<CPOV> Techdirt: Making The Case For PR Pros Editing Wikipedia

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Fri Feb 3 13:38:17 CET 2012

Techdirt Daily Email for Friday, 03 February 2012

Making The Case For PR Pros Editing Wikipedia (Culture)

by Gerard F. Corbett from the is-it-really-notable dept on Thursday,  
February 2nd, 2012 @ 10:15PM

Obscured amidst the hysteria over anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA has  
been a valuable discussion bubbling up within public relations about  
PR people editing clients’ Wikipedia entries.

It’s a topic that has been debated for years. From Wikipedia co- 
founder Jimmy Wales stating in 2006 that “PR firms editing Wikipedia  
is something that we frown upon very, very strongly” to last year’s  
Bell Pottinger lobbying scandal, where it emerged that the firm was  
surreptitiously manipulating client’s Wikipedia entries — raising the  
ire of Mr. Wales and his Wikipedia acolytes — it’s a discussion that  
seemingly knows no end.

PR people have long been frustrated by the complexities of the  
Wikipedia editing process. Colleagues tell us they feel rebuffed by  
what they believe is an arcane system meant to ostracize them whenever  
they attempt to correct inaccurate or outdated employer or client  

The issue over edits made on Wikipedia is one that affects more than  
just the public relations profession. It has implications for every  
business, organization and institution around the world, given  
Wikipedia’s widespread use as an information resource.

The matter gained particular prominence recently when Phil Gomes, an  
executive at Edelman Digital, began to peel back the layers of  
distrust and confusion between PR people and Wikipedians with a blog  
post and Facebook group aimed at bringing together the sparring parties.

Gomes’ initiative, dubbed the Corporate Representatives for Ethical  
Wikipedia Engagement, is based on four pillars:

	• Corporate communicators want to do the right thing.
	• Communicators engaged in ethical practice have a lot to contribute.
	• Current Wikipedia policy does not fully understand Nos. 1 and 2,  
owing to the activities of some bad actors and a general  
misunderstanding of public relations in general.
	• Accurate Wikipedia entries are in the public interest.
It’s a noble effort and one that my organization, the Public Relations  
Society of America, wholeheartedly supports.

Techdirt further examined the issue when Mike Masnick asked, rather  
pointedly, whether PR people should be “able to edit otherwise ignored  
Wikipedia pages of their clients to correct errors?” He focused on  
some fairly glaring issues that we believe Wikipedia has yet to  
adequately address. Among them: Where do professionals turn to if  
their efforts to go through the proper channels to request edits to  
inaccurate or outdated information are either rebuffed or ignored?

That question has been overlooked for far too long. As Mr. Gomes  
pointed out in the comments of Mr. Masnick’s Techdirt post, “Some of  
us are working together to help [the] PR [profession] do the right  
thing by the Wikipedia community, especially considering that guidance  
is at times contradictory.”

The Case for PR Pros Editing Wikipedia

We believe there is a case to be made for PR professionals to  
responsibly edit client Wikipedia entries in an ethical and  
transparent manner.

At its most basic level, it is a matter of serving the public interest.

An accurate Wikipedia entry serves the public interest far better than  
inaccurate entries that are allowed to languish with errors because  
Wikipedia editors refuse to allow “paid advocates” to make necessary,  
accurate changes. A disclosure of one’s professional affiliation with  
a business should not automatically exempt him or her from being  
allowed to responsibly edit Wikipedia entries.

Greater accuracy and transparency within Wikipedia entries should be  
the basis of how Wikipedia goes about its practices. It should not  
matter who edits a page, so long as the information is accurate,  
unbiased and properly sourced.

PRSA certainly does not condone behavior on the part of public  
relations people or PR firms that is unethical or dishonest in respect  
to their editing of clients’ Wikipedia entries. To be sure, there are  
some who wish to abuse the system. Let’s not kid ourselves into  
thinking otherwise. But on the whole, we believe that PR  
professionals, particularly those whose work adheres to the PRSA Code  
of Ethics, are responsible and respectful of the online communities in  
which they engage and seek to influence.

We’re encouraged by efforts in the U.K., where the Chartered Institute  
of Public Relations is establishing guidelines on how the PR  
profession deals with Wikipedia. We hope to do the same in the U.S. by  
working with Wikipedia to develop rigorous and explicit editing  
guidelines that can be used throughout the profession.

Our position on this matter is simple: it's wrong for the PR  
profession to think it can run roughshod over the established  
Wikipedia community. PR professionals must engage with it in a  
reasonable manner that respects the community’s rules and protocols,  
while also ensuring they are acting in their clients' best interests.  
But the engagement should be a two-way street in which Wikipedia is  
willing to see and accommodate both sides of the issue. At the moment,  
we do not believe that to be the case.

Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is chair and CEO of the Public  
Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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