…and PR is one.
Last month we posted a TL;DR piece on Wikipedia‘s fight to save its reputation from “sockpuppets”, or PR people breaking the rules by editing and monitoring clients’ pages for money.
The general consensus: certain firms tripped over ethical obstacles and fell flat on their faces—but If Wikipedia really wants to improve its relationship with PR then it might want to work to clear up the editorial “red line” that makes it so hard to correct the kind of errors and opinionated entries that can hurt brands’ reputations.
Now it looks like the Wiki people rejected that approach: they’ve singled out prime offender Wiki-PR for sanctions and issued a cease-and-desist order.
The Verge calls Wiki-PR “a massive sockpuppeting ring“, and while we’re not sure it’s all that sexy, we do think the firm will be playing defense for a while.
Wikipedia’s lawyers didn’t just accuse Wiki-PR of using employees to edit clients’ pages using fake identities. They also allegedly engaged in what’s Fox News-style “meatpuppeting”, or posing as members of the public on public forums (at the invitation of those who created the forums in the first place) to support clients’ arguments.
Hey, we learned a new word today!
Now Wiki-PR claims that it’s working with the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation to resolve the issue, but those lawyers are all like “nuh uh”:
“The Wikimedia Foundation has communicated with Wiki-PR, but we reject any implication that we are negotiating with them. As stated in the cease and desist letter, Wiki-PR has been banned by the Wikipedia community, and must cease editing until it fully complies with the terms and conditions outlined by the Wikipedia community.”
There’s no doubt that using Wikipedia to protect or, more accurately, polish a client’s reputation is not in keeping with the purpose of the resource. Stories like this one hurt the reputations of the site and the PR industry, but they also lead businesses to ask “why don’t we do that?”
So even if Wiki-PR falls under the weight of its own business model, others will pop up to do the work.
We’d like the comms biz and Wikipedia to have a summit and figure out how to square this equation, but that’s about as likely as peace in the Middle East.