Trusted Wikipedia editors allegedly involved in favoritism scandal

By on September 20, 2012, 8:30 AM

An unscrupulous Wikimedia trustee and a fellow, well-regarded Wikipedian in Residence have been accused of offering favorable article placement on the site in exchange for payment. When organization founder Jimmy Wales was confronted with information regarding a possible scandal, he affirmed his ignorance of the operation. However, a very unhappy Wales said that if the accusations do prove truthful, he condemns their actions as "disgusting".

The Wikipedians who allegedly fell from grace are Max Klein, a once-respected editor, and trustee Roger Bamkin who is both a trustee and director for Wikipedia UK.

Klein is accused of running untrikiwiki, an operation which promises visitors it can navigate around Wikipedia's rules in order to give certain sites more Google juice. More on Bamkin can be found on Cnet's look at the situation.

A positive Wikipedia article is invaluable SEO: it's almost guaranteed to be a top three Google hit. Surprisingly this benefit of writing for Wikipedia is underutilized, but relates exactly the lack of true expertise in the field. ... WE HAVE THE EXPERTISE NEEDED to navigate the complex maze surrounding 'conflict of interest' editing on Wikipedia. With more than eight years of experience, over 10,000 edits, and countless community connections we offer holistic Wikipedia services.

Source: untrikiwiki via cnet.com

After receiving what was likely an uncomfortable level of public scrutiny, untrikiwiki posted its own response to accusations. Their rebuttal claims that untrikiwiki has "never made a single edit for which we had a conflict of interest on Wikipedia – ever."

Wikipedia has many rules governing acceptable and unacceptable behavior, but as Cnet points out, Wikipedia UK doesn't have a set of rules explicitly prohibiting "paid edits". However, I think it's fair to say that such activity probably falls under Wikipedia's conflict of interest rules, even if untrikiwiki would disagree.

One possible example of Wikipedia gaming might be Gibraltar. The tiny British territory happens to be Bamkin's client. Even more interestingly though, the small, peninsular country managed to appear on Wikipedia's front page a whopping 18 times via the "Did you know?" section -- and that was just in August. And if that doesn't sound peculiar enough, Gibraltar was also the only other topic to appear multiple times in the DYK? section, beside the Olympics, of course.

Appalled by this possible subversion of trust, Wales labeled the act as "wildly inappropriate". 

It is wildly inappropriate for a board member of a chapter, or anyone else in an official role of any kind in a charity associated with Wikipedia, to take payment from customers in exchange for securing favorable placement on the front page of Wikipedia or anywhere else. - Jimbo Wales (talk) 00:54, 17 September 2012 (UTC)

In a statement made on Wikipedia, Wales said some policies don't exist simply because they've never needed to, but then made his stance on the matter very clear: "The idea that we should ever accept paid advocates directly editing Wikipedia is not ever going to be ok". 

Despite his strong views on this behavior, Wales' statement also indicates that this offense may not be grounds for shedding Wikipedia of Klein and Bamkin. "We have traditions of forgiveness and working with people to improve their behavior and ours whenever we can", he reminded.




User Comments: 13

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psycros psycros said:

Wikipedia is almost useless when it comes to current events, politics or pretty much anything that's even marginally controversial or connected to an agenda - and it gets worse when there's money to be made. The legions of operatives retconning the facts would probably fill a couple NFL stadiums. This new scandal just demonstrates how a lot of the trusted Wiki insiders are part of the problem.

Guest said:

Wikipedia is good for looking up smaller detailed things. I wouldn't use it as a source in a paper or anything, though.

Nice captcha btw. "honey badger don't care"

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I like Wikipedia, even though it does have some failings with some of it's articles. Sad to hear about this really.

Guest said:

In general I think Wikipedia is quite good. Most of the articles and information that I have read have been helpful and can get you pointed in the right direction. That fact that a couple of people made a choice of money over ethics doesn't change the big picture with Wikipedia, at least not yet.

1 person liked this | Tygerstrike said:

I resisted the idea of Wiki when it first came out. I mean dont we already read a ton of misinformation on the web as is? But I have slowly come to accept that tho Wiki may have SOME false information, in general the information has been really close. I say this because like many other ppl I believe that leaving your own customers/guests to fill in the blanks to be shoddy or sloppy. But it seems to work for them. I have been able to look up TV shows, books, movies plots w/o any issues and left generally satisfied with what I have read.

