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post Thu 8th December 2011, 5:14pm
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<img alt="" height="1" width="1" />[b]Wikipedia investigates unethical edits by PR firm, Bell Pottinger[/b]
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High profile PR agency Bell Pottinger has made over 1000 edits to their client's Wikipedia entries (with at least 10 different accounts), removing negative information and adding positive content, according to The BBC. Some press are now receiving a ...

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post Thu 8th December 2011, 6:50pm
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QUOTE
High profile PR agency Bell Pottinger has made over 1000 edits to their client’s Wikipedia entries (with at least 10 different accounts), removing negative information and adding positive content, according to The BBC.
We are shocked, shocked that someone would edit "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Not only that, they would do so anonymously, not disclosing who they are and where they work and what biases they might have. Shocking! What is the world coming to?
QUOTE

Jimmy Wales has spoken out to the press and on Twitter:

Some press are now receiving a statement from Bell Pottinger that they followed Wikipedia guidlines. That is flatly false.
Citation needed. Note: it is impossible to follow all Wikipedia guidelines. Jimbo doesn't follow guidelines, and if he did, he'd be violating Wikipedia Rule Number One: Ignore All Rules. I.e., in one formulation, if a rule prevents you from improving the project, ignore it. Notice that this is in the imperative. It's not stated as an option.

Gee, Jimbo forgot about that one.

Bottom line, Jimbo's "ethical violations" boil down to "they did what I don't like." It's pretty obvious that from Bell Pottinger's perspective, they were improving the encyclopedia, and what I've seen, so far, doesn't contradict that. Obviously, there might be exceptions in any large body of work.

There might even be many, but specific allegations seem to be quite scarce. What is cited about article protection is not an ethical violation. It was a request. Was it granted?
QUOTE
Bell Pottinger behaved unethically and broke several Wikipedia rules in doing so. The public record can be seen by anyone.
What ethical violation took place that doesn't take place constantly? With Jimbo and administrators really not caring until there is a big media flap, when they take a few editors out back and shoot them and pronounced the problem solved.
QUOTE
Bell Pottinger continuing to insist that they did nothing wrong at Wikipedia is a total farce.
Well, I've spent some time looking, I've read the block logs, looked over some of the edits, and I've examined the AN/I report. I've not seen anything that would be "wrong" in the ordinary meaning of the word, or "unethical" as to any established standard that isn't just something made up by the collection of "anyones" who edit the project, and that has managed to stand because a majority of anyones who care and who aren't blocked keep it. Official policy? (I.e., WMF policy, not that this would be enough to establish an ethical violation.) User agreement?

[i]There is no structure that could establish binding rules. There is just a pile of assumptions and wiki pages. You know, those pages that anyone can edit. Or, if they are protected, pages that any of how many administrators can edit. Used to be about 1600. So which version is official? The one when an account registered? The current one, which can frequently change?
QUOTE

The BBC reports that for some pages, like the Paramount Group, Bell Pottinger ‘requested “edit protection” after altering a page in the hope that other users would not be able to change the most recent amendments.’ David Gerard, a Wikipedia volunteer and spokesperson, told The BBC that this event has caused Wikipedia to review the effectiveness of their system for catching blatantly suspicious edits.
OMG, David Gerard speaks for whom?

Gee, they have a problem with the effectiveness of their system? Nothing that another few million active users couldn't mess up even further. How much is Wikipedia going to spend to solve this problem, what's in the budget? Blatantly biased edits pass all the time, not to mention "blatantly suspicious" ones. There is no system, there is just an ad hoc hope that somehow, somebody will catch stuff. All attempts to set up a true system have been rejected, it would interfere with the ability of the cabal to do what they want.

But not even the cabal has real power; basically, Wikipedia is a disaster, careening from drama to drama. It burns out those who imagine they control it. Winning is losing.
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Abd
post Thu 8th December 2011, 7:18pm
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This gets sillier and sillier. The BBC wrote:
QUOTE
In some instances, such as with the Paramount Group, Biggleswiki requested "edit protection" after altering a page in the hope that other users would not be able to change the most recent amendments.
So I looked. The removal of the edit by Biggleswiki. Newbie error. RfPP will not normally be granted because of a few odd IP edits.

