TIME legal

PR Firms Vow They Won’t Try to Game Wikipedia

Updated 6:08 p.m.

Public relations firms and Wikipedia’s team of volunteer editors reached a truce Tuesday in their ongoing battle over who has the right to edit entries in the online encyclopedia. In a statement today, 11 large PR and advertising agencies vowed to abide by Wikipedia’s rules, which ban ad teams from editing articles for pay or trying to influence the tone of articles without disclosing their affiliation with a client.

“We recognize Wikipedia’s unique and important role as a public knowledge resource,” reads the statement, published on Wikipedia. “We also acknowledge that the prior actions of some in our industry have led to a challenging relationship with the community of Wikipedia editors. Our firms believe that it is in the best interest of our industry, and Wikipedia users at large, that Wikipedia fulfill its mission of developing an accurate and objective online encyclopedia. Therefore, it is wise for communications professionals to follow Wikipedia policies as part of ethical engagement practices.”

The statement, signed by Ogilvy & Mather, Edelman and Porter Novelli, among others, comes after a significant outcry from Wikipedia users and administrators over the actions of PR firms on the site. Wikipedia categorizes accepting pay to change the content of an article as a black hat (i.e. unethical) activity that is one of the most serious violations of the site’s rules. Last fall, the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization of Wikipedia, condemned a PR organization that it said was setting up hundreds of dummy accounts to edit clients’ content.

The PR firms who made the joint statement are now trying to distance themselves from such activity. “I believe that public relations people who engage in ethical practice have a lot to contribute to the great public resource that is Wikipedia,” Edelman Senior Vice President Phil Gomes wrote in a blog post. “This is the start of an industry-wide commitment.”

The Wikimedia Foundation expressed cautious optimism for the PR firms’ promise. “Any approach that is rooted in respecting the Wikimedia Foundation’s Terms of Use, the policies of the communities and projects, and making a commitment to open and transparent dialogue is a good step for any group interested in working with Wikipedia,” spokesman Jay Walsh said in an email. “It will ultimately be the community of Wikipedians who engage in a dialog about this proposal, and they may have different views about how well this could work out.”

Specifically, the PR firms have agreed to follow all of Wikipedia’s guidelines, investigate allegations of unethical editing of articles within their own firms, counsel other PR firms to behave similarly and open a dialogue with Wikipedia’s legion of editors. PR professionals that want to see a change made to an article are advised to advocate for it on an article’s discussion page instead of making the edits themselves.

 

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