The Signpost

Related articles

Wiki-PR duo bulldoze a piñata store; Wifione arbitration case; French parliamentary plagiarism
1 April 2015

With paid advocacy in its sights, the Wikimedia Foundation amends their terms of use
18 June 2014

WMF bites the bullet on affiliation and FDC funding, elevates Wikimedia user groups
12 February 2014

Wiki-PR defends itself, condemns Wikipedia's actions
29 January 2014

Foundation to Wiki-PR: cease and desist; Arbitration Committee elections starting
20 November 2013

The decline of Wikipedia; Sue Gardner releases statement on Wiki-PR; Australian minister relies on Wikipedia
23 October 2013

Vice on Wiki-PR's paid advocacy; Featured list elections begin
16 October 2013

Wiki-PR's extensive network of clandestine paid advocacy exposed
9 October 2013

More articles

In Wiki-PR's view, it is the victim of an egregious mistake: it did not break the WMF's terms of use, and Wikipedia "made a bunch of errors and confused us with someone else, largely", French told Business Insider. While French does not name who or what Wiki-PR was confused with, he was presumably referring to Mike Wood, the owner of professional writing service and User:Morning277, the first Wikipedia account implicated in the Wiki-PR scandal. Instead, French maintains that Wiki-PR provides a valuable service by protecting the Foundation from "legally actionable libel".

Yet many of French's new claims appear to be in conflict with the evidence. At least three questions are raised:

Were the allegations and community investigation all a mistake? The long-term abuse file shows that Wiki-PR used remote employees, IP address-hopping, and technical loopholes to maintain up to 12,000 English Wikipedia articles. The aftermath included a community ban for being "repeatedly unable or unwilling to adhere to [Wikipedia's] basic community standards." The Wikimedia Foundation's legal assessment of the allegations was strong enough to elicit a cease-and-desist order in November 2013.

Did Wiki-PR break the terms of use? The Signpost has gained access to an online document containing a list of steps for reforming the company's behavior, prepared privately by a Wikipedian and edited by French. French agreed to it on 18 November—just one day before the Foundation sent its cease-and-desist letter to Wiki-PR—by writing at the top of the document, from which the Signpost has redacted all but French's name: "Wiki-PR agrees to all of the terms laid out in this roadmap. We're working on implementing them. 11/18". The Signpost understands that this was an attempt by the Wikipedian to "provide suggestions for reform in line with community expectations", though the document includes a statement that "their completion does not ensure Wikipedia’s community acceptance", and that "nothing in this roadmap constitutes a binding agreement, contract, or guarantee."

Critically, the introduction that French had agreed to states: "Wiki-PR has seriously abused the Terms of Use (TOS) and community policies. In an attempt to redeem their conduct, Wiki-PR agrees to a comprehensive review of their practices and a detailed program of reform, in collaboration with members of the Wikipedia community." One item states: "Wiki-PR will prepare a detailed proposal for how it will manage and maintain a high standard expected from all employees. Employees will declare to Wiki-PR all of their Wikipedia accounts for monitoring. Employees will not be paid if a review of their conduct does not meet a high standard." To this, French added on 13 November: "Defining high standard: Contractors will be removed if conduct seriously breaches Wikipedia’s TOS or community policies."

The full text agreed to by French is reproduced here.

Does Wiki-PR protect the Foundation from being sued for libel? In general, as the Foundation only provides an interactive computer service, according to the US federal Communications Decency Act, Section 230 it cannot be held legally responsible in the US for defamatory content published on its sites: the responsibility lies with the individual who added the material. A recent German court's ruling on the matter was called a "legal victory" by the Foundation, though this has been disputed.

Furthermore, the number of articles Wiki-PR created from scratch belies the assertion that it was primarily combating libel. Seven examples of their article creations have been uploaded and are open for viewing. Sources in these new Wiki-PR articles typically include Yahoo! Voices and CNN iReport, which despite the well-known brand attachments can be published by anyone, with little to no moderation—or by the US website Vatalyst, which appears to have been offline for six months but was operated by Wiki-PR and similarly lacked editorial oversight. In many articles in which Wiki-PR was involved, these and similar sites gave the articles "references sections [that] always have a surfeit of citations, with the clients' press releases and web sites balanced by passing mentions in seemingly independent publications." French's claim in the interview that Wiki-PR has about 45 people directly conflicts with his earlier assertion to the Wall Street Journal that they have "hundreds" of editors on staff. Wiki-PR's site even includes solicitations that attempt to interest companies in Wiki-PR's article-creating experience. Such pages were lampooned in a 31 January Wikipediocracy blog post ("Extra Creamy Wikipedia – adventures in advertising").

Continuing suspicion

Wiki-PR's actions were sufficiently extensive that their online identities are still being discovered more than three months after the original revelations. Eleven additional accounts are now suspected to be editing on behalf of Wiki-PR; one, CitizenNeutral, was blocked as recently as 27 January. Before CitizenNeutral suddenly stopped editing at the end of September 2013—barely a week before the Daily Dot named Wiki-PR in an article titled "The battle to destroy Wikipedia's largest sockpuppet army"—the account had a contribution history that was characteristic of Wiki-PR employees.

Much of CitizenNeutral's early editing was filled with tagging articles for conflict of interest and puffery, which Wiki-PR commonly did prior to contacting the article's subject. A later focus was on recreating deleted articles, nearly all of which had been deleted for being authored by Wiki-PR. These 33 new articles were short, one-line stubs, with no relation to the previous iteration, which fits into Wiki-PR's typical practice. Vice's Martin Robbins profiled one Wiki-PR client in October 2013, detailing the experiences of academic Emad Rahim. His article was deleted over notability concerns. When a Wiki-PR employee recreated the page, "it contained only one sentence. Rather than apologizing, French told [the subject] he should raise his media profile, and connected [him] to Scarsdale Media, who offered 30 days of 'media relations efforts' for another $800." Rahim had already paid Wiki-PR $1500.

