By Ilan Nass, Fueled

Wikipedia paid editing is the practice where an individual receives financial compensation for creating or editing an article on the online encyclopedia. The practice has recently come under fire, with the community making efforts to ban it.

They argue that paid editing creates a conflict of interest between the aim of the site and the interests of the editor. To put it in perspective, a judge’s primary function is as a fair adjudicator. In the event that a defendant or plaintiff is his wife (external relationship), the primary function would be undermined. Wikipedia’s democratized platform is similarly being threatened by paid editing.

Why is paid editing popular?

In a word, money, both for the editors and the companies looking for some free PR. Since its creation, Wikipedia has become the go-to reference point for almost any subject or topic. Its credibility and popularity make it a well-loved and important tool in SEO.

The marketing aspect of Wikipedia comes into play because the site ranks number one in major search engines, a fact that makes it ripe for exploitation. A good page on Wikipedia can give great rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs).

So, is it too late to stop?

The notion of preventing paid edits on Wikipedia, while noble, is simultaneously quite ridiculous.

Consider this:

  • In the United States alone, there are an estimated 60 million visits to the site monthly.
  • There were 6 million edits and 30 million views to Michael Jackson’s page in the month that he died.
  • A recent investigation identified an editor named “morning 277” who had been found to have worked on or created over 6,000 paid articles.

Given such statistics, it’s clear that Wikipedia paid edits may be unmanageable simply due to the popularity of the site and the ease of editing. There’s no doubt that it’s an appealing SEO opportunity for many companies.

Wikimedia Foundation has recently blocked accounts over 250 accounts of editors, also known as sockpuppets, for engaging in this practice. Will that, however, be enough to stamp it out, or will new accounts just continue to be created everyday with the same purpose?

According to the online encyclopedia, paid editors are biased by default, and cannot possibly be neutral contributors. The Foundation’s Executive Director Sue Gardner believes paid editing completely acts against their ethos of being an unbiased, free encyclopedia. She says, “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.”

Some claim that, because Wikipedia seeks to impose a layer of editorial review on everything posted, this alters the notion that everyone has an equal right to edit articles, thereby going against its own ethos. Others, though, simply don’t care about the ethos or ethics and are going to continue reaping the benefits of paid page editing, which Wikipedia are going to find extremely difficult or near impossible to stop.

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  • Smallbones

    Of course hiding PR in what is supposed to be an unbiased encyclopedia is completely unethical. Most hidden ads are also illegal in the US (check with the FTC if you’re not sure). And the companies that advertise in Wikipedia articles about their own company or products are pretty easily tracked down

    • http://www.legalmorning.com/ Michael Wood

      So………..companies who edit in Wikipedia articles about their own company are “hiding ads?” Do you feel that someone with a conflict of interest can still edit with a neutral point of view or are you one of the legions who closed your mind and want to ban ALL forms of COI editing? When it comes down to it, this article is wrong when they say paid editing exists because of money. In reality, companies are willing to pay as anytime they try to make a single edit to correct information that is wrong about them, they get chewed up and spit out by editors who feel that anyone with a COI should not edit at all. After they are beat up and kicked out by your fellow editors, they come to me and pay to have me take care of the issue. So, if you want paid editing to stop, then stop creating the environment for it. And I am also not sure why you want to compare something that is completely legal, within the guidelines of Wikipedia (don’t parse words as there is NO guideline against paid editing – and yes, the proposed T&C will fail as well), and needed for the sake accuracy to something that that is illegal.

  • http://www.legalmorning.com/ Michael Wood

    “In a word, money, both for the editors and the companies looking for some free PR.”

    You are slightly correct. Money is an obvious part of paid editing (paid=money), but that is not the motivating factor for companies. Companies are motivated to hire someone as they are constantly berated when they try to edit and are ignored or belittled when they try to request a change on the talk page of an article. They are told that they cannot edit a page with information about their company as they have a conflict of interest (even if the edit is neutral). Editors use the COI policy as a weapon to strike anyone in that category as they are frustrated from PR companies trying to SPAM. However, companies who have a legitimate edits to make are frustrated for getting beat up in the process.

    It is not too late to stop paid editing (and yes, I say that as a professional Wikipedia editor who makes a living doing it), but putting a bandage on the situation is not going to fix it. I have said it many times that a policy against paid editing is not needed. If you want to stop paid editing, then change the environment of bureaucrats constantly putting up roadblocks for any company who wishes to make a contribution. And yes, I know there will be editors who disagree with me, but there is not need to defend my statement. Every morning when I wake up I see proof that I am correct based on the numerous email requests I receive from companies looking to hire me.

  • Mike

    Maybe the solution would be only specialist would edit, like britannica.com, lawi.org and many others.

  • Mike

    Sorry, it was lawin.org (in Canada is lawi.ca)