The Wikimedia Foundation has accused a Texas public relations firm of writing hundreds of fake Wikipedia entries on behalf of its clients, the Verge reports. After uncovering the scam last month, Wikimedia sent a cease-and-desist letter to the PR firm on Tuesday asking the firm to stop editing Wikipedia pages until it complies with Wikipedia’s terms of service.
According to the Independent, Wikimedia’s letter to the firm reads:
We have come to the opinion that, based on the evidence we have to date, that agent(s) of your company have engaged in sockpuppetry or meatpuppetry to, among other things, make it appear as if certain articles are written by unbiased sources when in fact those articles are authored by Wiki-PR for money.”
The firm, which tellingly goes by the name “Wiki-PR,” is believed to have created over 300 fake accounts to edit Wikipedia pages. This practice, in Internet-speak, is known as “socketpuppeting” and undermines the principles of objectivity and neutrality that the online encyclopedia runs on.
Wikipedia is currently the most popular online encyclopedia. If it is uncovered that Wikipedia entries are merely publicity tools rather than sources of reliable, unbiased information, the encyclopedia will surely lose its readers. If that’s the case, a dismal picture is being painted for people everywhere: after all, who will students turn to when cramming to write 12-page research papers in one night?
Expressing her disgust toward socketpuppeting, Wikimedia Executive Director Sue Gardner said, “Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem.”
According to the Independent, Wikimedia issued a warning to Wiki-PR emphasizing the damaging and unfair nature of the PR firm’s practices:
The Wikimedia community of volunteer writers, editors, photographers, and other contributors has built Wikipedia into the world’s most popular encyclopaedia, with a reputation for transparency, objectivity and lack of bias. When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creating or allowing false, unauthorized or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia’s reputation is harmed. By seeking to gain a commercial benefit from the Wikipedia brand, these publicity firms are attempting to profit from the substantial time and effort invested by the Wikipedia volunteer community.”
How do you think Wiki-PR should pay for its evil practices? Do you think Wikimedia could do a better job at preventing profiteering on its sites?