|insiders have encountered something altogether more worrying: a concerted attack on the very fabric of Wikipedia by PR companies that have subverted the online encyclopaedia’s editing hierarchy to alter articles on a massive scale – perhaps tens of thousands of them. Wikipedia is the world’s most popular source of cultural, historical and scientific knowledge – if their fears are correct, its all-important credibility could be on the line.
Vice repeated the Signpost's discovery last week of a tweet from Wiki-PR's Vice President of Sales, Adam Masonbrink, announcing Viacom and Priceline.com as clients. (Interestingly, accessibility to the tweet was barred shortly after the publication of last week's edition, but had been captured by the Signpost in a screenshot.) Viacom is a global conglomerate of media companies, operating "approximately 170 networks reaching approximately 700 million subscribers in 160 countries" according to its Wikipedia article; Priceline.com is a website that gives users discounted rates on trips and hotel bookings. Its stock is one of the few that retails at more than US$1000 per share.
Robbins obtained responses from several of Wiki-PR's clients. Priceline.com told him that "We are using them to help us get all of our brands a presence because I don’t have the resources internally to otherwise manage". Emad Rahim, the Dean of the College of Business and Management at Colorado Technical University, blasted the company in emails to Vice after a disastrous series of events surrounding his article.
Special:Undelete/Emad Rahim, which is visible only to Wikipedia administrators, reveals that the now-blocked Jaleel487 created Rahim's page in Wiki-PR's typical fashion: by exploiting a "bug" publicized by the Signpost last week. When a Wiki-PR employee created the initial draft on 6 July as a user subpage before moving it into the article space the next day, they bypassed the gatekeeping new page patrol. A different Wiki-PR employee added a picture on 12 July, which was only deleted after this article was published.
Rahim told Vice that he emailed Wiki-PR on 17 July, just after seeing the notice of possible deletion. Michael French, the company's CEO, curtly replied, "You're covered by Page Management. Not to worry. Thank you for your patience with the encyclopedic process." After it was deleted, French told Rahim that his page would be re-created shortly. When Rahim presciently asked what would stop Wikipedians from deleting it a second time, French replied "it wasn't rejected. It was approved and went live. ... Your page was vandalised."
This re-creation consisted of one sentence. Rahim's US$1500 investment ended in a 30-word stub—or, seen another way, $50 per word. Rahim's article was deleted again after this article was published.
These responses are a small sample of the total number available—around 60 companies and individuals contacted by Robbins did not reply to his request for comment. These included Wiki-PR and Wikipedia's co-founder Jimmy Wales, despite commenting last week that "I'm very eager that we pursue this with maximum effect".
The Vice article included a significant amount of information from a former Wiki-PR employee, and also from Kevin Gorman, a Wikipedian with several thousand edits.
The Wikimedia Foundation contributed a surprisingly bland statement, given the depth of the problem. Saying that they were "monitoring" the issue, the Foundation advised that entities and people should not "edit their own Wikipedia pages or hire other organisations to do so for them. Editing Wikipedia articles through sockpuppets or where there is a conflict of interest isn't in the spirit of Wikipedia and can have unintended consequences for those organisations."
Robbins was able to obtain a much stronger statement from the president of the Washington DC chapter, James Hare, who called the case "heinous" and continued: "[you should] be transparent about who you are and who you work for. Wiki-PR acted in gross violation of this basic community expectation, and I regret that volunteer administrators will have to clean up after them."
An experimental request to purchase Wiki-PR's Wikipedia service, which the Signpost emailed through the company's standard website facility more than a week ago, has gone unanswered.
This week, a vote to select two new delegates for the featured list candidates process has started. The nominations period of the elections closed on 14 October, and saw six Wikipedians, all familiar with the featured lists process, put their names on the table. Only two will be chosen to join the current team when elections end on 31 October.
Six candidates put forward their names:
Featured list candidates (commonly referred to as FLC) is a consensus-based process where users evaluate the quality of lists against the featured list criteria and thus support or oppose the list to reach featured status. Before supporting or opposing a list, reviewers usually hold a lengthy and detailed discussion with the nominator, usually the major contributor, to address all issues a list could have before becoming featured. The process was established in 2005 and has produced more than 3,000 featured lists since then.
The responsibility to evaluate consensus and, accordingly, promote nominations lies on the shoulders of the directors and the delegates. They are also tasked with keeping order and maintenance of all FLC pages and subpages, as well as taking care of the lists nominated to have their featured status removed (known as Featured list removal candidates, or FLRC), and to report new featured lists to the community, among others. The director also has the responsibility of scheduling Today's featured lists, which appear every Monday on the Main Page.
2013's elections mark the second time such an event has been held at FLC. Usually, new delegates are appointed individually after a short community consultation held on the FLC talk page, and after approval of current delegates and directors. However, after the recent resignations of Dabomb87 and The Rambling Man, and the unavailability of current delegate NapHit (who is on a long-term trip to Australia), the FLC team has experienced a need for new hands.
The first delegate elections were held in 2009, and resulted in Dabomb87 and Giants2008 being promoted to directors. At that time, Matthewedwards, The Rambling Man and iMatthew were the only editors serving as delegates/directors. As of today, Giants2008 and Hahc21 are covering the FLC duties, but a shortage might arise if either go inactive.
The main reason for the 2013 elections, according to Hahc21, is to avoid a shortage of delegates and guarantee that the FLC process is kept as smooth as possible.