Wikimedia, Wikipedia’s parent group, has been reeling from an influence-peddling scandal over the past month involving a former director and trustee of the foundation’s U.K. branch. But as redditors demonstrated earlier today, there’s a more mundane type of paid editing problem that goes on all the time at the free encyclopedia: Corporate hacks whitewashing their company’s profile.
Case in point: Vonage. Users of the social news site caught the Internet phone company apparently dressing up its Wikipedia page—or in this case, dressing down—chopping out a description of the company’s rocky IPO, as well as slicing out potentially life-saving information about the service’s unreliability on 911 calls.
It began in January 2012, when four Wikipedia users began making edits to the Vonage Wikipedia page. Curiously, the users—one of whom was named “VonageAdmin”—only edited that page, an unusual characteristic for a Wikipedia volunteer.
The article suddenly became curiously promotional, from top to bottom. The neutral tone of the original introductory paragraph, for instance, morphed into something more fitting for a promotional pamphlet: “Vonage is one of the largest VoIP providers and an industry pioneer,” it read. At the same time, unfavorable—and well-cited—information about Vonage’s IPO disappeared entirely.
But the editors weren’t done yet. VoIP (“voice over IP”) services like Vonage use your Internet connection to make phone calls. One downside to this is that your phone service becomes only as reliable as your Internet connection—a potentially life-threatening problem in the case of an emergency. As the image taken from the album posted to Reddit shows, text explaining this problem on Wikipedia was cut by one of the pro-Vonage editors. It has yet to reappear.
While paid editing isn’t strictly prohibited on Wikipedia, promoting your own interests is very much frowned upon. That’s why politician pages are so often placed on lockdown around election time time. As Wikipedia’s conflict of interest page notes:
COI (conflict of interest) editing involves contributing to Wikipedia in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. When advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.
COI editing is strongly discouraged. (Emphasis original)
Were the editors corporate hacks or just uncontrollably gushing Vonage fans? The company did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Photo via lockergnome/YouTube