PR Pros Push For Wikipedia Editing Rights

In November, our blog identified the inability of companies to edit their own Wikipedia pages as one of the biggest risks of having your business listed in the ubiquitous crowd-sourced online encyclopedia.  Fearing that posts will become biased, Wikipedia does not allow any business – or any organization or consultant working for that business – to make changes to its page due to perceived conflicts of interest (COI).

An unfortunate side effect of that policy is that posts often contain outdated or incorrect information that PR pros cannot correct. Basically, they can recommend to Wikipedia that the page be edited and then cross their fingers.

Frustrated with that often dead-end process for removing erroneous Wikipedia information, Edelman Senior Vice President Phil Gomes has launched a Facebook group called “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement” or CREWE. According to a Forbes story earlier this month, the group is looking to engage Wikipedia in a discussion about “how communications professionals and the Wikipedia community can/must work together.”

At the time of the Forbes piece, CREWE had 72 members. A week later, it was tracking above 110 members – including industry scribe Jack O’Dwyer, a smattering of Edelman employees, and even Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Although joining the group requires an invite or approval from an administrator, any Facebook member can get a taste of the group’s work by browsing its Facebook wall, where posts are frequent. For example, at the time this post was written, the CREWE wall prominently featured a working document titled “Examples of unpublished COI Suggested Edits that followed Wikipedia Guidelines”.  Listed among the examples is this one by Gregory Kohs:

“Comcast:  Ever since July 2011, the Wikipedia article has stated that Comcast is the fourth-largest residential telephone provider in the country.  The fact is, though, since March 2009, Comcast passed Qwest and became the third-largest provider.  This was documented in DSL Reports, Reuters, and other news sources.  Because I am purportedly “banned” from editing Wikipedia, I could not even make a mention of this on the WP Comcast Talk page, however, 16 days ago, I did the next-best thing — mentioned it on, where dozens of Wikipedians (including admins) read the postings.  I even provided a handy link to a Reuters source for the fact” … “It’s still being ignored by the Wikipedians.”

Among CREWE’s documents you can also find a working copy of the CREWE PR Plan and a proposal for a pilot project that would allow PR pros to edit Wikipedia pages.

Of course, at this early stage, it’s unclear whether these or other moves by CREWE will have an impact on Wikipedia’s perceptions and policies toward PR pros. But as the group undoubtedly grows in size, it will be interesting to watch and listen.

What do you think? Will CREWE be able to influence Wikipedia’s editing rules? Have you ever run into issues with incorrect Wikipedia postings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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7 Responses to PR Pros Push For Wikipedia Editing Rights

  1. David King says:

    Hi Erin,

    It’s actually not against Wikipedia’s policies for a paid editor to make edits. In fact Wikipedia has dozens of documents that provide instructions to COI editors on how to disclose their identity, what not to edit, how to conduct yourself and so on. However, most PR firms lack the expertise to make edits in compliance with Wikipedia’s 200+ policies and guidelines.

    If anyone has some issue with a brief factual correction, I’d be happy to make the updates myself. There’s also instructions on the Wikiproject Cooperation, much of which I wrote myself.

    PR pros need to learn how to do basic things themselves, but leverage an expert Wikipedian when needed. I’m happy to show anyone how to resolve an issue they’re having on Wikipedia….

    -David King
    COI Wikipedian

    • Debi P says:

      David – My read of the COI is that employees/paid consultants can make small, basic changes as long as those changes are (a) factual (b) neutral and (c) your identity is fully disclosed (i.e. the “basic things” you referred to). However, your link to WikiProject: Cooperation seems to support the idea that PR people cannot make any changes to the page at all: “To request a brief factual update to an article, add {{request edit}} to the talk page of the article. Include the details of the fact you would like to update or correct and a link to an authoritative source where the fact can be verified. If you don’t hear back within a couple weeks, you can also use The Paid Editor Help Page or escalate to the COI Noticeboard.” That goes back to Erin’s post and the work of CREWE. Can you please clarify for me?

  2. John Cass says:

    Hi Erin, thanks for writing about the topic. The CREWE is an effort by a number of PR communications and colleagues of the profession to gain clarity and also ensure accurate entries on Wikipedia. Even if we haven’t changed any guidelines or polices the forum is a great educational opportunity for any communications professional. We also value every professionals insights, and hope that they join in on the effort to work on one of the project.

    Erin, we’d be very happy to have you join the group, and help with our projects. I’d enjoy chatting with you about the project I’m at @johncass on twitter.

  3. Erin Lawley says:

    Thank you both for reading and taking time to join the discussion. I’m sure there will be more to talk about as this topic unfolds.


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