<CPOV> Techdirt: Making The Case For PR Pros Editing Wikipedia
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they attempt to correct inaccurate or outdated employer or client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
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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