Wikipedia Bans 381 Paid "Sockpuppet" Accounts

By James O Malley on at

Wikipedia has today announced that it has smashed down the ban-hammer on 381 user accounts that were being paid to edit the encyclopaedia for PR reasons.

The practice is officially known as "undisclosed paid advocacy" and is a challenge for such an open website. Essentially, it means companies and individuals paying others to edit their pages to remove criticism, or otherwise change pages to be beneficial to the company.

Have you ever read a Wikipedia page about a company that is suspiciously absent of a "criticism" section and reads more like an advert? Then it was probably written by a so-called sockpuppet. This would also be a breach of Wikipedia's rules, which state that people who are linked to the subject of an article are not allowed to edit it (you can write your own page about how great you are, for instance).

210 articles that were deemed to have been PR jobs have been deleted. Though interestingly Wikipedia is also keen to point out that not all paid Wikipedia editing is bad: There are many cases where museums and other institutions have a member of staff who is paid to update the site with details on their collections. Though in these cases, it is the staff adding more educational details about Roman artefacts or whatever - not a PR job for the institution.

Intriguingly too, it seems that in this latest purge, the deleted accounts appear to have been linked. Wikipedia says that:

"Most of these articles, which were related to businesses, business people, or artists, were generally promotional in nature, and often included biased or skewed information, unattributed material, and potential copyright violations. The edits made by the sockpuppets are similar enough that the community believes they were perpetrated by one coordinated group."

This suggests it could be a situation to that uncovered in 2013 where a company called Wiki PR was found to be meddling with Wiki for its clients.

The case is still on-going, presumably as editors try to weed out any more compromised articles and figure out who is behind it. And like everything on Wikipedia, this process is entirely transparent too.