Biggleswiki has 368 live edits. This is a trifling account, not a serious effort. Again, it's looking like the sin of Bell Pottinger may have been banal incompetence. That RfPP was Biggleswiki's last edit, requesting protection. He'd done this before, for the same cause, also declined. The problem is?

Basically, this was a newbie error. No sophisticated professional editor would have done this. Rather, the editor would have addressed the peacock language, and probably wouldn't have put it there in the first place. There are suspicious edits and weird edits all through the history of that article. On the Talk page, there is some IP who purports to be the owner of a newspaper who threatens Wikipedia with dire consequences. Basically, rampant stupidity.

If there was an ethical violation involved with Biggleswiki's editing, it might have been in representing to a client that he knew his rump from a ditch, as to Wikipedia. If they want professional editing, they should hire Thekohser.
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Fusion
post Fri 9th December 2011, 1:17pm
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Basically, Bell Pottinger don't know the rules of the game.

Firstly, never edit through your usual office system. That is likely to reveal your IP, which can often be analyzed to reveal the name of your firm. Also, probably everyone working on Wikipedia is liable to have the same IP, which is a giveaway. (I assume most people here know this, but Bell don't or didn't.)

Secondly, don't spend all your time on this sort of work. If half your time is writing apparently good stuff about Nepal or the First Duke of Marlborough (or, better, both) you'll be less noticeable. I see accounts that spend all their time laundering, and they're fairly obvious.

Even better, diversify onto other WMF sites. Then you look less like an obsessive. Also, Wikinews provided some scope for laundering, although people are rarely worried abouty that site as hardly anybody ever looks at it.

Ideally, become an administrator. If you can do that, you're made, usually. (Cirt is a recent counter example, but they're rare.) But of course that's a lot of work. Alternatively, become an administrator on a less busy site, which gives you a lot of credibility although far less than being a WP admin.

I have a theory that I could lead a multilingual team to run an account that could become an admin on several sites in different languages. Then that account could become a steward. Even admins don't like arguing with stewards.

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carbuncle
post Fri 9th December 2011, 1:52pm
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QUOTE(Abd @ Thu 8th December 2011, 7:18pm) *
Basically, this was a newbie error. No sophisticated professional editor would have done this. Rather, the editor would have addressed the peacock language, and probably wouldn't have put it there in the first place. There are suspicious edits and weird edits all through the history of that article. On the Talk page, there is some IP who purports to be the owner of a newspaper who threatens Wikipedia with dire consequences. Basically, rampant stupidity.

If there was an ethical violation involved with Biggleswiki's editing, it might have been in representing to a client that he knew his rump from a ditch, as to Wikipedia. If they want professional editing, they should hire Thekohser.

I haven't looked through the edits made by the various accounts, but it appears that despite their rather naive approach, they managed to slant things they way they wanted them slanted. Of course, they didn't figure on getting caught because they bragged about it to the wrong people, but it seems to me that they has sussed that it wasn't necessary to do much more than what they did.

QUOTE(Fusion @ Fri 9th December 2011, 1:17pm) *

Basically, Bell Pottinger don't know the rules of the game.

All of your advice seems valid, but unnecessary for the purposes of making unpleasant information slightly lower profile. See above.
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Abd
post Fri 9th December 2011, 5:26pm
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QUOTE(Fusion @ Fri 9th December 2011, 8:17am) *
Ideally, become an administrator. If you can do that, you're made, usually. (Cirt is a recent counter example, but they're rare.) But of course that's a lot of work. Alternatively, become an administrator on a less busy site, which gives you a lot of credibility although far less than being a WP admin.

I have a theory that I could lead a multilingual team to run an account that could become an admin on several sites in different languages. Then that account could become a steward. Even admins don't like arguing with stewards.
It could be simple and cheap for a PR firm. Hire someone to edit Wikipedia and, first goal, become an admin and then a steward. Trivial. This "meat puppet" would use their own internet access, the vast bulk of their work would be uncontroversial and helpful, and would be essentially untraceable. They would avoid direct involvement, rather, they would support other accounts, who could be employees of the firm, all right, editing from home. Any serious PR firm, I'm guessing, could afford to create a number of such users. It would be cheap. The actual editing work would be very cheap, there are people who would love to have a home occupation like this, and it could even be fun for them. Recent Changes Patrol is fun, and it's a way to build up a huge positive edit record. The coordination, the structure that would guide the "meat puppets" like this, would be where more significant money would be spent.

