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COI and paid editing

Some strange people edit Wikipedia for money

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By Smallbones

Jimbo did not endorse a paid editing company

Paul Blanchard, a UK PR guru for the rich and famous, is not feeling very well these days. He’s taken legal action against The Times, the UK's newspaper of record. The Times, on June 6 published "PR guru Paul Blanchard 'wasted charity money and failed to pay his staff'" (paywall), which included a laundry list of accusations:

A second story "PR boss Paul Blanchard taped saying he did not like Jews" (paywall), published July 29 in The Times states that Blanchard was recorded making both antisemitic and anti-gay comments. Blanchard’s explanation to The Times was "I said it to 'win' the dare, not to be homophobic or antisemitic. If you hear the recording you can clearly tell I am being ironic, and mocking people who hold these views."

Similar stories were published by The Sun ("NO HONOUR, PR firm boasted it could ‘win Damehood for celebrity author for £80,000’ in leaked emails") and Pink News ("PR boss claims it’s 'ridiculous' to say he’s homophobic or antisemitic after being recorded saying he 'doesn't like gays or Jews'").

The Signpost will not add to Blanchard’s troubles, beyond noting that his firm ran a Wikipedia paid editing service and did not have its paid editors declare their paid status. The surprising part of the website which advertised their service is that it used the name and a photo of Jimmy Wales, apparently to promote the paid editing service. The website is archived here.

After The Signpost emailed Wales about the matter, Wales contacted Blanchard, and the website was removed within a few hours. Following multiple requests for comment to Blanchard and his office, we were informed that Blanchard was unable to respond for the next week, on the advice of his doctor.

Wirecard collapse

Wirecard was a payment processor, currently being liquidated, which discovered in June that it did not have €2 billion in its bank accounts. The money may never have been received and existed only as a bookkeeping entry.

According to The Wall Street Journal "Germany Asks Russia to Help Find Former Wirecard Executive" (paywall) the former CEO was arrested in late June and released on a €5 million bond. Later, he was re-arrested on fraud charges. Two other executives were also arrested and others are under investigation. The former COO is believed to be hiding in Russia. One aspect of the collapse is especially interesting: the company appeared to not only invent cash in their bank accounts from thin air, but also padded their list of business partners, according to The Wall Street Journal, "Wirecard Boasted of Hundreds of Partnerships. Some Were Less Than Meets the Eye" (paywall). News releases announcing new partnerships were demanded regularly by Wirecard executives. The WSJ states "Some (employees) joked internally that these releases were Wirecard’s real product."

Did this "product" include Wikipedia editing by Wirecard employees? Apparently so. User:Wirecard AG and User:Wirecard both edited Wikipedia's Wirecard article. Neither were very successful, with User:Wirecard AG making a single edit where he removed criticism of the firm sourced to the Financial Times. User:Wirecard, who changed his username to User:John from Wirecard, only made eleven edits, the first of which was a complete rewriting of the article, dropping over a dozen names of purported partners and listing 18 subsidiaries. He was blocked for using a promotional username. In his unblock request on his user page he stated that

I am a Wirecard employee and have never used and will never use this transparently named "Wirecard" account for anything other than a) a logo update (which I tried to do here) or b) to update current business numbers that have been officially declared in Wirecard's annual report. I have never and will never make any changes to any text on Wikipedia.

which obviously included some false information. He was then indefinitely blocked for promotional editing.

Wikipedia's administrators appeared to react quickly in this case. But did they catch all the Wirecard employees who were editing the article? It's impossible to say, but it should be noted that the article was largely promotional into late June, even after the firm had filed for insolvency, see e.g. this version. (Disclosure: Smallbones has edited the Wirecard article since late June).

Ghislaine sent us a photo?

Photo of Ghislaine Maxwell uploaded by Padbob1

Ghislaine Maxwell was Jeffrey Epstein's longtime companion, girlfriend, and allegedly a sex criminal who procured teenage girls for Epstein. She apparently sent us a photo in 2011. See this Signpost report for information on Epstein's possible editing of Wikipedia.

Padbob1 uploaded a 2007 photo of Ghislaine Maxwell on August 1, 2011. Confusingly the source and the author were both listed as "Ghislaine Maxwell", even though it’s unlikely that the photo is a selfie. The next day an OTRS request was received, with the ticket confirmed on August 11. Based on the request the OTRS volunteer changed the source to "I.Maxwell" - which is the same initial and surname as those of two siblings of Ghislaine. On the same date, Padbob1 added the photo to the article and removed a reference to an article in the Daily Mail which contained accusations of sex crimes and possible "sessions with teenage masseuses" with Prince Andrew. That was the last of Padbob1's five edits on Wikipedia, which were all on the Ghislaine Maxwell article.

