Anyone who has ever an online search (which is a good portion of the planet) understands how highly Google and the other search engines rank Wikipedia entries. The entries in the “free encyclopedia” often rank higher than even the websites devoted to the company, product or topic being searched.
But that popularity might come at the price of inaccurate information.
A recent survey found that 60 percent of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors. “The problem is that according to Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, a ‘bright line’ rule exists that constitutes best practice: do not edit Wikipedia directly if you are a paid advocate.”
I understand that concern. Wikipedia doesn’t want its authors to have conflicting interests. The goal is to avoid slanted, distorted or otherwise inappropriate content.
The problem is that the rule may be having the opposite effect. It appears to be encouraging the very inaccuracies it sought to prevent.
I know. I tried to get Wikipedia entries corrected on behalf of my clients, with little success. I’ll spare you the details except to note that the Wikipedia content (which we did not provide and which was deleted) basically repeated information from respected, mainstream media. We thought such coverage more than met Wikipedia’s requirements for a “neutral point of view,” “verifiable content” and lack of “original research.”
Evidently, we were wrong.
Of course, there is a process to get changes made. Fully 35 percent of the survey respondents had engaged with Wikipedia to get content corrected, but almost one quarter of them felt that “making changes was near impossible.”
In fact, the respondents who requested corrections through Wikipedia’s Talk pages “found that it took days and weeks to get a response, and 24 percent said they never received a reply to their inquiries.”
The impact? “…(T)his leaves factual errors on Wikipedia articles for longer than should be necessary.” And that, of course, is the concern.
A bright note on the horizon. A new Facebook group, the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE), has the “goal of having a forum to discuss the relationship between public relations/communications professionals and Wikipedia.” The group provides guidance on how to navigate the challenging Wikipedia editing process in the CREWE Wikipedia Engagement Flowchart.
Complete results of the survey are available in an article published in the Public Relations Journal. A total of 1,284 public relations professionals from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), and the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) participated in the study. The Arthur W. Page Center funded the research