PR Ethics and Wikipedia

To edit or not to edit? The ethics of editing Wikipedia is a hot topic in the PR industry right now and there really are no hard and fast rules. Fineman PR’s take? Common sense and transparency should take precedence.

According to Wikipedia: “Wikipedia does not have firm rules. Rules in Wikipedia are not carved in stone, and their wording and interpretation are likely to change over time. The principles and spirit of Wikipedia’s rules matter more than their literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making an exception to a rule.”

Some PR agencies have a blanket policy against editing Wikipedia entries for clients. While we can appreciate the spirit behind which these rules were created, we believe that such a policy could be a disservice to a client. Why should an organization be prohibited from speaking in a forum about itself? If the goal is neutral and entries factual, why exclude a major source of information?

An organization should have just as much access to its Wikipedia entry as any other individual or group and should have the option to present facts and correct misinformation about itself. At the same time, Wikipedia should not be used as a marketing platform. After all, it is an encyclopedia, not an online press room.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales admits that Wikipedia editing policies need to be clarified and revised. Until then, we propose the following editing guidelines for PR professionals:

–       Edit only for accuracy. Do not edit for promotional purposes.

–       Edit transparently, don’t use ghost/secret accounts.

–       Edits should be factual and cite credible third-party sources (e.g., news stories, not press releases).

–       Do not delete information, even if it is negative. If the information is incomplete, add the omitted info, do not delete.

Banning all PR professionals from editing Wikipedia is an unfair dismissal of PR’s contribution to factual and fair reporting. I hope Wikipedia will welcome the input of the PR industry in revising its policy.

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