Will Policy Changes Make Wikipedia More Trustworthy?

    June 16, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

The Wikimedia Foundation announced changes to its terms of service to address the problem of black hat paid editing of content such as Wikipedia articles. With half a billion people using Wikipedia every month, and the major search engines drawing from its information for quick answers to users’ queries, it’s pretty important that the content remains unbiased and factual, and not tainted by the influence of money in an undisclosed manner.

“This new change will empower Wikipedia’s editor community to address the issue of paid editing in an informed way by helping identify edits that should receive additional scrutiny,” a spokesperson for the foundation tells WebProNews. “In addition, the change will help educate good-faith editors as to how they can continue editing in the spirit of the Foundation’s mission and provide additional tools in enforcing existing rules about conflicts of interest and paid editing.”

Do you trust information on Wikipedia to be unbiased and factual? Do you think the new changes will help? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The issue has been around for a long time, but really gained a lot of attention last year when Wikimedia announced that it shut down hundreds of accounts for undisclosed paid edits. Prior to that, a Wikipedia editor had uncovered “the largest sockpuppet network in Wikipedia history,” and a service called WikiPR was actively promoting services to manage clients’ Wikipedia, employing admins, which have special rights over content and edits that others don’t.

“Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature,” said Sue Gardner, the foundation’s former executive director at the time. “Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a ‘black hat’ practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.”

Gardner recently stepped down from the executive director role, which was officially taken over by Lila Tretikov this month.

Earlier this year, the foundation had to let go a respected employee after it became known that she was involved in paid editing.

That was in January. In February and March, the Wikimedia community discussed the issue of undisclosed paid editing, and the changes that the foundation just announced gained “overwhelming” support from the community.

Wikimedia’s Geoff Brigham writes in a blog post:

As explained in October of 2013, we believe that undisclosed paid advocacy editing is a black hat practice that can threaten the trust of Wikimedia’s volunteers and readers. We have serious concerns about the way that such editing affects the neutrality and reliability of Wikipedia.

The change to the Terms of Use will address these concerns in a variety of ways. First, it will help educate and explain to good-faith editors how they may continue to edit in the spirit of the movement and mission, through simple disclosure of their affiliation. Second, it will empower the community to address the issue of paid editing in an informed way by helping identify edits that should receive additional scrutiny. Finally, it will provide an additional tool to the community and Foundation to enforce existing rules about conflicts of interest and paid editing.

Those who are being paid to edit will need to disclose the paid editing to comply with the new ToS, and add their affiliation to their edit summary, user page, or talk page, and “fairly disclose” their perspective. There’s an FAQ about this here.

Those who edit Wikipedia as volunteers and “for fun” don’t have to worry about anything changing with the new terms. Those employed by galleries, libraries, museums, etc. that pay employees to make “good faith” contributions are considered “welcome to edit” as long as the contributions aren’t about the actual institutions themselves.

There’s a letter from Wikimedia’s board about paid contributions without disclosure here. Here’s a sample:

Several editors raised concerns about the impact of this amendment on good-faith editors, such as first-time editors who aren’t familiar with our rules, or editors who work on projects with GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) or with universities. We ask everyone to be respectful of others and to help enforce existing community practices and policies about privacy and harassment, even in cases of suspected paid advocacy editing. The amendment is not intended to impact participants in GLAM projects, or professors, when they are writing about topics of general interest on their own, rather than writing about their own institutions while being compensated directly quid pro quo, for example.

Given the complexity of the issue, the Wikimedia Foundation will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the amendment, and remain open to changes as necessary to improve it. We thank everyone who participated in the community consultation.

Those who are paid to edit are also subject to laws such as those prohibiting fraudulent advertising.

Do you think the foundation’s ToS changes will make a significant impact on the legitimacy of information presented in Wikipedia articles? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • http://www.legalmorning.com/ Michael Wood

    Answer to the headline is “No.” It will give the appearance of such, but will not make it more accurate. In fact, the new terms mean that paid editors who publicly disclose their paid affiliations (which I don’t) are putting their edits on the chopping block for editors who do not understand the industry (they simply see it as evil and want to eradicate it). Frankly, the new policy suits me well as it has effectively increased business. Again, the Wikimedia Foundation (led by the push from the Wikipedia community) has set up yet another roadblock that will cause people to hire paid editors, not move away from the practice.

