Wikipedia is no stranger to scandals, but a quiet update on its administrators’ announcement board reveals a big problem. The site’s CheckUser team recently banned 381 editors’ accounts for “undisclosed paid advocacy”. In other words, these Wikipedians were secretly shilling for brands and even resorting to extortion.
The scam is relatively straightforward. Using sockpuppet accounts, the fraudster editors would create complete but unpublished articles about anything from Bitcoin casinos to rock bands. They’d then approach the subject of the article and offer to publish it for a fee. If the subject agreed, the page would go live, and the Wikipedia editors would then offer the subject of the article an insurance policy of sorts. For about $US30 a month, they’d “protect the article from vandalism and prevent its deletion.” That’s kind of like how you can pay off the mafia so that you don’t get robbed.
Suffice it to say, this kind of setup didn’t fly with the Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia opened an investigation into the matter — codenamed “Orangemoody” after the first sockpuppet account discovered — that ran “from the end of April to early August.” However, they think that this has been going on for longer due to “the nature and quality of the edits.” After the investigation, Wikipedia decided to ban the 381 accounts as well as delete 210 articles published by the sock puppets.
The organisation said that many of these articles should have been deleted regardless of how they were made. But they were taking extra action “in order to prevent article subjects from continued shakedowns by bad actors who are causing significant harm to the reputation of this project.” (Emphasis Wikipedia’s.)
At the end of the day, it’s not entirely unheard of that people would make money from editing Wikipedia articles. This has been going on for a while. However, the fraud and extortion angle definitely make this particular trend of Wikipedia mischief both destructive and bad. Wikipedia has always strived to do the opposite.