Sunday, June 11, 2006

Objectivity requires objections.

Shillipedia

Wikipedia, the most democratic encyclopedia, is the new battleground for corporate spin.

Evan Hessel
556 words
19 June 2006
Forbes
Volume 177 Issue 13
English
(c) 2006 Forbes Inc.

Wikipedia, the most democratic encyclopedia, is the new battleground for corporate spin.

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows almost anyone to write items for it, generates 360 million page views per day. Search for a company on Google and chances are its Wiki entry will be among the first hits. So perhaps it's no surprise that corporate spinmeisters are closely guarding their Wiki images.

A number of mysterious changes have popped up in the Wikipedia article devoted to McDonald's Corp. One anonymous contributor removed a link to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, a muckraking critique of McDonald's food supply and labor practices. He or she replaced it with a link to McDonald's: Behind the Arches, a more obscure tome that covers the company's history in an unemotional fashion. Schlosser's book was a bestseller and has been turned into a movie (for release this fall).

Who made the edit? The user's Internet Protocol address belonged to McDonald's, according to the American Registry for Internet Numbers, indicating the editor was a company employee. A similar incident occurred last May on the Wal-Mart Wikipedia page, when an employee, also identified by a Wal-Mart IP address, cut a line stating the megaretailer paid its employees 20% less than its competitors did. Wal-Mart employees make "almost double the federal minimum wage," the gently spun replacement read. A Wal-Mart spokesman acknowledges that its publicity arm reads its Wiki pages but says that it has never encouraged employees to edit the page. McDonald's says it has no policy on Wikipedia.

Neither promotional fluff nor libel lasts long on these heavily trafficked pages. Wikipedia's 900 volunteer administrators enforce a "neutral point of view" rule and encourage users to delete copy displaying clear bias. On the McDonald's page theFast Food Nation link was quickly restored; a low-wages claim on the Wal-Mart page was reinserted but was eventually moved to a separate Wiki article devoted to critics of Wal-Mart.

Administrators can freeze a page from edits if users try to insert nonsense or cut relevant facts. Wikipedia editors have temporarily frozen Wal-Mart's page three times to stop warring parties from flooding the page with changes. Wikipedia tightened policies last fall after a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy complained that he was falsely listed as a suspect in his former boss' assassination.

Is there anything wrong with corporations putting their spin on Wiki? Edelman p.r. marketing strategist Steven Rubel argues that corporate flacks should feel free to edit inaccuracies out of Wikipedia as long as they identify themselves. But furtive attempts to turn Wikipedia into advertising copy could set off a backlash. "Marketing and Wikipedia are antonyms," Rubel writes in his blog.

Not all pitchmen are getting the message. In January a marketing manager for online gambling outfit Bodog Entertainment added 50 lines to the outfit's Wikipedia page, touting itself as a "revolutionary 21st-century media and digital entertainment giant." Wiki editors axed this breathless copy, prompting the author to write a plaintive note offering to have one of Bodog's copywriters produce a new article. The Wikipedians declined. Bodog's current article runs a spare eight lines.

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