    • Ed Davis

      Yes, the more roadblocks to editing, the fewer potential editors. Authoritative information is best provided by those with experience in an area or with a good knowledge base, not professional editors. For example, articles about medical conditions should invite editing by physicians. The problem is that physicians are busy and cannot invest large amounts of time dealing with arcane rules and debating the self appointed guardians of article veracity.

  • Custos De La Luz

    No. Absolutely not. The ability of ANYONE to edit these articles makes them completely untrustworthy. I’m an expert in a particular field, and I’m shocked by the misinformation on wikipedia. Frankly, I don’t have the time to go in and correct a large number of factual errors just to have them changed again. I certainly don’t have time to get into arguments with people online about a particular fact in an article. Not to mention the mater of semantics, structure, and just plain quality of information.

    In my view, these types of sources can become little fiefdoms for people who have nothing better to do. The article becomes their life and any intruders are not welcome. They take it very personal if any editing is done to what they believe is correct.

    It’s a wasteland of garbage.

    • Digby Green

      Where is this garbage – what is your area of expertise?

      • Custos De La Luz

        Look at the post above from Ed Davis.

      • Jorge

        Claque! Claque! Claque!

    • James_Balti

      I agree. I have largely stopped editing, due to the number of times my (correct) edits have been reverted by self-appointed Wikipedia nazis.

      • Former Wikipedia volunteer

        Yes, I agree as well, having been banned by those self-appointed Wikipedia nazis when I tried to update bad information. Wikipedia is not trustworthy.

  • Digby Green

    IN general i trust Wikipedia
    I have contributed a couple of edits to the best of my ability.
    I get very annoyed at Luddites who decry Wikipedia.
    Its a very valuable resource like no other.
    Just get rid of these cowboys!

  • http://www.enviroequipment.com Enviro Equipment, Inc.

    Honestly, I would rather have to go through a “professional editor” and make sure that I get a page/listing which is properly constructed so that it doesn’t contain spam but yet allows for quality information to be published.

  • Bantu

    Nothing will ever make me trust Wikipedia. I make my living researching and Wikipedia’s incomplete, inaccurate, usually biased and sometimes malicious information has become the bane of my existence. Misinformation harvested from Wikipedia is so prevalent throughout the web now it is difficult to escape it even with effort. I really feel bad for the crop of people who are growing up thinking Wikipedia is some sort of infallible fount of knowledge.

    That is not to say there are no good articles on Wikipedia; some are outstanding. But many others are flawed and sometimes downright fraudulent, and it seems that increasingly people are losing the ability or motivation to the two apart.

  • http://searchsimplicity.com/ Gregory Smith

    Due to Link Builders — I haven’t ever trusted Wikipedia.. and never will…

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    The world’s first and longest-running paid Wikipedia editing service is MyWikiBiz. Here’s how this new Wikimedia Foundation Terms of Use will be addressed: “when you engage the services of MyWikiBiz, you are paying for the expertise of MyWikiBiz and its affiliate editors; that is, you are compensating us for our research skills, writing style, and editorial review time. Your payment also obtains our knowledge of policies and guidelines on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects. You agree that you are making no payment for any content contributions on Wikipedia or other Wikimedia Foundation projects. MyWikiBiz and its affiliates will only execute content contributions on Wikipedia or other Wikimedia Foundation projects as a personal courtesy at or near the end of our consultative project. MyWikiBiz may not receive or expect to receive any compensation for directly publishing or editing content on Wikipedia or other Wikimedia Foundation projects, and thus no refunds or rebates will be offered to you as the result of any content outcomes on Wikipedia or other Wikimedia Foundation projects which are ultimately outside of our control. Because of these service terms, MyWikiBiz and its affiliate editors are exempt from the Wikimedia Foundation Terms of Use section about ‘Paid contributions without disclosure’. Since we neither receive nor expect to receive compensation for any of our contributions to Wikipedia or other Wikimedia Foundation projects, we need not make disclosure of our employer(s), client(s), or affiliation(s).”

