgression, the editor has since publicly self-identified as "LGBT".
United Kingdom Parliament
In March 2012, a British non-profit journalism organization called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism uncovered that members of the UK Parliament or their staff had made almost 10,000 edits to Wikipedia, and that almost one in six members of Parliament had had their Wikipedia article edited from IP addresses tracing back to Parliament. Many of the edits removed unflattering details from during the controversy over parliamentary expense accounts.
The small Welsh town of Monmouth hired Roger Bamkin who was a trustee of Wikimedia UK and the former chairman of its board. This became a model for a larger project funded by the Government of Gibraltar. Although his primary task was to post QR codes around those locations to link to Wikipedia articles, he also edited articles relating to Gibraltar and Monmouth on the English Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation and its UK chapter launched a joint investigation of this conflict of interest on September 28, and Bamkin resigned as a trustee.
In January 2012, four new editors registered with Wikipedia and started to make edits only on the Vonage article removing unfavorable facts and adding promotional materials. This was noticed by a Reddit user, which was then cited on the Wikipedia article's talk page. Although the biased edits made by users with names like "VonageAdmin" are now being cleaned-up, the edits persisted for ten months.
A firm called "Wiki-PR" used hundreds of "sockpuppet accounts" to edit articles covering their clients for years without disclosing that the paid editing created a conflict of interest. The clients included Viacom and priceline.com. The matter is also being discussed by Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee.
William Beutler has assembled a staff of Wikipedia editors-for-hire. He claims to edit in a manner consistent with Wikipedia policy and has been an outspoken leader in defining "ethical" paid Wikipedia editing. He made favorable edits to C-SPAN related articles and at the same time received much beneficial publicity from an in-depth televised interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN. He had previously been interviewed on C-SPAN as a blogger with credentials to cover the 2008 Democratic Convention.
Beutler Ink was hired to sanitize the biography of Aubrey McClendon, a billionaire who was fired as CEO of Chesapeake Energy for self-dealing and later indicted for criminal anti-trust violations.
- In April 2013, a marketer sent out unsolicited emails claiming to "have a Wikiepdia Admin on staff who can get your pages up and keep them up. He is also very good at fixing client's pages who have gotten slandered online. Get in touch for more details. Our price is $2,500." Wikipedia did not investigate the claim.
- Starting in April 2008, Karen "Fluffernutter" Ingraffea, who worked as a paid member of IBM's Watson AI team, began editing Wikipedia on company time, including the article covering the Watson AI project. She married Wikipedia arbitrator Brad “Courcelles” Brown in September 2013 and no action has been taken against her for her paid editing.
- Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) employee Sarah Stierch advertised her services as a Wikipedia writer for hire on the same freelancer site Wikimedia uses for its own contractors. Wikipedia articles she was alleged to have edited for pay include: the biography of Sally Hogshead, an author and professional speaker; the article on The Leadership Challenge, a book on leadership and professional development; and the biography of Barry Posner, one of the book’s authors. Critics raised this paid editing on Jimmy Wales' talk page. After Wales denied Stierch was a WMF employee, and Fluffernutter jumped to her defense, she was terminated without public explanation by the WMF on January 9.
- Tony Ahn & Co., a digital Public Relations agency based out of the Philippines, offers to provide Wikipedia pages for its clients. It has also placed clients' articles on the main page of Wikipedia by nominating them for "Did You Know?" entries.
- Ariadne Capital, a London-based venture capital firm, is suing PR agency Lansons over a "botched attempt to improve a Wikipedia entry in a campaign that did its reputation more harm than good." The PR agency sent an email to Wikipedia about a less-than-flattering article, and Wikipedia posted its text on-wiki.
- Indian Fakers Teach Wiki PR. Wikipediocracy (December 2, 2013). Retrieved on February 8, 2015.
- Wifione Case. Retrieved on February 8, 2015.
- Wikipedia:Notabiity (sports). Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- Paralymic History Request for Proposals (PDF). Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- Wikimedians to the Games. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- "Olympic/Paralympic WikiCup?", June 28, 2012. Retrieved on August 30, 3012.
- "Covering the Olympics/Paralympics live and in person for Wikipedia and other WMF projects", July 22, 2012. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- User:LauraHale. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- User:LauraHale (June 13, 2013).
- Wikipedia. "MPs Wikipedia pages 'changed from inside Parliament'", Telegraph, March 9, 2012. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- Wikipedia: ‘Bob Crow, The Lord of the Rings and Notable DJs’: TBIJ. Thebureauinvestigates.com. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- Eddie Wrenn. "MPs and their staff make 10,000 changes to Wikipedia pages in bid to hide embarrassing information | Mail Online", Dailymail.co.uk, March 9, 2012. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
- "Wikipedia parent launches ethics probe into influence peddling scandal", Daily Dot, October 3, 2012. Retrieved on October 11, 2012.
- Did Vonage try to sterilize its Wikipedia article? (October 9, 2012). Retrieved on October 11, 2012.
- "Did Vonage attempt to whitewash its Wikipedia page?", Daily Dot, October 9, 2012. Retrieved on October 11, 2012.
- Waterman, Shaun. "Click capitalism: PR firms cash in cleaning up clients' Wikipedia pages", Washington Times, October 21, 2013. Retrieved on October 24, 2013.
- Q&A with William Beutler. C-SPAN (December 13, 2011). Retrieved on March 23, 2014.
- 2008 Democratic Convention, Day 4 Preview. C-SPAN (August 28, 2008). Retrieved on March 23, 2016.
- Billionaire Aubrey McClendon’s Paid Wikipedia Articles (March 7, 2016). Retrieved on March 23, 2016.
- Sampson, Tim. "Is Wikipedia's front page for sale?", Daily Dot, June 07, 2013. Retrieved on May 28, 2016.
- "A PR firm is being sued for 'botching up' an investment fund's Wikipedia page", Business Insider, March 15, 2016. Retrieved on March 20, 2016.