However given that all the information out there, with the myriad of words used for a search engine, Gibralter is prolly a word that you rarely use. So its seems a mountain out of a mole hill really. More of a internal office politics aired to the media then anything inncipid or corupt. Maybe someone got butt hurt for not getting a raise and thought this would be a good way to embarass Wiki.

TJGeezer said:

Right, Tygerstrike - mountain out of a molehill, and not a very impressive mountain at that. It's a Wiki not a textbook. Of COURSE they'll get a few things wrong but they're always willing to correct mistakes. As for these guys, there was no rule against paid editing services, or there wasn't until now. Paid editing services are not unethical - they keep editors off the streets. Did they misuse their positions of trust? Maybe. But if so, it's easily correctable. As ideologues always say when caught with their hand in the till or down someone's nonspousal pants: Let's move on.

Tygerstrike said:

@TJ

You are correct good sir. I find it no different then any other company that has ads on their site. Its just like TV. Someone paid to have a comercial aired. Someone paid to have a ad banner placed. Its all advertising. I still think its someone trying to embarass Wiki.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Wikipedia is almost useless when it comes to current events, politics or pretty much anything that's even marginally controversial
I've never seen Wikipedia as a place for those topics anyway. Why would Wikipedia be any different than any other one sided Newscaster? I use Wikipedia for finding facts and trust that the content provided has been proof read and edited by other readers for accuracy. Its my opinion that anything controversial should never be published as fact, which is what Wikipedia should be representing (A digital encyclopedia of facts).

PinothyJ said:

This will prove to be an interesting read for you folks: [link]

davislane1 davislane1 said:

This will prove to be an interesting read for you folks: [link]

He should have learned to properly interpret financial statements before including them in a rant about Wiki's request for donations. He was right to highlight that the tripling of operating expenses between 2009-10, though. Interesting that there weren't more details about that little anomalie in the notes.

thekohser said:

It's refreshing to see the media giving this scandal the ample coverage that it deserves. Year after year, unsuspecting donors chip in $10, $25, $50, and more to support the Wikimedia Foundation, on the premise that without money, Wikipedia might have to shut down. Well in actuality, the WMF is spending on program services only 46 cents of every dollar it receives. The rest is wasted on overhead, "staff" members who look for things to do on top of the thousands of volunteers who are really keeping Wikipedia alive.

Anyway, one thing I always am amused by -- because it is so predictable -- is this culture of denial and cover-up when the insider corruption at Wikipedia goes public. In fact, I wrote a news piece that carefully exposes the "denial" and the "cover-up" phases, with convenient links to every under-handed action of the True Believers. If you'd like to read: [link]

Great work, media -- keep up the pressure on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. There's plenty more just waiting for even a modestly-talented investigative reporter.

thekohser said:

It's refreshing to see the media giving this scandal the ample coverage that it deserves. Year after year, unsuspecting donors chip in $10, $25, $50, and more to support the Wikimedia Foundation, on the premise that without money, Wikipedia might have to shut down. Well in actuality, the WMF is spending on program services only 46 cents of every dollar it receives. The rest is wasted on overhead, "staff" members who look for things to do on top of the thousands of volunteers who are really keeping Wikipedia alive.

Anyway, one thing I always am amused by -- because it is so predictable -- is this culture of denial and cover-up when the insider corruption at Wikipedia goes public. In fact, I wrote a news piece that carefully exposes the "denial" and the "cover-up" phases, with convenient links to every under-handed action of the True Believers. If you'd like to read, just search Google for: Roger Bamkin Examiner Denial

Great work, media -- keep up the pressure on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. There's plenty more just waiting for even a modestly-talented investigative reporter.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

It's refreshing to see the media giving this scandal the ample coverage that it deserves.<snip>

Great work, media -- keep up the pressure on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. There's plenty more just waiting for even a modestly-talented investigative reporter.

BS, while journalism is greatly needed, it is also one of the biggest problems in this world. Journalist have a way of keeping stories alive when they should be dieing down. Journalist have a way of ignoring certain issues (probably bought out or killed) while bombarding others (mostly garbage).

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