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OPLIN 4cast #455: Wikipedia’s money problems

Posted in 4cast

Last updated on September 29, 2015

money bribesLast month, The Atlantic published an extensive article (linked below) about problems Wikipedia was having with supposedly volunteer editors posting things on Wikipedia for financial gain, a violation of the Wikipedia Terms of Use, which had been strengthened in June 2014. Certainly a profit motive has the potential to bias information. Sometimes it’s hard, however, to decide where to draw the line; scientific publishers donate accounts to Wikipedia editors to allow them to conduct research with the apparent expectation that links to their pay-walled articles will show up in Wikipedia references. If only there was some place to get free, reliable information….

  • The covert world of people trying to edit Wikipedia—for pay (The Atlantic | Joe Pinsker)  “Two months ago, an investigation revealed that even after the rule change, employees of Sunshine Sachs, a public-relations firm, had still been editing the Wikipedia pages of their clients without disclosing their affiliation. One email sent by the company boasted, ‘Sunshine Sachs has a number of experienced editors on staff that have established profiles on Wikipedia. The changes we make to existing pages are rarely challenged.’”
  • Wikipedia bans hundreds of “black hat” paid editors who created promotional pages on its site (TechCrunch | Sarah Perez)  “As you may recall, back in October 2013, the organization’s volunteers blocked hundreds of accounts associated with the consulting firm Wiki-PR. The organization at the time sent a cease-and-desist letter to the firm, which promoted its ability to help article subjects claim their ‘top spot in Google search results.’ Wikipedia said then that it banned 300 accounts associated with the firm (which argued it only had 45 people working for them.) That means that today’s news of the banning of 381 accounts is actually larger than that earlier scandal in terms of the number of ‘black hat’ editors being exposed and banned.”
  • Wikipedia:Long-term abuse/Orangemoody (Wikipedia:Administrators’ noticeboard)  “It is important to note that the 381 accounts identified in this investigation are only those that were editing from the end of April to early August. This reflects the time-limited availability of checkuser data. Many of the identified accounts were editing before that time, and the nature and quality of the edits suggests that this paid editing scheme had been in place for some time before it was fortuitously identified.”
  • “WikiGate” raises questions about Wikipedia’s commitment to open access (Ars Technica | Glyn Moody)  “[Michael] Eisen’s fear is that the free accounts to ScienceDirect will encourage Wikipedia editors to add references to articles that are behind Elsevier’s paywall. When members of the public seek to follow such links, they will be unable to see the article in question unless they have a suitable subscription to Elsevier’s journals, or they make a one-time payment, usually tens of pounds for limited access. Eisen went on to tweet: ‘@Wikipedia is providing free advertising for Elsevier and getting nothing in return,’ and that, rather than making it easy to access materials behind paywalls, ‘it SHOULD be difficult for @wikipedia editors to use #paywalled sources as, in long run, it will encourage openness.’”

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