Fear, ethics, legal, and Wikipedia

There are plenty of reasons to fear Wikipedia.

There are plenty of reasons to fear Wikipedia.

In 2004, Exxon was busted for controversial edits about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Since 2007, WikiScanner has given corporations like Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, EA, WalMart, and Nestle a punch in the gut by making their edits public. News of libel and defamation suits over Wikipedia content is common, and I routinely see marketers banned, ridiculed, and humiliated.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission settled with a firm called Reverb Communications, which allegedly posted fake reviews on mobile app sites without disclosing their commercial interest. But hasn't almost every marketer on Wikipedia committed similar violations by not disclosing their identity on Wikipedia? Meanwhile, when the community writes fictional statements like one I corrected in 2009 - “Next in line for Chapter 11” - isn't not editing just as scary?

Wikipedia's starting to look like a good horror flick. The profile of your serial brand killer? Just over 40% are unemployed and about the same number are in college. They control how up to millions of readers perceive your company brand.

Yet there are rainbows and sunshine in this story. It may not feel like it, but most of the Wikipedia community wants you to participate. The question is how you participate, what you contribute, and whether you do so ethically.

Wikipedia's 200-plus policies and guidelines explain what a “good” edit is, compared to a “bad” one, and there are many rules that relate specifically to editors with a conflict of interest. Let's take a look at what exactly was unethical about Exxon's edits to the Wiki on their oil spill that made it a scandal:

·         Disclosure: Wikipedia's guidelines require editors with a conflict of interest to disclose it. Exxon's anonymous editing is extremely inappropriate.

·         Controversy: Even the volunteer community is encouraged to discuss edits to controversial content before making them, and editors with a conflict of interest are suppose to stay away entirely.

·         Verification: Information on Wikipedia needs to cite authoritative third-party sources where the information can be verified. Just because the community didn't use citations either doesn't give Exxon permission to do the same.

·         Perception: There's no Wikipedia guideline about common sense. Wait, actually there is. Everything on Wikipedia is completely documented and transparent, so it's common sense not to make edits that can be perceived as a cover up or corporate spin.

If you've found yourself unwelcome on Wikipedia, I can promise two things. For one, you're not alone, and two, you broke a rule. I'd like to encourage readers who have had issues or struggles on Wikipedia to email me and I'll elaborate on the corresponding rules.

David King is a social media marketer and founder of Wikipedia Ethics LLC.

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