Nothing in this article should be construed as implying that Wiki-PR is continuing to break the Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use.
Tony1 and Kevin Gorman contributed writing and research for this story.

In brief

A meeting as part of the project "The boundaries of editing" on the German Wikipedia, supported by Wikimedia Germany. This was a precursor to the OBS study that was published a short time ago.
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

A very well written article—conveys the facts without unneeded hyperbole or speculation, yet still manages to lay out a pretty damning critique of Wiki-PR's self-PR efforts. Nice work. Kaldari (talk) 02:00, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]

+1 from me. Nick-D (talk) 05:04, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
The Wiki-PR case gets more bizarre every day. They are still advertising on their website that they'll help businesses create articles on Wikipedia, but "Our consultants help you abide by Wikipedia's community rules and guidelines. We respect Wikipedia and its rules against promoting and advertising. And we never directly edit Wikipedia ourselves." Their "Page Monitoring" and "Crisis Editing" services make clear that they intend to assert ownership of the articles. How this can be done while they are under a community ban is a serious question.
Perhaps they mean that they just write the articles and the reactions to "crises", and their clients actually post the Wiki-PR material on Wikipedia. But that would just mean that they are advising their clients to break our rules.
The ban has obviously hurt their business, as they've been on a PR campaign, giving interviews saying that they have or had hundreds of editors but that they weren't sockpuppets. Of course, hundreds of meatpuppets is as bad or worse. They also claim that they are being demonized because one of the reported sockpuppets didn't work for them. But, of course hundreds of sock/meatpuppets did work for them.
The following about CitizenNeutral (presumably a Wiki-PR editor) is quite disturbing, and I hope you'll clarify it.
"Much of CitizenNeutral's early editing was filled with tagging articles for conflict of interest and puffery, which Wiki-PR commonly did prior to contacting the article's subject."
It doesn't seem to make any business sense to tag articles as breaking the rules, and then contacting the subject, unless they then solicited business. That sounds a whole lot like a shakedown -should we call it a "wiki-shakedown"?- trash the article, then go to its "owner" and say something like "don't worry, just pay us and it will be fixed."
If that is indeed the meaning of the quoted sentence, I'll ask that this aspect of the investigation be pursued further. If it checks out, both the community and the Wikimedia Foundation have to do something about it. We cannot allow Wikipedia to be used as a stage for shakedowns.
Whatever the final resolution of the Wiki-PR case, the overall paid editing problem isn't going to just disappear. Every 3 or 4 months another paid editing scandal comes along. Sooner or later we need to take decisive action, sooner would be much better. Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:43, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Hi Smallbones - I didn't write this piece but have contributed a lot of research to both this and other Wiki-PR pieces, and was talking to Ed while he was writing it. I can confirm that, yes, that is the intended meaning of the sentence. Multiple people in positions to know had previously suggested to me that Wiki-PR explicitly trashed the articles of businesses before approaching them in many instances, especially in the earlier stages of their operation. The CitizenNeutral user account is the first non-IP user account that obviously fits that pattern that can be definitively linked to Wiki-PR. (It's worth noting that Jordan French has reached out to me via email to state that Wiki-PR and CitizenNeutral had no connection whatsoever. He declined to suggest a possible alternative explanation for CN's behavior when asked, and to me - and multiple admins who reviewed CN's editing patterns, no other explanation appeared even remotely likely.) Kevin Gorman (talk) 21:39, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I can see what you mean from CitizenNeutral's contributions and on his talk page. If you can really connect him to Wiki-PR, and if they really did contact the subjects of the articles he trashed with offers to make it all go away for a fee, then it starts to look like racketeering. In which case I'd think you should just contact the Wikimedia legal department
Smallbones(smalltalk) 03:49, 3 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Page monitoring and crisis editing don't necessarily involve asserting ownership, if all they do is explain policies and guidelines, advise people which noticeboards are available, etc. That is the sort of thing Jimmy Wales explicitly welcomed. It's clear that that is not what Wiki-PR have been doing in the past, but it is something a paid consultancy is absolutely entitled to do (and I understand it's what companies like Wiki Strategies e.g. do). Andreas JN466 13:59, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
See also related discussion here. Andreas JN466 14:06, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Wikipediocracy shows up again. I wonder what their interest is in this? Nobody should try to invent a distinction between "owning" an article and "managing" an article. From my experience with Wikipediocracy, there is no point trying to discuss paid editing with them - they are for it, no matter what. Smallbones(smalltalk) 15:21, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
It's worth noting that Jayen has publicly said that he isn't fond of Wiki-PR's behavior, thinks they belong banned, and has gone as far as to run a blog post slamming them, as well as inviting me to run a more detailed blog post about Wiki-PR than has been run elsewhere, and one with more details than I could provide on-wiki even if I wanted to. I haven't done so, but I don't think he would've extended such an offer if he was terribly fond of all forms of paid-editing. Kevin Gorman (talk) 21:39, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • WLM got 8 in 1000 images to FP/VI/QI ... that is actually pretty good. The background rate for all commons files is 3.1 in 1000. These are mostly QI, and many many more images would qualify if they were submitted for review. 17% usage also sounds pretty good relative to the usage of all commons files. --99of9 (talk) 03:08, 2 February 2014 (UTC)[reply]

“[CitizenNeutral] was blocked as recently as 27 January”

For what reason ?

“A later focus was on recreating deleted articles, nearly all of which had been deleted for being authored by Wiki-PR.”

Deleting an article for being authored by Wiki-PR is against Wikipedia policies and guidelines.

--Nnemo (talk) 19:38, 10 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0