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Public relations on Wikipedia: friend or foe?
Conflict of interest guide
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a British association of public relations professionals, has released the first version of a conflict of interest guideline in collaboration with Wikimedia UK (WMUK).
Paid editing has long been a contentious topic on Wikipedia. The Signpost has reported on the topic many times in the last several years, like the MyWikiBiz debacle ("Account used to create paid corporate entries shut down" ), Microsoft's attempt to monitor articles ("Microsoft approach to improving articles opens can of worms" ), issues surrounding diploma mills ("Report of diploma mill offering pay for edits" ), and a public relations firm's edits ("The Bell Pottinger affair" ), but it received its most substantial treatment in 2012, with "Does Wikipedia Pay?", a series of interviews with paid editing supporters ("The Facilitator: Silver seren", "The Consultant: Pete Forsyth", and "The Communicator: Phil Gomes"). The short answer is that paid editing has traditionally been severely discouraged on Wikipedia, but recent attempts by the public relations industry to forge links with Wikipedia have garnered some support for the idea, though it is far from a consensus.
||[W]here there is a clear conflict of interest created by the relationship between the public relations professional and the subject of the Wikipedia entry, such as a client or employer, they should not directly edit it.
—Jane Wilson, CIPR CEO
After the Bell Pottinger incident, CIPR and WMUK began a collaboration to draft 'best practice guidelines' for public relations professionals' relationship with Wikipedia's articles. The CIPR guidelines demonstrate the fruits of this, as the document has much in common with Wikipedia's own conflict of interest guidelines and was developed on the Wikimedia UK wiki. Among its most notable provisions is the highly visible and repeated stipulation that public relations professionals should not directly edit articles they have a conflict of interest with except in extremely limited circumstances, along with its recommendation to "operate within the system" and a step-by-step guide to addressing problems in a topic they are being paid to correct.
Statements from the association also reflect the Wikipedia guideline's influence: "The main theme of the guidance is quite simple – where there is a clear conflict of interest created by the relationship between the public relations professional and the subject of the Wikipedia entry, such as a client or employer, they should not directly edit it. Such an activity would be unethical and lacking in transparency and therefore potentially against CIPR’s own guidance on digital communication and social media" (CEO Jane Wilson). The Wikimedia Foundation, through its head of communications Jay Walsh, also reacted positively, saying "CIPR's basic message, ... that PR folks editing Wikipedia directly is problematic, echoes what we hear from the community of Wikipedia contributors. Those who come to Wikipedia with a clear conflict of interest are generally going to face real challenges in terms of editing and contributing to the project."
There is some resistance to the guidelines as they currently stand, however. The Public Relations Society of America released a statement praising the CIPR-WMUK collaboration, yet cautioning that working within Wikipedia's guidelines is not their ideal solution, and collaboration with entities like the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement is needed (see previous Signpost coverage on CREWE).
The association plans to release future versions as the guidelines mature and receive more attention from Wikipedians and public relations professionals. (more information in the Holmes Report, Mediabistro; CIPR guidelines)
- Australian political scandal moves on-wiki: Despite the Health Services Union expenses affair's diminishing popularity in the "real world", the Sydney Morning Herald has reported on edit wars revolving around the articles relating to the scandal. After the article was published, one Wikipedia editor commented that they had "one good thing [to say about that Fairfax article. It seems to have silenced those Wikipedia editors it suggested may have conflicts of interest.]"