|What are we actually doing? We’re starting with legally actionable libel. People call us. They’re upset. They’re crying. They're pissed. They typically have a lot of money. They are one hair trigger away from suing the Wikimedia Foundation and/or trying to subpoena to find out who the editors are who smeared them, whether it is an anonymous IP [address], which is almost always the case, or an actual editor.
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.
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").
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.