Interesting news today:

Wikipedia has named and shamed a Texas-based public relations company following an investigation into spin doctors and “sock puppets” falsely manipulating entries on the site.

The free encyclopaedia, which contains more than 30 million volunteer-authored articles in nearly 290 languages, called in lawyers after discovering that 300 “sock puppet” accounts – created using false identities – could be traced to a single public relations firm.

Matthew Roth, a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, the charitable organisation which is responsible for the site, said that Texas company Wiki-PR had been served with a legal letter warning it to “cease and desist” from editing sites. The PR company was also accused of the practice of “meatpuppetry”, where a user with a false identity is invited into an online discussion simply to support the argument of the invitee.

Lets analyze what’s happening here.

* Some guys manipulated Wikipedia, to support a particular position
* Wikipedia discovered them
* Wikipedia got very angry at them

Here’s my thought:

EVERYONE manipulates wikipedia. ALWAYS.

Story: somewhere around 2003, the entry for Mugabe (the dictator of Zimbabwe) in Wikipedia was weirdly positive. I added in some negative comments and they were promptly deleted by the editor. We argued a bit, then I gave up. (Today, luckily, the entry is much less biased in his favor.) Forget business, think politics: everyone has a bias. So the articles will be written in someone’s favor.

So the problem isn’t what these guys did. It’s that [a] they were stupid, [b] they got caught and [c] they happened to choose an opinion/position that Wikipedia didn’t like.

Of course, of course I don’t advocate creating hundreds of fake accounts. But I would say that’s really just them being stupid. For example, if I hire a 100 people in India, for a few cents each, to create accounts in their own names for themselves — then it’s still real people, creating real accounts, making edits I suggest — that’s fully within all regulations. Right?

So the real lesson here is: don’t be stupid.

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