November 22, 2013
Wikipedia Busts ‘Sockpuppeters,’ Sends Cease and Desist Letter
People turn to Wikipedia for everything from finding trivia answers to delivering speeches, making accurate and bias-free content on the site a necessity for its existence.
“Today, Cooley LLP, on behalf of the WMF, sent the cease and desist letter below to the CEO of Wiki-PR, demanding that Wiki-PR ‘cease and desist from further editing the Wikipedia website unless and until [they] have fully complied with the terms and conditions outlined by the Wikimedia Community,’” WMF spokesperson Matthew Roth said in a press release on Tuesday.
Wiki-PR is essentially accused of creating Wikipedia accounts that are later used to edit reference material on the website on behalf of its clients – a practice referred to as ‘sockpuppeting.’ If users knew material on the website was biased or advocating a certain point-of-view, many of them would be less likely to turn to Wikipedia as a trusted resource.
The cease-and-desist letter comes after Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, announced in October that the Wikipedia editors were investigating “allegations of suspicious edits and sockpuppetry” being reported by a number of media outlets.
“At this point, as reported, it looks like a number of user accounts – perhaps as many as several hundred – may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest,” Gardner said. “As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.”
Published on the WMF website, the cease-and-desist letter indicated that the organization has already tried to reconcile its differences with Wiki-PR.
“In your communications with me and the Foundation, you have stated your intent to work with the community to satisfy its conditions for lifting the ban,” WMF-retained attorney Patrick Gunn wrote. “Yet, yesterday, you admitted that Wiki-PR has continued to actively market paid advocacy editing services despite the ban – consistent with evidence that we have discovered independently. This is deeply troubling and suggests that Wiki-PR is circumventing the ban at the same time it professes to engage with the community about complying with it.”
In her October statement, Gardner emphasized the nature of the problem, saying edits to articles that are promotional in nature have been a thorn in the organization’s side.
“Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic,” Gardner said.
“We consider it a ‘black hat' practice,” she added, referring to the term used to describe unethical online activities. “Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.”