Wikipedia blocks 381 paid advocates, but CIPR warns PRs have 'zero to gain' from breaking rules

The CIPR has warned PRs that they have "absolutely zero to gain" in subverting the rules around editing Wikipedia articles on behalf of an employer or client.

PR: "the practice of managing the spread of information" (according to Wikipedia)
PR: "the practice of managing the spread of information" (according to Wikipedia)

This comes after the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, announced yesterday that it had blocked 381 accounts for so-called 'black hat' editing on the English-language Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia announcment said: "The accounts were engaged in undisclosed paid advocacy - the practice of accepting or charging money to promote external interests on Wikipedia without revealing their affiliation, in violation of Wikimedia’s Terms of Use. The editors issued these blocks as part of their commitment to ensuring Wikipedia is an accurate, reliable, and neutral knowledge resource for everyone."

Only a few of the accounts uncovered in the two-month investigation had made disclosures that they were engaging in paid editing, and those which did failed to make complete disclosures, according to an announcement from Wikipedia itself.

Although it is not clear whether PR firms were involved in any of the banned accounts, the CIPR's PR and policy manager Andy Ross said it provided a timely reminder that PRs should act "in an open and transparent manner" in any Wikipedia activity - as outlined by the CIPR's guidance 'Wikipedia and PR'.

Ross said: "Public relations professionals acting on behalf of an employer or client are paid-for advocates and have a clear conflict of interest. There’s absolutely zero to gain in subverting the rules, with such actions not only detrimental to the site itself, but also to the organisations and individuals involved."

He went on to say: "Public relations without transparency is unprofessional, and a direct contravention of the CIPR’s own ethical code."

PRs and Wikipedia have enjoyed a sometimes fraught relationship - Wikimedia threatened legal action against a PR company over paid editing in 2013, prompting first the ire of the then CIPR president-elect, and then in 2014 the creation of a compliance framework designed to "cultivate a more collaborative relationship between the industry and the Wikimedia Foundation", as PRWeek reported last year.

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