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The Wikimedia Foundation will attempt to alter its terms of service so that users who create articles or make edits as part of their jobs or a paid engagement must disclose their affiliation.

Paid edits and articles are often considered to be astroturfing – the marketing technique of making something look like a grass roots movement when it is in fact a well-funded and co-ordinated effort. Wikimedia therefore wants disclosure of “your employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution to any Wikimedia Projects for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation.” Such disclosure should comprise:

  • a statement on your user page,
  • a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or
  • a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.

The Foundation's rationale for this change is that while its terms of use “already prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud” amendments could “ensure compliance with these obligations”.

Such regulation might even protect you the Foundation argues, as those who create or edit articles at work could conceivably find themselves the subject of legal action under “unfair competition and simple fraud statutes”.

The change to the organisation’s terms of service aren't signed, sealed and delivered. But with the Foundation's legal team planning to “ask the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees” to make the alteration, it's hard to imagine they won't go through, given Boards' liking for things that lower risk.

If the change is adopted, it should mean some fun times in vendor-land, as their marketing teams and hired hands do love to ensure that Wikipedia and other Wikimedia outlets offer the shiniest-possible view of their products and activities. Figuring out just what users with obscure names are so insistent bad behaviour was actually angelic will be fun to watch. ®

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