When Wikipedia gets it “wrong”…

When did you last look at your organisation’s Wikipedia entry? Was it helpful? Had it changed recently? Should it have changed?

If an organisation’s reputation is what Google says it is, and the first thing a Google search shows is a Wikipedia entry, then it is important that Wikipedia says what the reputation manager wants it to say…

Well, yes… up to a point.

The problem for PR is that Wikipedia probably doesn’t say what the reputation manager thinks it ought to say. Sometimes Wikipedia gets it wrong.

Worse, the one person whom the Wikipedia community is least happy to see ‘put things right’ is an organisation’s PR.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has stated: “This is not complicated. There is a very simple “bright line” rule that constitutes best practice: do not edit Wikipedia directly if you are a paid advocate. Respect the community by interacting with us appropriately.”

In some ways, the Wikipedia stance is an extension of the third party endorsement model that some see as the greatest strength of media relations-driven PR. Entries are made available on Wikipedia by disinterested volunteers who are committed to the factual, neutral, presentation of verifiable information for the greater good.

There are of course several types of wrong. There is wrong as in inaccurate, due to lack of understanding or human error. There is wrong as in smear, when someone wilfully adds to, alters, or even vandalises an entry to make a particular point. And there is the factually accurate but highly inconvenient wrong that gives reputation managers a sleepless night.

The “wrong because it is too right about us” sort of entry is a growing concern, not least because as Wikipedia entries get longer over time, they tend to get contain more negative  content, and the nature of internet memory is such that uncomfortable facts stay on show for the duration; they are not squeezed out of the narrative by new events in the same way as they would be on a paper based record.

Deleting factually accurate information simply because it is exposes invonvenient truths is unethical. It is also the sort of unethical behaviour that sooner or later gets noticed, and PR suppression only wakes things worse.

But how should reputation managers respond when entries are demonstrably inaccurate? After some lively debate, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations has drawn up some guidelines that try to help.

Check your organisations entry now – then sign up for the NEMO October 5 conference. Our Wikipedia workshop could seriously help your reputation!


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