Why manipulating Wikipedia is a definite no-no

Technical PR and Wikipedia
What's a Wiki?
I find it incredible that public figures and companies continue to edit their Wikipedia pages, removing negative information and replacing it with positive content. It betrays a stunning misunderstanding of how the Internet and public perception work.

Furthermore, and this is perhaps more criminal, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how many people there are in the world who devote substantial amounts of time to ensuring Wikipedia is a safe place to gather information.

You are probably already aware of the reason for my rant; over the weekend, further newspaper reports appeared suggesting that Tory chairman Grant Shapps may have changed entries on his Wikipedia page to make it read more favourably, with particular focus on his exam results.

If Mr Shapps did indeed do this, I really have to wonder why? It simply isn’t possible to remove the indelible marks your past leaves on the Internet. Mr Shapps will always have done badly in his GCSEs, no matter how much he edits Wikipedia.

The trouble is, this kind of information really doesn’t matter. No-one cares. They care about whether you do your job well now, today, in the moment. You are only as good as your last game Mr Shapps and, if the allegations are correct, your last game was quite naively played.

But he isn’t the first and he won’t be the last. Last year, research from The Daily Telegraph turned up the following information (Excuse the swearing, what follows is a direct quote from the newspaper itself - Ed):

“One Parliamentary employee edited an entry about The Lord of the Rings to describe it as ‘12 hours of utter tripe about some little bender running around trying to find a ring with his equally benderish mates’.

“Another altered the spelling of “Dalek” to “Darlek”, before realising his mistake, and a third reduced the number of women forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War from 60,000 to 10,000.

“One member of staff corrected spelling errors in a piece discussing whether Pringles were crisps or cakes and another pointed out of [sic] Ken Livingstone’s surname was not, indeed, ‘Twatface’.”

So, why does this kind of activity persist? For me, it comes down to a few essential misunderstandings.

These are that, ‘Wikipedia is not a good source’ (something I’m regularly told by people who have just finished A-Level history) and secondly that, ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper’.

- Wikipedia is an excellent source; it’s the world’s first and best example of crowd sourced information and inaccurate edits are removed with incredible speed. Of course, when using it, you should be aware that it can be doctored.

- Today’s news is not tomorrow’s chip paper; its tomorrow’s easily accessed and intelligently archived web content. That’s why we will always know that Mr Shapps only got a B in CDT GCSE.

So what should we, as marketing folk and technical PR agencies, be willing to add to Wikipedia’s pages?

It’s simple really; the truth.

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Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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