Wikipedia bans 250 accounts on pay-for-article concerns

The online encyclopedia's editors are investigating other allegations of suspicious edits and accounts

Amid news reports of groups paying users to write Wikipedia entries, the online encyclopedia has blocked or banned more than 250 accounts, the site announced Monday.

A number of user accounts, "perhaps as many as several hundred," may have been paid to write Wikipedia articles promoting groups or products, Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a blog post.

Wikipedia editors continue to investigate allegations of suspicious edits and so-called sockpuppetry, the practice of using online identities for purposes of deception, she wrote.

Editing for pay has been a "divisive topic" at Wikipedia for years, Gardner said. "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," she added. "We consider it a 'black hat' practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people."

Gartner's statement follows recent news reports suggesting that public relations agencies and other groups have been targeting allegedly negative information in Wikipedia articles. Vice.com recently wrote about PR agencies working as Wikipedia reputation managers, and DailyDot.com reported on an extensive sockpuppetry investigation at Wikipedia.

With the uncovering of alleged sockpuppet accounts, editors "have expressed shock and dismay," Gardner wrote. "Our readers know Wikipedia's not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem."

Using sockpuppet accounts or misrepresenting your affiliation with a company is against Wikipedia policy and prohibited by its terms of use, Gartner added. "We urge companies to conduct themselves ethically, to be transparent about what they're doing on Wikipedia, and to adhere to all site policies and practices," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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