Picture that: The North Face sneaks in advertisements, apologizes after being caught
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By Smallbones

An anniversary hit us right between the eyes just before deadline: June 16 marks the fifth anniversary of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) changing its terms of use to ban undeclared paid editing.

This Tuesday, Ad Age revealed that employees of Leo Burnett Tailor Made replaced photos in Wikipedia articles on a dozen national parks and similar sites, with photos of the same sites featuring models wearing clothing from The North Face, complete with the company's logo. The employees who replaced the photos did not declare their paid status on Wikipedia. They violated Wikipedia policies that prohibit advertising, marketing, promotion, and public relations content, as well as the WMF's terms of use. I am not a lawyer, but it looks like they also violated the Federal Trade Commission's rules against deceptive advertising.

The undeclared paid editors then bragged about it in a video now posted on Ad Age. Other news coverage that includes the video are "North Face tried to scam Wikipedia to get its products to the top of Google search" in The Verge and "Wikipedia is mad at The North Face for 'unethically' manipulating pages" in Dazed. The WMF reacted quickly and appropriately with "Let's talk about The North Face defacing Wikipedia".

The North Face's paid editors were honest to the extent that their intentions as stated in the video were perfectly clear. They wanted to use Wikipedia – while avoiding the scrutiny of Wikipedia's editors and administrators – to reach the top of Google searches for images of those outdoor sites for marketing purposes.

They were not honest when they said that they were "collaborating with Wikipedia".

Ad Age, in a new story, reports that The North Face has apologized via twitter:

"We believe deeply in Wikipedia's mission and integrity – and apologise for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles. Effective immediately, we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we'll strive to do better and commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on Wikipedia's site policies."

We hope to hear more from The North Face.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the terms of use change that banned undeclared paid editing, the next issue of The Signpost will focus on how paid editing affects our encyclopedia. We want to hear from editors, administrators, arbitrators, bureaucrats, WMF employees and board members. We want to hear from all sides of the issue, including those who oppose paid editing, those who support it, and paid editors – both declared and undeclared. And most of all we want to hear from ordinary Wikipedia editors.

We also invite The North Face to publish an apology here, addressed directly to Wikipedia editors and readers.

We want to know how to fix a system of dealing with paid editors that has not been working very well. We want to know:

Send article length submissions to Signpost/Newsroom/Submissions. If you want to simply write a paragraph, please add it to the comments below. If you want to submit material confidentially, please email me directly.

