Have you ever created a fake online identity in order to edit the Wikipedia article about your company? On Wikipedia, that’s a no-no called “sockpuppetry.” Even worse, have you ever hired someone to edit and watch over your entry? If so, don’t be surprised to find you’ve been kicked off Wikipedia, along with the person you’ve hired.

According to Wikimedia Foundation CEO Sue Gardner, who is stepping down from that post later this year, “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. As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.”

Quote from the Wikimedia Foundation blog:

Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. 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. We consider it a “black hat” practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people. What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.

Longtime internet observers will remember this isn’t the first time in the history of the internet that using a sockpuppet approach to promote a company has failed. Indeed, the Pets.com sock puppet became the mascot for reckless exuberance of the late 1990’s dot.com-bubble era.

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