It's only the stupid ones that would get caught.

Advice for a PR firm starting out: Hire some experienced Wikipedia users. Thekohser openly does this kind of consulting. Don't use him for actual editing, by him personally, my suggestion, though if you are small, you might consider it! Just pay him for advice, or for coordination/management.

There is no way to prevent "conflict of interest" editing. The only sane way to address the issue is to set up process that would make it irrelevant. Genuine consensus process can be tedious, but it is almost impossible to corrupt. What it builds will last.

However, if administrators have the power to exclude "disruptive users," completely, then corruption is trivial. You manipulate the consensus by manipulating who can participate. Get rid of "POV-pushers," which means anyone who disagrees with you and who has a point of view that isn't obviously popular, or who is unskillful in pushing advocating it. For corrupt users (i.e., paid administrators), simple: you don't block someone with whom you have had a personal conflict, you block someone who has had a conflict with a crony, and who has provided an excuse. It doesn't have to be a strong excuse, just enough that it isn't blatantly phony. And it's amazing what can escape notice by the "core."

It works. Obviously. There was (probably) no direct "corruption" behind the Global Warming cabal, but they, with techniques so simple that they could be applied even without direct, coherent planning, successfully owned a whole topic area for years, and still are pretty effective even after taking some hits.

This is why I put so much work into developing procedures for "banned users" to nevertheless be able to participate nondisruptivelyi, i.e., either through declared proxies or through devices as self-reversion "per ban" (which is highly efficient if it's accepted as not being a ban violation).

What I wonder -- and do not know -- is whether or not the strong resistance which appeared over this was planned or merely stupid.
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post Sat 10th December 2011, 12:27pm
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QUOTE(carbuncle @ Fri 9th December 2011, 1:52pm) *

I haven't looked through the edits made by the various accounts, but it appears that despite their rather naive approach, they managed to slant things they way they wanted them slanted. Of course, they didn't figure on getting caught because they bragged about it to the wrong people, but it seems to me that they has sussed that it wasn't necessary to do much more than what they did.


The depressing thing about this whole affair is that despite their naive approach of this sockfarm, Wikipedia's famed 'control and monitor' systems failed spot the problem editing. It was uncovered only after an undercover investigation into Bell Pottinger itself, run by the "Bureau of Investigative Journalism". They posed as agents for corrupt regimes and taped the conversations, in the course of which it was discovered that they were writing for Wikipedia. The Bureau report was published on December 6th, 2011, by the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/polit...pm-6272760.html. Only then was there a block on the sock master account (Biggleswiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contr...ons/Biggleswiki .

Thus, the naive approach to conflicted editing was not spotted by the Wikipedia control system, and even if it had been more sophisticated, it would not have survived the revelations by the Bureau.

Jimmy Wales is now appearing in the media looking like some sort of Jesus, complaining about the 'ethical blindness' of the conflicted editing in Wikipedia. And the media have bought his story. Nothing about the complete failure of controls that led to this happening at all.

Note there are still 4,000 conflicted articles according to this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:WhatL...re/Template:COI

Wikipedia's main control mechanism is to slap a template on something, and hope somebody else will fix it. Which they clearly don't.

This post has been edited by Peter Damian: Sat 10th December 2011, 12:28pm
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post Sat 10th December 2011, 2:14pm
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QUOTE(carbuncle @ Fri 9th December 2011, 8:52am) *

...they bragged about it to the wrong people...


This is one reason why I don't discuss absolute specifics or do any paid editing for a prospective client, until they have signed a mutual non-disclosure agreement (or have utterly convinced me of their integrity) and made a non-refundable cash deposit.

