Making the Case for PR Pros Editing Wikipedia

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Editor’s note: The following post is an excerpt from an op-ed published Feb. 3, 2012, in Techdirt.

Obscured amidst the hysteria over anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA has been a valuable discussion bubbling up within public relations about PR people editing clients’ Wikipedia entries.

It’s a topic that has been debated for years. From Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales stating in 2006 that “PR firms editing Wikipedia is something that we frown upon very, very strongly” to last year’s Bell Pottinger lobbying scandal, where it emerged that the firm was surreptitiously manipulating client’s Wikipedia entries — raising the ire of Mr. Wales and his Wikipedia acolytes — it’s a discussion that seemingly knows no end.

PR people have long been frustrated by the complexities of the Wikipedia editing process. Colleagues tell us they feel rebuffed by what they believe is an arcane system meant to ostracize them whenever they attempt to correct inaccurate or outdated employer or client entries.

The issue over edits made on Wikipedia is one that affects more than just the public relations profession. It has implications for every business, organization and institution around the world, given Wikipedia’s widespread use as an information resource.

The matter gained particular prominence recently when Phil Gomes, an executive at Edelman Digital, began to peel back the layers of distrust and confusion between PR people and Wikipedians with a blog post and Facebook group aimed at bringing together the sparring parties.

Gomes’ initiative, dubbed the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement, is based on four pillars:

  1. Corporate communicators want to do the right thing.
  2. Communicators engaged in ethical practice have a lot to contribute.
  3. Current Wikipedia policy does not fully understand Nos. 1 and 2, owing to the activities of some bad actors and a general misunderstanding of public relations in general.
  4. Accurate Wikipedia entries are in the public interest.

It’s a noble effort and one that my organization, the Public Relations Society of America, wholeheartedly supports.

Read the full op-ed in Techdirt.

About the author

Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA

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