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2019 Picture of the Year, 200 French paid editing accounts blocked, 10 years of Guild Copyediting

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By Smallbones, Bri, Sdkb, Puddleglum2.0, Lane Rasberry, WereSpielChequers
"Pacu jawi" (bull racing), Picture of the Year 2019, by Rodney Ee

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2019

3rd place, girl in Kurdistan dressed to celebrate Nowruz by Salar Arkan سالار ارکان

Commons announced the results of the 2019 Picture of the Year contest. Congratulations to all winners and thanks to everyone who participated by submitting images to Wikimedia Commons, by evaluating Featured Picture Candidates throughout the year, and by voting in the selection process.

French Wikipedia catches undisclosed paid editing firms by posing as customers

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French Wikipedians announced on May 27 that they had shut down more than 200 accounts that had conducted undisclosed paid editing. Eighty of these accounts are believed to belong to several French language PR firms who specialize in Wikipedia editing. Most of these firms have also been blocked on the English-language Wikipedia. The remaining 120 accounts are likely single-purpose accounts working at company PR departments, which only wish to edit the articles about their own firm.

They were caught after two French admins posed as customers and asked for examples of past work. In an interview with The Signpost admin Jules* said "We have uncovered dozens of undeclared paid accounts, abuse of sockpuppets, patent lies, promotional additions (often relatively subtle), ballot box stuffing in Pages to delete, etc." They had collectively made around 19,000 edits.

Jules* did not believe that contacting the firms directly without fully disclosing their intentions was an issue since they did not impersonate anybody and the firms they were investigating purposely broke Wikipedia's rules by sockpuppeting and refusing to declare their paid status on-Wiki.

The French investigation was first reported on the English Wikipedia on the COI noticeboard by Bri based on a tip to The Signpost and was soon acted upon by MER-C, an administrator with a long-term interest in combatting undeclared paid editing. He soon blocked 85 accounts on the English Wikipedia, 41 of which had made an edit here. Many of the edits were to pages for French companies, such as Air Liquide and Ardian.

In 2018 French Wikipedians started a semi-annual event called "Mois anti-pub" (Anti-advertising month) to neutralize promotional pages. The same year they started the Wikiproject Antipub to fight the use of Wikipedia as an advertising tool.

They have since found undeclared paid edits (UPEs) on French Wikipedia (see Par le passé), "but this month was the first time we found paid edits on this scale. It's a bit like our own Wiki-PR scandal" according to Jules*.

In early April this year the two French admins, Jules* and 0x010C, decided to contact "e-reputation agencies" posing as potential customers interested in creating a Wikipedia page for a real company where one of the admins worked. When they asked for a price estimate, they also asked for examples of the paid-editing firm's previous work.

Jules* stated that "Using those examples, I started researching the page histories of the clients reported by the agencies. I spent dozens of hours and found many accounts, used by several agencies, including agencies we had contacted and agencies we had not contacted. Almost all of these accounts had not disclosed their paid editing and many of them also used several sockpuppets."

He said that the paid-editing firms know Wikipedia's rules in detail, as well as ways to avoid following the rules without attracting attention. "For example, one agency said to us it was not possible to remove well-sourced negative content because 'moderators' would just revert the removal. Instead they proposed 'hiding' the negative content inside newly added positive content." Some paid editing companies, though, did try to remove well-sourced content.

Jules* and 0x010C published their work on May 27th at the French sysop noticeboard, with detailed results in the subpage. The subpage shows that the same editors edited English Wikipedia as well, as seen in the "crosswiki" column. The French community is now reviewing the paid content here.

The French newspaper of record Le Monde covered the scandal, and spoke with François Jeanne-Beylot, founder of the PR companies Inmediatic and Troover, who had his accounts blocked following the investigation. He offered (in French) a strained defense of his work, arguing that his firm was only training companies to contribute, and that the contributions were therefore not paid.

"I find it brutal to suspend accounts without trying to understand our approach", he said in French. "It is difficult to convince Wikipedia administrators that companies also have their place".

MER-C, for his part, was not surprised by the announcement. This "may jolt the French, but we've seen a lot worse" at English Wikipedia, he said. He is waiting for more developments from the French Wikipedia, though he hasn't as yet had contact with French admins. He wants to establish "a cross-wiki version of COIN as a paid-editing noticeboard. Cross-wiki UPE is becoming increasingly problematic and the approach taken to counter it is very piecemeal."

The May GOCE copy editing drive ended today, marking ten years of GOCE drives. Their backlog reached zero – the previous drive reduced the backlog by 75%, with this one reducing it a further 209 articles to end at 156 articles, all of which were tagged during May. To learn more about the GOCE's work, you can read last month's Wikiproject Report.

