Corporate Self-Interest Finds Haven on Wikipedia

Ann All

The love/hate relationship some of us IT Business Edge staffers have with Wikipedia has generally veered toward hate -- or at least discomfort.


After an incident earlier this summer in which a Wikipedia poster admitted submitting "something that was at that time a piece of wrong unsourced information" and adding that this kind of behavior is"typical on Wikipedia," our Ken-Hardin concluded that the story "only serves to make me more distrustful of what can be a useful, overview resource." How's that for faint praise?


I was harsher -- and probably hopped up on caffeine -- when I likened Wikipedia to communes in my post from March: "It's a great idea, initiated for the right reasons and with the best intentions. But in practice, it's more of a muddy mess than anything else, with a megalomaniac in charge." Despite my concerns about accuracy, however, I do use Wikipedia for research -- though I won't run with information included therein unless I can corroborate it with additional sources.


If there's one thing I've learned during two decades in publishing, it's that political organizations, big corporations and other organizations will go to sometimes ridiculous lengths to sway public opinion in their favor. But hey, now they don't have to -- not with Wikipedia.


There's now concrete evidence of Wikipedia edits made in the name of self-interest rather than accuracy, thanks to some clever cyber-sleuthing by a Cal Tech graduate student named Virgil Griffith. By cross-referencing anonymous Wikipedia edits with data on Internet IP addresses, Griffith demonstrated that there's plenty of this activity going on, reports Wired.


Sure, Wikipedia's system of half-assed checks and balances can stop some of this. In fact, a Wikipedia contributor chastened ATM manufacturer Diebold about deleting content when someone at Diebold HQ removed passages describing security experts' concerns over its voting machines. (Having covered Diebold's business extensively in my previous life as the editor of an ATM trade pub, I am quite familiar with its voting machine angst.)


But not every organization is as heavy-handed as Diebold. Wal-Mart, for instance, has been far more subtle in its tweaks (perhaps having learned something from its ill-fated foray into corporate blogging). Wired notes that such editing has become less obvious since 2006, when stories broke about the popularity of the practice among Congressional staffers -- perhaps due to corporate policies covering the behavior.


It will be interesting to see whether Wikipedia can further arrest this kind of white-washing with its efforts to get contributors to be more transparent about their qualifications.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 15, 2007 12:06 PM ken ken  says:
Call me cynical (I do) but does anyone think that Wikipedia is a definitive source on any subject??Isn't it simply once again a great Internet resource that has once again been corrupted and manipulated for whatever reasons--nefarious or not? Corruption seeps into information and media as easily as it seeps into any other aspect of modern society.Why are we clutching our proverbial pearls and faking shock that gambling goes on at Ricks place? The biggest loser in all this is the guy who intends to build a "pure-er" version of Wiki where "experts" will vet the content.. who's experts? how do we know their credentials? and if they are experts, why do they have time to vet entries on a Wiki-wannabe?? It just sounds like a bad Internet business model. And isn't leveraging the benefits of social media.anyway, like the blog. thought I'd post. Reply
Aug 16, 2007 2:37 PM ala ala  says:
Wikipedia reminds me of that old joke about the encyclopedias in the Soviet Union with the loose leaf pages. Reply
Aug 22, 2007 9:31 AM James James  says:
Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information. But just like anything else I get off the Internet, I would stop and verify it before I would trust it. Wikipedia does a fair job cleaning up from vandals and tries to provide the best content as possible, but they do not guarantee the content on their site. Use at your own risk. Reply
Aug 22, 2007 10:36 AM George Best George Best  says:
You should be thankful that we are now in the 21st century. If you think corporate tampering with website information amounts to terrible conduct than you have forgotten the early days of IBM and NCR the business machine manufacturers, who thought nothing of blowing each other's offices up just so they could be the only game in town.If you really want to bring the issue to a head with a company like Diebold write to the ethics committee of the Board of Directors and inform them of the transgressions. They will be obliged to take action. Boards of Directors do not like to hear about such devious goings-on in their company especially in light of the Sarbanes-Oxley. Reply

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