Besides, using different IPs and different user accounts for each client, even if I did get "stung", Wikipedia would (I hope) only be able to detect one COI client-account relationship. My other clients would be safe.
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Peter Damian
post Sat 10th December 2011, 3:31pm
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QUOTE(thekohser @ Sat 10th December 2011, 2:14pm) *

QUOTE(carbuncle @ Fri 9th December 2011, 8:52am) *

...they bragged about it to the wrong people...


This is one reason why I don't discuss absolute specifics or do any paid editing for a prospective client, until they have signed a mutual non-disclosure agreement (or have utterly convinced me of their integrity) and made a non-refundable cash deposit.

Besides, using different IPs and different user accounts for each client, even if I did get "stung", Wikipedia would (I hope) only be able to detect one COI client-account relationship. My other clients would be safe.


Do you feel Jimmy is right to say that undisclosed paid editing is dishonest and unethical? (Per email from Jimmy).
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post Sat 10th December 2011, 10:09pm
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QUOTE(Abd @ Fri 9th December 2011, 5:26pm) *

QUOTE(Fusion @ Fri 9th December 2011, 8:17am) *
Ideally, become an administrator. If you can do that, you're made, usually. (Cirt is a recent counter example, but they're rare.) But of course that's a lot of work. Alternatively, become an administrator on a less busy site, which gives you a lot of credibility although far less than being a WP admin.

I have a theory that I could lead a multilingual team to run an account that could become an admin on several sites in different languages. Then that account could become a steward. Even admins don't like arguing with stewards.
It could be simple and cheap for a PR firm. Hire someone to edit Wikipedia and, first goal, become an admin and then a steward. Trivial. This "meat puppet" would use their own internet access, the vast bulk of their work would be uncontroversial and helpful, and would be essentially untraceable. They would avoid direct involvement, rather, they would support other accounts, who could be employees of the firm, all right, editing from home. Any serious PR firm, I'm guessing, could afford to create a number of such users. It would be cheap. The actual editing work would be very cheap, there are people who would love to have a home occupation like this, and it could even be fun for them. Recent Changes Patrol is fun, and it's a way to build up a huge positive edit record. The coordination, the structure that would guide the "meat puppets" like this, would be where more significant money would be spent.

It's only the stupid ones that would get caught.

Advice for a PR firm starting out: Hire some experienced Wikipedia users. Thekohser openly does this kind of consulting. Don't use him for actual editing, by him personally, my suggestion, though if you are small, you might consider it! Just pay him for advice, or for coordination/management.

There is no way to prevent "conflict of interest" editing. The only sane way to address the issue is to set up process that would make it irrelevant. Genuine consensus process can be tedious, but it is almost impossible to corrupt. What it builds will last.

However, if administrators have the power to exclude "disruptive users," completely, then corruption is trivial. You manipulate the consensus by manipulating who can participate. Get rid of "POV-pushers," which means anyone who disagrees with you and who has a point of view that isn't obviously popular, or who is unskillful in pushing advocating it. For corrupt users (i.e., paid administrators), simple: you don't block someone with whom you have had a personal conflict, you block someone who has had a conflict with a crony, and who has provided an excuse. It doesn't have to be a strong excuse, just enough that it isn't blatantly phony. And it's amazing what can escape notice by the "core."

It works. Obviously. There was (probably) no direct "corruption" behind the Global Warming cabal, but they, with techniques so simple that they could be applied even without direct, coherent planning, successfully owned a whole topic area for years, and still are pretty effective even after taking some hits.

This is why I put so much work into developing procedures for "banned users" to nevertheless be able to participate nondisruptivelyi, i.e., either through declared proxies or through devices as self-reversion "per ban" (which is highly efficient if it's accepted as not being a ban violation).

What I wonder -- and do not know -- is whether or not the strong resistance which appeared over this was planned or merely stupid.

One way of doing it is to get someone to work from home to do lots of useful edits nothing to do with your client. This is typically a new mother, who finds it useful to have a home job with no fixed hours, and they come fairly cheap even for good graduates. The skilled work for a client needs to be done by an in-house editor.


QUOTE(Peter Damian @ Sat 10th December 2011, 3:31pm) *

QUOTE(thekohser @ Sat 10th December 2011, 2:14pm) *

QUOTE(carbuncle @ Fri 9th December 2011, 8:52am) *

...they bragged about it to the wrong people...