While this drive has not been particularly different from most others in terms of copyedited articles, it has seen many new members helping out – this month saw an large influx of new members and new users participating. The result of of this was double-sided – on the one hand, many new editors are learning the ropes of copyediting, which in the long run will lead to better progress and performance, but in the short run leads to more experienced copyeditors checking the newer work instead of copyediting articles themselves. The Guild is conducting their twice yearly coordinator elections this June – all editors in good standing are welcome to participate, voting starts mid-month. Another Guild event beginning mid-June is a week-long copyediting blitz, focused mainly on reducing the increasingly large number of articles on the Requests page. -- P2

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Editing back at 2010 levels

Catching undisclosed paid editors

Posing as customers is also occasionally considered here. I suspect we'd want a degree of community backing before we sent any admins down that route, probably with BCCs to a dedicated arb email (who'd also have a link between any pseudonyms and usernames used), to provide at least a minimum oversight in what could be inflammatory in event of certain mistakes (I should note, community agreement would be wise, if not critical, before going down that road in any organised fashion). Nosebagbear (talk)
It was great that Merc suggested the cross-wiki anti PAIDCOI setup - I realise I couldn't really be involved in helping it, but I was thinking the same thing as I read it, so it'd be great to see. A meta paid-editing discussion, to get some more ideas cross-wiki is probably due, given the time since the last one. Nosebagbear (talk) 10:13, 1 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I'm more worried about rogue behaviour than rouge behaviour, and this looks like a classic example of WP:Rouge Admins catching rogues. I suspect one problem will come if we catch otherwise legit members of the community. I remember with WP:NEWT, some members of the community strongly believed that "mystery shopping" is unethical. I'm not sure why, perhaps there are parts of the world where it is deprecated. However I would caution against using your real life employer as the shopper. apparently one of the French admins did that, and hopefully they got their employer's agreement to do so. Most of the places where I have worked in my life would take a very dim view of one of their employees using the company name in that way. That said there is a great role here for chapters, shell companies are cheap. ϢereSpielChequers 11:00, 2 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]
We should definitely have a discussion about "posing" here. My first reaction to hearing about this story was "of course they caught real paid editors - this is such an obvious way of doing it - but the (the admins) would have been punished on enWiki for about 5 violations." None of what I say below is criticizm of the French admins - I see no evidence that they violated frWiki rules. The moral case for the use of "posing" by the frWiki admins is clear: there were people systematically violating Wiki rules by lying and other deception to mislead readers, essentially stealing adverts from a non-profit.
If doing this on enWiki the rules likely to be interpreted as being violated might be included under WP:Harassment, "outing" for when they posted the results, "investigating fellow wikipedians " (yes that in there), not assuming good faith, deceiving fellow Wikipedians (battleground behavior). None of these make any sense to me under these conditions, but I'd expect some of this would come up here.
I wouldn't recommend getting these "posing parties" pre-approved by any official groups - they'd likely be afraid of being banned themselves and would never approve. We can compare similar cases in the real world where the technique is used. In law enforcement undercover operation are used, but in most cases I believe they preapproved by courts - something like a warrant to prevent abuses. Under US "Cannons of Journalism" undercover reporting is allowed but only as a last resort - if there is an important story that can't be otherwise covered. Strict editorial supervision is required. There are other cases like the NAACP sending around people posing as renters - a black couple, and a white couple - to see if there is discrimination. There's no law against such "deception" as far as I know. I'll leave it there for now, but would love to hear reactions. Smallbones(smalltalk) 13:18, 2 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]
The rules there are all pretty big ones. I don't think arbs would be concerned about being blocked if en-wiki said "yes, you can do this for a duration of one year, all with prior arbcom authorisation and oversight, with reporting to take y form, with duty to ensure local legal compliance left to the users (as always)". Whether the community were willing to agree to that, I don't know, but I know some people who really, REALLY, would like to see more action taken against paidcois and this is a viable route. I suppose there's the tough bit where you have to let (non-egregious) damage sit on some pages for some considerable amount of time to avoid giving the game away too early. Nosebagbear (talk) 15:12, 2 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]
This might work against some of the small-fry paid editing firms on enWiki, but if we had to run an RfC, everybody would be warned against it. Getting Arbs to secretly say they preapprove this - well I just can't imagine that happening. If any admins want to do it as a story for The Signpost, please submit a proposal - and if I approve it - you'll definitely get strong editorial supervision - but please be aware that there's a chance that everybody involved, including me, would get a lot of grief and might even be banned. I'd need a strong moral case, and a clear understanding of why the admins think it's not against enWiki rules. Smallbones(smalltalk) 17:01, 2 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Woah, how did I never notice before that it's spelled "rouge"; that's amazing haha!
On a more serious note, everyone in this thread needs to go read Wikipedia:The one question (or WP:IAR, if you prefer) — the rules exist for a variety of reasons, but themselves is not one of them. There are potential downsides, absolutely, but those should be discussed on their own merits. And in light of the urgent problem this innovative tactic could help address, I think there would be significant support for it if done cautiously. Even if the company catches on, it would still have the effect of deterring them from sending examples of past work to clients, and if that in turn deters real customers, that's a plus for us. And if they don't catch on, it could yield not just sockpuppets, but evidence that a civil court might admit if the WMF ever files against them for breaching Wikipedia's Terms of Use. {{u|Sdkb}}talk 18:03, 2 June 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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