A Bunch Of Top PR Agencies Agreed To Stop Their Covert Manipulation of Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales WikipediaEleven top PR firms, including Ogilvy & Mather, Edelman, and FleishmanHillard, released a joint statement stating they will abide by Wikipedia's editing policies. The statement is essentially an admission that for years PR agencies edited Wikipedia pages on their clients' behalf, ostensibly to remove "errors" but also to delete negative information about companies and to add fluffy "good news" points.

Wikipedia went to war against such editing - not an easy task given that PR agencies employ armies of professionals editing the site from thousands of different accounts and locations. The statement is effectively the beginning of an end to that war.

History's most famous sockpuppet was probably John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, who used a fictional screenname on Yahoo Finance's message boards for nearly eight years to promote his stock.

The statement lays out five points that the agencies will follow in hopes of restoring accuracy and credibility to the Wikipedia name.

One point states:

To the extent we become aware of potential violations of Wikipedia policies by our respective firms, to investigate the matter and seek corrective actions, as appropriate and consistent with out policies.

A number of the 11 agencies have released their own statements as well. In a post on Ogilvy & Mather's website the company's Managing Director of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Marshall Mason, recognizes their industry's misuse of the site, which he states has led to a "deep mistrust" of Wikipedia. While the agency recognizes that progress may not be easy or fast, the creation of the statement is a big step forward for the agencies.

In the past few years PR firms have been called into question for editing client pages to present their clients in a better light. The public relations company Wiki-PR, founded in 2010 by Darius Fisher and Jordan French, triggered an investigation by Wikipedia into a number of "sockpuppet" accounts back in 2012. Sockpuppets are people or groups being paid to push a client's ideals or agendas through edits to Wikipedia. Readers have almost no way of knowing whether edits to Wikipedia are legit or done by spinmasters. Wiki-PR claimed to help companies learn how to use and interact in the Wikipedia community to help firms, "claim your top spot in Google search results."

Over 300 of these so-called sockpuppet accounts were served cease-and-desist letters in November banning the organization from Wikipedia. The letter says:

When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creating or allowing false, unauthorized, or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia's reputation is harmed. This practice, which sometimes referred to as sockpuppetry or meatpuppetry, is expressly prohibited by Wikipedia's Terms of Use.

Other larger agencies have not yet publically agreed to the terms, but the tide appears to be turning against PR firms who edit Wikipedia.