Is Wikipedia being sanctimonious about PR?

By Boris Sedacca

Technical PR and Wikipedia
Wikipedia: Sanctimoious?
Last December, Wikipedia suspended at least 10 accounts from PR firm Bell Pottinger for content manipulation. Interested parties meddling with Wikipedia content has been common for many years, but when the Bell Pottinger case made headline news, both Wikipedia and the PR industry was forced to act.

Last week, Wikimedia agreed to host draft guidelines for the public relations profession on using Wikipedia. The guidance, which was written by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Social Media Panel with input from the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), is now open for consultation before being finalised later this year.

Responding to the CIPR announcement, Jon Davies, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK, said, “We welcome this approach from the PR community in what is a very sensitive area.”

Then yesterday, the industry journal PR Week waded into the debate, saying: “Wikipedia editors have used the online forum to disparage the PR industry, while PROs have avoided it. Wikipedia administrator ‘WereSpielChequers’ posted that ‘Wikipedia will not accept the PR industry as a source of accurate information’.”

Now Bell Pottinger is not the only offender, although it may be the highest profile one. In the face of fierce opposition, Lord Bell plans to buy out his namesake PR firm after a run of bad publicity, including The Independent’s revelations about Bell Pottinger's lobbying activities in Whitehall last December, heralding the imminent break-up of Britain's biggest PR agency.

However, this does not warrant WereSpielChequers’ sanctimonious tone about the PR industry. Wikipedia is hardly a paragon of accuracy, despite its best efforts, and the ability for members of the public to challenge or add to content is essential.

Similarly though, accuracy is also essential. A colleague of mine once created a profile for a fictional French footballer and used it as foundation to create rumours that said footballers was signing for a Premiership football team. The rumours stuck and spread across some quite prominent web sites.

The moral is a common one; people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

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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.

1 comment:

Philip Sheldrake said...

Is Wikipedia being sanctimonious about PR? No. There are many voices in this debate, and whilst WereSpielChequers is obviously not a fan of public relations practice, and whilst he has the right to express is point of view as a Wikipedian, he is not Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a community. Moreover, it's a community of volunteers who would rather be maintaining an encyclopedia, and working with charities and galleries and museums etc., than perhaps deal with some of the crap PR practitioners have thrown at them over the years.

Like any community with whom we hope to reach some mutual understanding, we have to engage them in conversation, respecting their way of conducting dialogue, and keep at it. You could argue that PR has to put its own house in order before complaining too loudly about another's!