  • Jorge

    The propaganda arm of Mexico’s “official” political party (the PRI) employs many thousands of people to act as a massive Internet claque that promotes the party line and discredits all opposition. Within this claque are many Wikipedia editors who use their position to remove inconvenient pages on the grounds of irrelevancy.

    Two examples of this suppression are the pages on Mónica Pretelini and the túmin. Mónica Pretelini, the first wife of the sitting president, is widely believed to have been murdered by her husband. The túmin, an alternative currency being circulated in the state of Veracruz, is an embarrassment to the country’s abusive fiscal policy. The original notes in Spanish have both been suppressed because they supposedly lack significance for an encyclopedia — and yet their English translations still stand.

    This sort of black-hat work is unlikely to get weeded out with the new ToS.

  • Just_a_Reader

    In many areas (such as historical events, certain geographical issues) Wikipedia articles are no more than political propaganda. I don’t know whether it is paid, or reflects true political views of the editors – but it is so biased, that Wikipedia cannot be considered trustworthy in any way.
    One simple example: British occupation of New Zealand is presented as a little less than an act of charity.
    And Wikipedia’s pro-American inclination just stinks.

  • Barbara Clark

    Thank you for the new rules. I’ve never edited a story myself but am a great fan of
    Wikipedia and its world-wide community, and I contribute my pittance for its support. Identifying paid PR should be very helpful for maintaining trust and crediblity.

    Definitely Yes.

  • http://www.stephenshostek.com Stephen Shostek

    I use the Wikipedia to gather information but I approach it
    with a healthy skepticism since I expect to find biased and incorrect info. I’m
    careful to check the citations for any important “facts” cited in the wiki and
    accord those facts credibility commensurate with the source that’s cited. For
    any information that’s important to me, I usually examine the source
    information that’s cited and get the info directly from the cited source.
    Often, the real value of a wiki article to me isn’t in the article itself; it’s
    in gathering additional sources for information from the citations. So to
    answer the question asked in the article headline, “Will Policy Changes Make
    Wikipedia More Trustworthy?” I answer that I’m glad that the Wikipedia
    Foundation is making a good-faith effort to protect their information and
    credibility. I think they have to do whatever they can to protect their
    reputation. But I expect that intelligent persons will over time find a way to
    game any system they develop, necessitating ongoing vigilance and adaptation.
    For my part, I’ll continue to fact-check what I read by checking citations for
    the important info.

  • Bill Maxwell

    No, I always remain suspicious, even when reviewing historic subjects. I didn’t know the extent of this subject, but on some topics, it was clear that an agenda was being propagated. I don’t know enough about the proposed changed, and I will continue to use WikiPedia with caution, but I am happy to see an attempt to address this obvious problem. As mentioned by other respondents, it appears to be a significant problem to overcome, based upon the Wiki principle.

  • Cheryl Currie

    I do not believe that Wikipedia will be trustworthy until they stop giving the antagonist point of views on it. There is far too much opinion especially in the area of philosophy and religion. You can almost feel the authors disdain in some of what is written and there are subtle changes in the words where the author will say “it is” versus “they believe” versus “characterized as” and other subtle changes in the wording that influence the reader’s opinion of the subject. The article on Freemasonry, for example, is far different than other articles on moral groups. There is no section that I could find that gives the “adversary” time to speak against the group. Yet in other articles on other groups there are. If Wikipedia wants to be seen as an encyclopedia has to get its prejudiced views out-of-the-way or keep them constant to the entire website.

  • isthetruthoutthere

    I “trust” it for science and engineering – by “trust” I mean that I am already aware what the likelyhood of mis-information vs disinformation is – an article on engineering may contain an error but the error is most likely innocent.

    The issue here has nothing to do with Wikipedia, interested parties will always try and manipulate whatever channel of communication is available.

    Right now I am trying to educate myself on the history of Israel / Palestine with regards to the current problems. Guess how easy it is to get unbiased information on that subject?….”paid for articles” does not even begin to describe the problem there. Is Israel a land-grab seen from the context of the 20th century, does knowledge of the previous 400 years change that position? I want an apolitical view of who lived where for how long and in what numbers – its tough to decide who you trust yet the information is critical in understanding the rights and wrongs of the current situation.

    The only information you can “trust” is information where very few people have an interest in distortion and there are few cranks.