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Vendor mouthpieces promise to stop spamming Wikipedia

Astroturf rolled up and stacked out the back

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Eleven global-scale flackhauses have twigged to the idea that polishing their clients' turds on Wikipedia is a high-risk strategy, and have solemnly pledged not to do so.

Last year, Wikipedia bit the bullet and began investigating cases of sockpuppeting – or, as Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner put it, “paid advocacy editing” (the PR industry would probably have described it as “a comprehensive multi-channel brand management strategy until it was rumbled).

As Gardner wrote at the time: “paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a “black hat” practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.”

That investigation led to 250 accounts being blocked.

Back in 2011, Wikipedia had suspended accounts associated with Bell Pottinger in the UK, leading the Public Relations Society of America to call for flacks to be allowed to make edits.

That push has now stalled, and the PR industry is moving towards Wikipedia's position.

The 11 PR outfits listed as participants in the Wikipedia “pledge-to-be-nice” include such names as Ogilvy & Mather, FleishmanHillard, Burson-Marsteller, Porter Novelli and Edelman. Branches of the companies listed represent the likes of Samsung, Citrix, Avaya, HP and many other technology concerns, so the pact will impact the way Reg readers are targeted.

They vow to try to understand Wikipedia's “fundamental principles”, to follow guidelines and policies “particularly those related to conflict of interest”, to obey the terms of use (which they did so when they created accounts, but hey), to report conflicts of interest, and to publicise their views and try to get other flacks to play nice as well.

Roughly, since Wikipedia's terms of service forbid such outfits working for pay to edit clients' articles, the signatories will at most be restricted to requesting edits in a page's discussion.

Edelman senior veep Phil Gomes couldn't resist a single snipe at Wikipedia, saying that “there needs to be more from PR than subterfuge and more from Wikipedia than shame”, according to AdAge. ®

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