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.