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Showdown as featured article writer openly solicits commercial opportunities

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By Tony1 and Jan eissfeldt

By adding this short note at the top of his user page, User:Cla68 has ignited strong and at times emotive reactions that have engulfed the discussion on paid editing over the past week, and introduced a debate on what editors may say on their user page about their professional activities. Cla68, a Wikipedian for more than six years, has 29 sole-nominated and four co-nominated FAs to his name, and a long-standing involvement in military history articles. Cla68’s user page was soon the scene of an edit-war by other editors, who alternately removed and reinstated the statement until the page was temporarily protected two days later.

The debate over the status of paid editing in the project has been simmering for more than two months in a trenchantly debated RfC that now comprises more than 90,000 words. The RfC is a new episode of a discussion that first peaked in 2009. Discussion has become more active since the release of hotly disputed external research findings covered in last week's Signpost. Cla68 has stated that Wikipedia's soapbox policy "does not prohibit announcing your services or availability to improve Wikipedia."

There really are ethical communications professionals who understand that I will crucify their clients in the media if they do not do the right thing. And there are those who do NOT get it, and banning them is the fastest and easiest thing to do."

Jimmy Wales, talk-page discussion

Cla's action has prompted extensive discussion on Jimmy Wales’s talk page ("It makes me sick to my stomach"). Jimmy summarised his attitude of how the phenomenon of paid editing could be addressed in this statement: "The truth is that paid advocacy is significantly deterrable through a thoughtful set of policies that forbids direct article editing and encourages appropriate interaction with the community. It's really quite simple: follow a bright-line rule – no paid advocacy in article space – come to the discussion page."

Opinions on Jimmy's page were as mixed as elsewhere, and ranged from the measured to the uncivil. One editor said that Cla68 makes himself "sound like a whore". Some doubted that Cla68's action was anything more than provocative or sarcastic. Arguing from logic, one participant wrote, "How likely would you be to work for free in an environment where many people are getting paid for the same work?" On the other hand, another said, "a complete banning of paid editing would just lead to media complaints of hypocrisy that paid editors are banned, but those editors with extreme COI issues (often high ranking Wikipedia members as well) are allowed to roam free." In one editor's view, "It is far too late to pretend that Cla68 is responsible for the current ruckus. His provocation was only possible thanks to years of studied inattention." Others were concerned with the analogy with BLPs who edit their own articles, or with a different bright line: "Jimbo is clearly distinguishing between paid editors and paid advocates. The latter should be banned the former not. I agree with that."

In news that may have implications for the current debates, The Signpost has been informed that a university has approached Cla68 and is negotiating a contract with him to write a set of articles about their researchers; this has now been confirmed with the university itself. The details of whether or how many of these articles will be nominated as featured article candidates are still to be determined between the parties.

Two ANI threads

"Looks like a pretty effective troll to me. Par for the course for this particular editor."

Jimmy Wales, talk-page discussion

The conflagration has now spread across at least five other pages on the English Wikipedia, each showing how divided the community is on the issue. An ANI thread was launched that did not appear to distinguish between the issues of paid editing and user-page advertising. Within hours it contained a huge variety of community opinions. One editor said: "if you force him to remove it, you've removed an important disclosure that does more good than harm. It's called, shooting yourself in the foot. I'd rather know who is paid to edit." Another participant commented: "I also stumbled across an editor yesterday whose User page described his work in photography for Wikipedia, with links to contact him at his business. (Looked like nice work, too.) Unless the WMF says otherwise, I'm not seeing much reason to take up arms on this one. Advertising one's Wikipedia-related work on their Userpage has apparently been accepted by the community, through disinterest if nothing else."

This ANI thread was closed as a "no admin action", a closure that was almost immediately disputed. Another ANI thread was opened, this time with the explicit theme of "asking the community to affirmatively address specifically whether there is consensus to disregard policy and allow an advertisement on this user page." This thread was closed with the summary, "Regardless of your feeling on paid COI, there's a RfC and a MfD where this can be properly discussed, and this is getting very silly here, let's stop it."

MfD and edit-war

"The post on Jimbo's talk page was especially helpful in getting the word out. Jimbo's talk page is likely the most watched user talk page in Wikipedia."