This is one reason why I don't discuss absolute specifics or do any paid editing for a prospective client, until they have signed a mutual non-disclosure agreement (or have utterly convinced me of their integrity) and made a non-refundable cash deposit.

Besides, using different IPs and different user accounts for each client, even if I did get "stung", Wikipedia would (I hope) only be able to detect one COI client-account relationship. My other clients would be safe.


Do you feel Jimmy is right to say that undisclosed paid editing is dishonest and unethical? (Per email from Jimmy).

I can't see that it's in any way dishonest. Is it unethical? It depends on your ethics! It doesn't contradict the letter or spirit of the ethics code my company adheres to, or we wouldn't do it.
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post Sun 11th December 2011, 6:12am
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QUOTE(Peter Damian @ Sat 10th December 2011, 10:31am) *

Do you feel Jimmy is right to say that undisclosed paid editing is dishonest and unethical? (Per email from Jimmy).


No. Jimmy is about 96% wrong on this.
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post Sun 11th December 2011, 6:39am
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QUOTE(Peter Damian @ Sat 10th December 2011, 3:31pm) *
Do you feel Jimmy is right to say that undisclosed paid editing is dishonest and unethical? (Per email from Jimmy).

Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, isn't it?

The only thing interesting in the Bell Pottinger case is how utterly incompetent they were to get caught.
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post Sun 11th December 2011, 7:27pm
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QUOTE(TungstenCarbide @ Sun 11th December 2011, 6:39am) *

The only thing interesting in the Bell Pottinger case is how utterly incompetent they were to get caught.


Cough, as I've said about five times before, though they were clearly incompetent, they were not caught because they were incompetent. They were found out in an undercover investigation by a team of reporters who were investigating bad PR practice generally. The Wikipedia thing was one of a number of bad things which the team then gave to the Independent. So they would have got found out anyway, however sophisticated they had been.

This is important, because it shows how useless Wikipedia's 'control and monitor' system is - yet the very same system which convinced the UK Charity Commission to recognise them, ha ha.

I've also been looking at how many recent cases of malicious BLPs were uncovered by the same systems and controls. None, as far as I can see. They were either uncovered by newspapers, or in several cases by the Wikipedia Review.

This post has been edited by Peter Damian: Sun 11th December 2011, 7:27pm
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Fusion
post Mon 12th December 2011, 12:38pm
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QUOTE(Peter Damian @ Sun 11th December 2011, 7:27pm) *

Cough, as I've said about five times before, though they were clearly incompetent, they were not caught because they were incompetent. They were found out in an undercover investigation by a team of reporters who were investigating bad PR practice generally. The Wikipedia thing was one of a number of bad things which the team then gave to the Independent. So they would have got found out anyway, however sophisticated they had been.

That's only half true. The reporters discovered that they were doing it. However, the exact extent of their work was, I understand, then found by Checkuser. Had they been less incompetent, they would have been holed, but not below the water line, and as far as WP was concerned they could have continued. Whether they could have retained the trust of their clients is another issue. I'd have thought it inconceivable that anyone will use them for WP laundering again.

But I should worry! biggrin.gif
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post Tue 13th December 2011, 1:00am
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QUOTE(Fusion @ Mon 12th December 2011, 4:38am) *

However, the exact extent of their work was, I understand, then found by Checkuser

Link?
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Fusion
post Tue 13th December 2011, 9:55pm
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QUOTE(EricBarbour @ Tue 13th December 2011, 1:00am) *

QUOTE(Fusion @ Mon 12th December 2011, 4:38am) *

However, the exact extent of their work was, I understand, then found by Checkuser

Link?

Biggleswiki was blocked by WilliamH on 6 December 2011 as a {{checkuserblock}} http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=...ser:Biggleswiki

He then immediately blocked six other accounts as {{checkuserblock}}s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=...de_review_log=1

I suppose these could have been identified by studying edit histories, but given that it would have been much easier to do it by checkuser, and he says that's how he did it, why shouldn't we believe him?

This post has been edited by Fusion: Tue 13th December 2011, 9:57pm
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