An investigation by the English Wikipedia community into suspicious edits and sockpuppet activity has led to astonishing revelations that Wiki-PR, a multi-million-dollar US-based company, has created, edited, or maintained several thousand Wikipedia articles for paying clients using a sophisticated array of concealed user accounts. They have managed to do so by violating several Wikipedia policies and guidelines, including those concerning conflict of interest in paid advocacy—when an individual accepts money to promote a person, organization, or product on Wikipedia—and sockpuppetry.
The Signpost has covered issues such as Microsoft’s attempt to monitor articles and “diploma mills” in 2007, the Nichalp/Zithan case in 2009, and a PR firm’s edits (“The Bell Pottinger affair“) in 2011. Paid advocacy received its most substantial treatment in 2012 with a series of interviews withpaid editing supporters, a skeptic, and Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. On the site itself, a full conflict of interest guideline was developed in response to the perceived threat of paid editing.
Who would go through all this trouble to concoct such an elaborate system of deception?
There are a number of reasons why a user might create fake accounts, but given the promotional nature of the edits and their subjects—mostly small companies, many of which were based in Silicon Valley—it seemed obvious to all that the Morning277 network was made up of paid editors who had been hired by these companies to create pages for them.
Wikipedia has had a long, uneasy relationship with paid contributors. Many purists believe that a Wikipedia page’s subject, or anyone paid by that subject, has no business editing that page because his objectivity is compromised.