Cla68, talk-page discussion

The "MfD" referred to is a request to delete Cla's user page. Among the comments was a query as to how Jimmy Wales's mention on his user page of his for-profit Wikia company—which includes contact details—is acceptable if other users are forbidden from providing information about their wikipedia-related commercial activities. At the start of Tuesday UTC, the MfD has attracted 18 calls for Cla68's user page to be deleted, a further 14 for the "advertisement" alone to be removed (that is, 32 combined), and 38 calls for the page and "advertisement" to be kept.

On Monday 29 April UTC, the MfD page was subjected to a rapid-fire edit-war in which an attempt to speedy-close it was reverted, reinstated, reverted, and reinstated, all within nine minutes. The MfD has now been closed, with the summary, "Keep per WP:FORUMSHOP. This has been taken to ANI twice and closed due to no consensus. Brought up at Jimbo's talk page. And an RfC. ... easy call."

RfC at the user-page guideline

The request for comment was launched at the guideline on user pages. The proposal is to add a bullet to the current guideline that restricts what may appear on user pages (see below; our italicisation).

Promotional and advocacy material and links
  • Advertising or promotion of an individual, business, organization, group, or viewpoint unrelated to Wikipedia (such as commercial sites or referral links).
  • Advertising or promotion of a product, service, or any other for-profit, money-making venture, regardless of its relationship to Wikipedia.
  • Extensive self-promotional material, especially when not directly relevant to Wikipedia.

The argument is that "the wording of the first bullet point is ambiguous. It can be interpreted in a way that conflicts with WP:NOTADVERTISING, implying that it's ok to advertise products and services, as long as they are related to Wikipedia. ... It is not the intent of this proposal to decide whether paid editing (or otherwise making money from Wikipedia-related activities) is acceptable, nor is it the intent of this proposal to limit an editor's ability to disclose that they are a paid editor."

At the time of writing, there are 13 supports, one provisional support, and nine opposes. The comments have included queries concerning whether Pete Forsyth (who is interviewed in the current edition of The Signpost), would need to remove from his user page the link and reference to his consulting business, Wiki Strategies, in which he advises on "opportunities to engage with the Wikipedia community in accordance with its policies and culture."

Other pages

Opinion was mixed as well at the off-wiki Facebook site CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement). Among the reactions were: “I'm quite sure that there's far more people on the 'meh, who cares' side and the 'how you edit matters, not why' side than the banning side.”; “This was a pretty obvious attempt to provoke a reaction rather than a serious attempt to drum up business as a paid editor by 'advertising services' on CLA's 'User Page.' "; and “Even I'll say that using a userpage to advertise services is kind of shady.”

There is currently a related proposal at the Village Pump that new articles on commercial businesses must have at least one independent reliable source, as for BLPs.

In brief

Visualization of the answers to the question: What is your gender? The darkest colour represents ... men.
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  • It is a shame that we have moved from the Good Faith era into automatically assuming bad faith. Paid editing is, and always will be, a contentious issue. However I would much rather have a thousand, declared, paid editors - following policy, than a dozen "submarine" paid editors, who may not be. The only egregious error here is saying "I am a moderator" without qualifying that. Paid editors should use a separate account and keep a clear distinction, and publish their client list. If they find their paid account is edit-warring with their main account, they know they have crossed a line. Rich Farmbrough, 17:47, 1 May 2012 (UTC).[reply]
  • it is certainly true that most university PR departments who try to write articles of faculty themselves do a notably poor job of it, and any experienced WPedian is likely to do better. But I wonder if the university that hired Cla68 is aware that there are a good number of editors who would be prepared to write such articles for free. DGG ( talk ) 21:19, 1 May 2012 (UTC)[reply]
  • Gender gap: While we have known for a long time that editors appear to be 90% male, we also know that the percentage of Admins is significantly lower. It would be interesting to see some research on why disproportionately many females pass (or attempt or both) RFA. Apart from anything else it may give clues to why more women don't edit - for if RFA holds no fear then the many of the oft repeated ideas about barriers to editing may need re-evaluating. Rich Farmbrough, 05:31, 2 May 2012 (UTC).[reply]


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