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Wikipedia is currently investigating allegations of “suspicious edits” and “sockpuppetry” and has blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.

The Wikimedia Foundation issued a statement today which said that it looks like as many as several hundred accounts have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia that promote organizations or products.

This violates Wikimedia’s policies, and executive director Sue Gardner said that this paid advocacy editing is “extremely problematic.”

“With a half a billion readers, Wikipedia is an important informational resource for people all over the world,” Gardner said. “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. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options.”

Wikimedia’s editorial policies state that content must be neutral and verifiable. Using “sock puppets,” or “online identities for purposes of deception” is a major no-no. When Wikimedia has suspicions of sock puppetry, it calls on a small team of vetted administrators who dig further.

Much of this egregious sockpuppetry is perpetrated by networks that can include hundreds of accounts, or firms like Wiki-PR which claims to have a staff of 45 Wikipedia editors and admins that can help businesses and individuals create Wikipedia pages.

Yelp recently faced some similar struggles, when MarketWatch reported that 20% of Yelp reviews are fraudulent, written by freelance writers from the Philippines, Bangladesh and Eastern Europe who receive between $1-10 for each review

Wikipedia is adamant about maintaining a certain standard of objectivity. The content is meant to be educational, rather than promotional, and Wikipedia’s guidelines prohibit primary sources as acceptable sources of evidence for this reason.

Allowing paid promotional material to infiltrate the cite violates and undermines Wikimedia’s core mission and ultimately the public’s trust in Wikipedia articles.

The organization is responding with a “painstaking” effort to seek out the perpetrators of this “black hat” practice.

The Wikimedia Foundation’s projects receive 500 million unique visitors per month and it is the fifth-most popular Web property in the world. It contains more than 29 million articles from a community of 80,000 people.

Finding the sock puppets could be a bit like finding the needle in the haystack. But with a much cuter name, and a much larger impact.


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