PR Firm Rewrites Clients' Wikipedia Entries

Wiki co-founder slams 'ethical blindness,' suspends writer access
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2011 1:43 AM CST
PR Firm Rewrites Clients' Wikipedia Entries
Wikipedia co-found Jimmy Wales has blocked certain writers from accessing Wikipedia entries.   (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, Files)

(Newser) – So much for reliable Wikipedia content. A high-powered British PR firm routinely rewrites Wikipedia content relating to its clients, reports the Independent. Bell Pottinger made hundreds of changes in Wiki entries over the last year, either adding positive comments or deleting negative ones about clients. At least ten contributing writer accounts linked to the firm have been suspended by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who blasted the firm's "ethical blindness," reports the Financial Times. Undercover reporters for the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism posing as clients were told by representatives of the PR firms that "sorting" Wikipedia entries is part of the service the company offers, notes the newspaper.

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Changes included removal of mention of criminal convictions and arrests, modifications in details of business dealings, and the addition of long positive paragraphs about Bell Pottinger clients. Some of the changes were traced to a Wikipedia writer called "Biggleswiki," and an IP address was tracked to the PR firm. A Bell Pottinger spokesman told the Independent that the firm has "never done anything illegal," and has refused to include information in Wiki entries that isn't true. Said Wales: "I am astonished at the ethical blindness of Bell Pottinger's reaction. That their strongest response is they didn't break the law tells a lot about their view of the world." Wikipedia struggles to balance access by volunteer writers functioning on an honor system with safeguards to keep biased or inaccurate information from the massive user-generated online encyclopedia. Wikipedia guidelines prohibit entries by people with a conflict of interest in a topic. (Read more Jimmy Wales stories.)

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