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I'm still waiting on a steward to act on my request at Steward requests/Global... The accounts of the users who did this still aren't locked.. –MJLTalk 02:17, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@MJL: thanks for working on the case. I suppose this is fast breaking news, so the stewards haven't seen all the evidence yet, but it would be hard for them to miss this with all the on- and off-wiki evidence. Smallbones(smalltalk) 02:29, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Smallbones: [Thank you for the ping] Considering all that is linked in the request... I am of the belief no one wants to be the one to actually to pull the trigger. It's a little controversial over at Commons right now. –MJLTalk 02:37, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It looks like 13 accounts, some quite old, have now been globally locked [1] Smallbones(smalltalk) 00:49, 5 June 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The North Face could use a major expansion, since it was barely longer than The South Butt before the controversy was added. The section could be trimmed a bit but it's about what I would expect if the rest of the article were fully developed. –dlthewave 22:54, 1 June 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Now there's a section it's reasonable. Personally I think one or two of the lines provided by them might be worth including, but the % coverage is relatively good. Nosebagbear (talk) 20:22, 2 June 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I fully understand the value that a donation from TNF would bring - talk is cheap, an apology is nice, but actions speak louder than words. OTOH, there is a downside to asking for a donation. Talk is cheap, but so is a million dollar donation for a company that size. The real nasty downside is that somebody would almost inevitably take a request for $1 million (or whatever amount) as being some form of extortion, something like "you don't pay us, we'll drag your name through the mud until you do." Unfortunately, some non-profits have acted that way in the past, and also some CEOs could, in good faith, misinterpret our motives.
So what would speak louder than money? Some sort of commitment on their part to address the problem in a creative way. The creative part dictates that they'd have to think of it themselves, but here are a few thing that might point them in the right direction.
  • Forming a "Corporate friends of Wikipedia" not to donate money but to get businesses involved in suggesting ad agencies to avoid, or photos and records they might donate to Commons or WikiSource, or writing a general code of practice in business's dealings with Wikipedia. Recruit other businesses into "CFW"
  • In their non-Wiki corporate charity work, e.g. with GLAMS, orchestras, athletic events (5Ks and the like), parks and natural sites, suggest a Wiki component to the activities funded. The Wiki component might be a photo contest (without logos!), an edit-a-thon, or some other educational component that might be tied to Wikipedia.
Money might leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth, but a commitment to engage in Wiki-friendly activities could help everybody. Smallbones(smalltalk) 19:52, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Or the money should be spent on improving our anti-spam tools, which are unfit for purpose. MER-C 20:12, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Good idea. Smallbones(smalltalk) 20:19, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Indy beetle: I would prefer them doing the Material on this page is licensed CC-BY-SA 4.0-thing for their website that Smallbones talked about here for baseball companies. They could also create an internal company policy for any future editing that occurs on company time or propriety. What I mean to say is, asking them to create to list themselves at WP:SIP and creating an Incident Response Team would go a long way to towards committing themselves to best practices. naming and firing the people responsible wouldn't hurt as well... just saying.MJLTalk 21:34, 31 May 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • My first potential invisible elephant is the unmentioned disappearance of our usual Humour article. Two months ago the Humour article got blanked (with my support, incidentally) after being deemed offensive to transsexuals. Last month's editorial mentioned that dispute, and got some flak for what it said about it. This month we have no Humour article, and seemingly no mention of this in the editorial, so instead I seemingly end up having to post this brief comment about this rather strange state of affairs in the middle of yet another discussion of paid editing. On the other hand, my thanks to GUYWAN, for their above comment that seems to be trying to fill the void created by the disappearance of the Humour piece, even if I can't entirely avoid wondering whether this just might be a case of 'many a true word is spoken in jest'.
  • My second potential invisible elephant is this: Including this editorial, we have no fewer than 3 major items about paid editing in this issue. I'd rather like to see some clear explanation in this editorial as to why this should be the case, so this seeming absence counts as my second invisible elephant. Admittedly, as with some of the other potential elephants here, there might conceivably be a sensible explanation hidden away in there somewhere (for example, to give a speculation obviously far too implausible to be believable, one might find a claim that an anniversary next month of a historic vote to introduce a self-evidently unenforceable ban requires 3 articles this month), but if life is far too short to be wasted on wild goose chases, then it is presumably not long enough to be wasted on invisible elephant chases either.
  • My third potential invisible elephant is the community's strange apparent belief in apparent fairy tales about Wikipedia being almost entirely created by an army of totally pure and unsullied and objective amateur editors. I am of course one of the arguably foolish and/or deluded members of that army (as a look at my relatively unproductive rate of editing would indeed suggest ), and it is presumably a grave violation of WP:AGF and WP:NPA for any editor to publicly doubt this (indeed even to doubt it solely in the secrecy of one's inner soul would seem to be a violation of WP:AGF ). But common sense suggests that vast numbers of Wikipedia pages have been largely created by various kinds of vested interests (including paid editors, but not confined to them), and that there is no way of preventing this, and it's not particularly obvious that it would be desirable to prevent it were that possible (since it's not obviously desirable to lose all the pages they have created), provided the editors do a competent job, including trying to ensure that the resulting articles are not counter-productively overtly POV.
  • My fourth invisible elephant is our ignoring here the apparent logical impossibility of knowing how we've been affected by paid editing when we have no way of knowing whether the editors who are making our life a misery are doing so because they are secretly being paid, or because they are doing so for other reasons (and of course seemingly necessary rules like WP:AGF and WP:NPA make it almost impossible to even raise the issue in any particular case).
  • And quite likely there are a few more potential invisible elephants that I've just been too blind to notice. Tlhslobus (talk) 02:15, 3 June 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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