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Big Changes for Wikipedia's Conflict of Interest Guideline


A substantial transformation of Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline is underway in an attempt to simplify and clarify our instructions for PR professionals. These changes are in the wake of months of thoughtful debate within Wikipedia's editorial community, following the Bell Pottinger scandal, best practices established by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and a lobbying effort by Edelman. In a community of editors that debate the virtues of "the" versus "The" for eight years, the difficulty in reaching community-wide agreement on Wikipedia can't be underestimated.

Answering our complaints

Many of the current or upcoming changes to Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline reflect responses to issues raised by the PR community.

The rules are too complicated

Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline has been cut almost in half and extensive discussions are taking place on how to set better boundaries for PR professionals, create clearer instructions and make the ethical path forward more obvious.

Contradicting advice

Contradicting advice can be found on Wikipedia largely because editors with different opinions write different documents. Once the conflict of interest guideline is completed, editors have discussed going through a half-dozen essays, FAQs and other documentation to make sure they are consistent.

Everything is in Wiki-language we don't understand

This problem isn't unique to marketing professionals; every new editor struggles with Wikipedia's way of explaining things. This is where I am particularly active in trying to help editors understand that "financial COI," "paid advocate," and "paid editor" aren't terms marketing professionals understand or resonate with.

Bright Line?

Jimmy Wales has insisted public relations professionals never directly edit an article, but Wikipedia's editors have different points-of-view. This is a difficult hurdle to overcome, because Wikipedia has no firm rules, yet we aspire to set clear boundaries and simplified rules for marketers.

What I would like to see

EthicalWiki encourages organizations not to do what is tolerable on Wikipedia, but to do what is exceptional. So long as even a quarter of Wikipedia's editorial community opposes direct editing by PR professionals, organizations are motivated to do what is accepted by a larger majority.  When we offer contributed content, discuss controversial issues and request factual corrections, we treat Wikipedia with the same autonomy and respect as any independent news organization. What we need is less "paid editing" on Wikipedia and more good public relations with the site's editors.

My hope is that the revised conflict of interest guideline will:
  • Encourage marketing professionals to avoid controversy and ethical ambiguity by focusing on Talk page strategies
  • Offer straightforward instructions on how to request edits and offer contributed content
  • Encourage organizations to do good PR by supporting our editors with images, resources, research and expertise

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