In this issue
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"Very interesting ...," as the late great Arte Johnson used to say. I can't top that, but the more I edit at the CSD listings, the more I wonder what is being said about us on the Asian continent. Lately, meaning the last year or so, it seems like we're deluged with new articles from that continent that really amount to online résumés. From aspiring actors, models, you-tubers, and other artists, there are also individuals in academia and private professions who in effect put their resumes on Wikipedia. Sometimes complete with contact information and official photos. Not limited to the Asian continent, but we seem to be very popular there. — Maile (talk) 18:52, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

@Maile66: It's obvious that we need some quick way to sort the good from the bad, or to do really quick deletions. To a large extent, I think AfC should be restructured (not that I'm an expert on AfC) but it should be expected that we get a lot of garbage "over the transom", so we need to have a system to get rid of it quickly. At home you don't have to wait for a week to take out the garbage. IMHO. Smallbones(smalltalk) 20:07, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
If this is so open, can WMF tackle this legally? Staszek Lem (talk) 21:23, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
This is the chap: "York Labour councillor Paul Blanchard declared bankrupt and resigns triggering by-election for Heworth". York Press. 2 July 2009.. I had forgotten all about him but was reminded recently as his father is, ahem, in a spot of bother too. --Malcolmxl5 (talk) 22:41, 5 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]


@Smallbones: in the first item, Paul Blanchard's name has been shortened to "Blanchard", but in the final item Ghislaine Maxwell's name has been shortened to "Ghislaine". Ghislaine Maxwell is hardly notorious enough to be mononymous. Can you explain why you chose to use her first name instead of her last name? I note that Blanchard is a man and Maxwell is a woman. Mo Billings (talk) 20:46, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

(deleted repeated material from below) Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:11, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
It's because the article mentions another person also named Maxwell is the same sentence, so in this case you need the first name to be clear. Oiyarbepsy (talk) 20:54, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I am sure you know who the Maxwell is. Names are used for identification, you know. If the first one were Paul, while the second one were Maxwell, I bet text comprehensiveness would suffer. hardly notorious - I admit I am not Anglophone, but I suspect there not so many Ghislaines around. And insinuating sexism in a fellow wikipedian in public deserves trout slapping. Staszek Lem (talk) 21:01, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
(EC) In the text, there's only one use of "Ghislaine" without the surname: in this sentence where I just didn't want to keep on repeating the last name - "Based on the request the OTRS volunteer changed the source to "I.Maxwell" - which is the same initial and surname as those of two siblings of Ghislaine." It would have just been confusing. Whereas in the text on the Blanchard article - I did a quick count of 4 or 5 "Blanchards" and no Pauls. I frankly don't know why I chose just Ghislaine in the heading, but names in headlines are usually shorter than they are in the text, e.g. "Jimbo" rather than "Jimmy Wales" in the heading of the Blanchard story. and I think right now ""Ghislaine" is more recognizable than "Maxwell", which could be 1000s of well-known people, whereas "Ghislaine" might only refer to a dozen well known people. Hope this helps.
No trout slaps needed though. It's good to have your habits questioned every now and then. I had no idea why I did this until asked. BTW, please see the humour column from last month about headlines Smallbones(smalltalk) 21:07, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
no trout : Yes, the question was fair and interesting from the psychological point of view. But its second part is totally uncalled for. Although I admit it would be an interesting research topic to compare male/female first/last addressing habits (the idea came to my mind because just yesterday I wrote up the "British scientists" article :-).Staszek Lem (talk) 21:23, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Let me clarify for your benefit, Staszek Lem. Referring to women by their first names is a well-known form of gender bias. I cannot say what Smallbones was intending when they wrote this piece, but they should have been careful to avoid this so that they could not be accused of gender bias. Instead, they used Maxwell's first name in a headline. Mo Billings (talk) 21:50, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Let me clarify for your benefit, Mo Billings. I know what you said, hence my comment in the first place. If you want to know why, you ask without extras. If you want to bring author's attention to the issue, so that he fixes the bias, you should have phrased it so. In terms of political correctness, the current text may be read as a polite rhetorical question aimed at scolding a "male chauvinist pig". Men have sensitivities as well, you know Staszek Lem (talk) 23:17, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
Based on your statements, you seemed unaware that referring to women by their first names is a well-known form of gender bias. That's what I was trying to clarify for you. Mo Billings (talk) 23:32, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I see. I guess you wanted to say "It seemed to me you were unaware". I stated that you seemed to be accusing the colleague in sexism, i.e., that I read yours as a hint that he must be referring to them differently because of gender. The latter is called "gender bias" right? Meaning I knew what you wanted to teach me. I gave you a friendly advise how to avoid this type of miscommunication of intentions. Feel free to ignore. Staszek Lem (talk) 23:44, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I agree with Staszek Lem. To twist this into something sexist is nonsense bordering on the ridiculous! Then again, he doesn't help his argument by, purposefully I assume, "misnomering" Mo Billings. 23:45, 2 August 2020 (UTC)Dutchy45 (talk)
Oh, no. Not another one far-fetcher. I am a bit dyslexic. I type 'tyop' and 'mathc' all then time. Typically I cut and paste user names for "ping", because some of them defy my ken. This one I thought easy and was punished. Fixed, anyway. Apologies. Staszek Lem (talk) 04:16, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@Smallbones: If you felt that just saying "Maxwell" was confusing, you could have either reworded the sentence to avoid the confusion or simply qualified which Maxwell you meant by using the full name. I would appreciate it if you could edit the article (including the headline) to correct this. Mo Billings (talk) 21:59, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I think I'll take a pass on this. Much about grammar, and about journalism, relies on tradition and on "how it sounds to the ear." These are pretty good guides to writing in many cases, but they do change and do need to be examined from time to time. Using the first names when writing about family members is a very old way of doing things, and I haven't seen a better way to do it. Short catchy names in headlines is also a traditional way of doing things.
So here's a challenge for you. You rewrite the lines at issue, and we both invite folks here to judge whether any benefit is worth any loss of "ear value". I'll personally place greater weight on what self-identified women and journalist's opinions. Smallbones(smalltalk) 23:34, 2 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I have no desire to participate in some pointless contest of your design. If I am allowed to edit this, I would be happy to reword this to remove gender bias. Let me know. Mo Billings (talk) 02:42, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
This is Wikipedia colleague. Nobody "owns" articles here. You were explicitly invited to rewrite the lines, not to "suggest your version and we will RFC on it". If Smallbones meant yet something else, I am sure he knows where the button "Undo" is. And tghere is nothing "pointless" in improving someone's writing. After all, everybody, including the original author, agrees with your point. My only objection was to the form you expressed it. P.S. You seem to continue insulting people on every step: some pointless contest of your design is totally uncalled for. Staszek Lem (talk) 04:16, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@Staszek Lem and Mo Billings: Can I ask that everybody "lower their voices" a bit. I don't think that there's much of an argument here. MB has said that he thinks my writing style has an attribute that could be viewed as "sexist". It's nice to know, but to see the real meaning I need to see how he would do it. Staszek - I appreciate the support, but you are being too aggressive for my taste. I think we could all benefit from a calmer conversation. That said - I'll drop a bombshell here: in effect the author (the person whose by-line is on top of the article and who is putting their name on the line) and The Signpost do own the text of these articles. These are not encyclopedia articles, we don't operate under mainspace rules. This is a Wikipedia Project and we are expressing our individual and team views about different subjects. Think of this as Jimbo's talkpage. If you write something there and sign it - you expect that other people will not change your words. Same here, but more so. Each issue is supposed to be a snapshot in time. Once published, it's supposed to be fixed. Sure we appreciate a few copyedits when we don't catch everything, and we'll issue corrections here (if necessary) but those are the exceptions to the rule.

