Companies and people seeking celebrity want their own Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is often near the top of Google search results, and lots of people use the site.
Potential abuse of Wikipedia’s decentralized nature—anyone can write or edit Wikipedia articles—comes with the territory, but the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees Wikipedia, is investigating an apparent gaming of the system.
Over several months, Wikimedia investigators identified 323 users as “sockpuppets,” accounts created as fronts for people hired by or with a vested interest in promoting particular organizations. Several dozen more were targeted as suspected sockpuppet accounts.
Once was the user “Morning277,” who made 6,000 edits. Some of those edits used citations that purportedly linked to CNN, but actually linked to CNN iReport pages, which anyone can create.
Many of Morning277 and others’ promotional edits have been deleted, and quite a few pages have been taken down for not meeting Wikipedia’s notability standards—the rules that say something must meet a level of noteworthiness to warrant a page.
In a lengthy article at The Daily Dot, reporter Simon Owens wrote that Morning277 is thought to be a group of paid editors. He linked several companies whose pages the group edited back to Wiki-PR, an agency that employs Wikipedia editors and admins.
“Don’t get caught in a PR debacle editing your own page,” the company’s website warns.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales opposes paid editors making changes to Wikipedia pages, but the platform’s patchwork nature makes it hard to block such activity.
Owens interviewed several former Wiki-PR clients who said they paid between $500 and $1,000, plus $50 per month for monitoring, for services including article generation.
The editor who initially noticed the activity—and who goes by the name DocTree on the site—said this investigation into sockpuppetry is “just the tip of the iceberg.”