Speaking at Bell Pottinger’s offices last Friday morning, Wales advised about 50 senior staff including Chime chairman Bell on ethical use of the online encyclopaedia.
During the meeting, Wales admitted that the Wikipedia rules were complex, with ‘hundreds of pages of policy’, and that the rules about paid-for advocates editing the site were ‘a bit mushy at the moment and we need to tighten them up’. He also admitted that, in some cases, the site’s editors could have acted more quickly.
The meeting took place after Wikipedia launched an investigation into the agency’s use of fake identities to edit pages on behalf of clients. The investigation was sparked by a sting operation by The Independent against Bell Pottinger in December.
Despite Wales’ admissions, he insisted that PR professionals should always be transparent about their identity and client when editing pages. Bell reacted by stating that there was a belief that ‘if you are a paid adviser, you must be lying’.
‘We don’t become criminals because we are paid. We find that offensive,’ he said. ‘We’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. We did not make any change that was wrong.’
Wales responded: ‘We’re at an impasse. I’m uncomfortable when you say you have not done anything wrong.’
He added that even if PR professionals were under pressure from clients or concerned at the speed of the process, ‘being desperate doesn’t make it right’.
Wales called on Bell Pottinger to ‘address the Wikipedia community’ to change entries rather than editing articles itself.
But Bell Pottinger responded by referring to a case study of client Common Purpose, where a series of allegations had remained on the site, despite it using the channels that Wales has suggested.