from the good-start dept
There's always been an air of distrust when it comes to how public relations firms deal with Wikipedia pages for their clients, especially when it comes to making edits. I'd guess this general feeling has likely come about due to equal parts a misunderstanding about how most PR groups operate and a few bad actors spoiling everyone's opinion. Contrary to what some might believe, there is a place for representative requests to edit out incorrect material on Wikipedia, so long as the ultimate goal is to serve public the most accurate information. That someone is on the payroll of the subject of an article sounds like it should be a conflict of interest, but that's simply not always the case. Good PR firms are less about spin and more about managing the communication channels and getting the public accurate information about their clients. Still, the distrust persists -- in part because there are plenty of PR firms that aren't so "good."
Now a group of the larger public relations firms are coming out with a pledge to deal fairly and accurately when it comes to Wikipedia edits and to route them through the proper channels.
In the statement, 11 PR agencies "publicly state and commit" to abide by five principles that would prevent them from editing a client's Wikipedia entry without first going through proper channels. It also makes overtures toward repairing the tenuous relationship between the PR industry and Wikipedia.The companies signing onto the statement include Edelman, Ogilvy and Mather, Fleishman Hillard, Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, Porter Novelli, Peppercomm, MDC Partners, Voce Communications, Allison and Partners, and Beutler Ink. Those are some impressive names in the industry and the statement they released represents a serious step forward both for how the industry interacts with the Wikipedia community and for affirming Wikipedia's stature as a whole. You have to understand that in PR-land, you don't make this kind of promise unless you have every intention of keeping it. PR is all about managing expectations, but this statement sets the reader's expectations quite high. The statement essentially promises to refrain from creating so-called sock-puppet Wikipedia accounts used to edit articles on which there is a conflict of interest. Even the management for the firms appear to be on board with playing by the ethical rules.
"On behalf of our firms, we recognize Wikipedia's unique and important role as a public knowledge resource," the statement begins. "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."
"If you are a paid advocate, then you should refrain from editing articles directly," said Mr. Beutler. "But PR people can contribute by making sure correct information is made correct." And what happens when an unhappy client calls its agency asking them to remove or edit something on its Wikipedia page? According to Mr. Beutler, these agencies should go to Wikipedia's "talk" areas and make their case about why an article should be edited. "This works," he said. "But it doesn't work terribly efficiently," he added.Even as this pledge is being made, Wikipedia itself is making some significant modifications to their ToS to codify this sort of thing and attempt to increase the transparency on edits made by paid actors. Volunteer editors and those working with libraries and museums will continue to operate as they always have, but those receiving any kind of pay for editing articles are required to make disclosures as such.