Part of what we do here is in effect offer editing services to writers. If somebody wants to reach an audience and they have good ideas, then we'd love to help them go over the text. Our readers, we hope, get some of the best thought-out and best written commentary on Wikipedia - but they don't get to write it unless they go through the process. They can also comment in this section and I think we often get a great conversation going. The staff, I hope, gets the satisfaction of knowing that they contribute to making some sense of this huge, crazy encyclopedia. Can we make rules like this? Sure, we're a Wikiproject, we basiclly set the rules the members want to work under, and invite people in to read our product. Probably more importantly, we're a newspaper - and just about everybody knows how newspapers work - and we've been doing it for 15 years. We're not going to make major changes to the rules now. BTW, how do you become a member of the project? Just ask what work you can or would like to do. Start with copyediting if you'd like. Start by submitting an opinion piece (but understand that it might get rejected), work a regular beat - we could use somebody to cover GLAMs right now. There's lots of ways to contribute. So, no please don't rewrite the text in the article. Smallbones(smalltalk) 05:49, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Well, that was my understanding allright. But my thinking was that changing "Ghislaine" to "Ghislaine Maxwell" in a single place (or not?) with a polite edit summary would go under the "few copyedits" clause. Staszek Lem (talk) 06:05, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
I am aware of all sensitivities of the time: I am using "singular they"; my female/male bio ratio is higher than wikipedia average without even being part of Women In Red. But I keep wondering why do I feel the need in self-defending that I am not homophobic, not sexist? (Sorry, I am aware I am kinda "internalized racist" by failing to forgive the massacre of my grand-relatives, and therefore I try to avoid editing topics related to Ukraine.) Staszek Lem (talk) 06:16, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@Smallbones: Would the Signpost be willing to publish a piece on Gender Bias in Writing and How To Easily Avoid It? Mo Billings (talk) 15:34, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]
@Mo Billings: Yes. I've even thought about letting you use (respectfully) examples from my writing in The Signpost. That might cause unforeseen problems I guess but it's up to you. And of course I'd arrange for a different editor than me to take it through the submission process. Can you send in a proposal or rough draft within 10 days? Sincerely, Smallbones(smalltalk) 19:10, 3 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]

Nice roundup! I've been otherwise engaged for a time but hope to do more work in this area as time permits. Coretheapple (talk) 14:58, 6 August 2020 (UTC)[reply]


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