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DOCTORING THE INTERNET

The company also said it had a team which ‘sorts’ negative Wikipedia coverage of clients.

Daily Mail, Wednesday, December 7, 2011 Page 12

Main article: Call to probe lobbying firm ‘that boasted of its access to Cameron’ By Jason Groves, Political Correspondent

Secondary article published under the headline: DOCTORING THE INTERNET

LOBBYISTS claim knowledge of ‘all sorts of dark arts’ that could help corporations and foreign regimes boost their reputations on the internet.

Executives from Bell Pottinger told undercover reporters that they could set up bigus internet blogs to ‘drwown out’ criticism.

They also claimed they could use sophisticated techniques to bury bad news stories on Google by moving them down the search results page.

The company also said it had a team which ‘sorts’ negative Wikipedia coverage of clients.


EXTRACT FROM RELATED ARTICLE BY JOHN DONOVAN PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2010

Headline: Ku Klux Klan culture at Wikipedia: secrecy and censorship

“As the founder of MyWikiBiz, I am someone who has, and continues to, manipulate information in Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients. Call it dirty work, but for the most part, I think the way the Wikimedia Foundation is scamming the public about how it is (not) governing the world’s “knowledge” is a far worse state of affairs.” (SEE COMMENT AT FOOT OF ARTICLE BELOW)

By John Donovan

Money is said to be the root of all evil. I have no doubt that it is undermining the integrity and balance of some Wikipedia articles corrupted by parties who have a financial interest in the content.

Wikipedia articles are supposedly written by open and transparent consensus. In reality Wikipedia is built on a platform of secrecy and concealment which leaves articles wide open to censorship and manipulation by anonymous parties with commercially driven motives. Since Wikipedia has articles covering major commercial enterprises, money enters the equation.

Unpaid volunteers who act as administrators and editors are supposedly the bedrock on which Wikipedia has been built. It is a mostly-secretive community in which the vast majority of volunteers edit using aliases and are free to edit any articles, without anyone having a clue about who they are and what their background is. Thus it is impossible to determine if they have a potential conflict of interest.

The Wikipedian’s using aliases are also able to comment of the editing work of other contributors and vote on the deletion of Wikipedia articles.

So there is a lot of power and influence and no realistic accountability. If, due to some transgression, a Wikipedian is banned from editing, they can return under a new alias using a new IP address, with no bad odor attached. In other words, a completely fresh start.

The strange “Wikipedian” culture has some similarity to the Ku Klux Klan (fortunately without the racist element) but is actually more secretive. The privacy of those choosing to keep secret all information about who they are is maintained within the Wikipedia community, which is even developing its own language, partly in response to skulduggery by some editors.

There are Wikipedia articles about every major business. A company is not permitted to edit any articles about the company. BP for example cannot edit Wikipedia articles about BP.

Because of the huge popularity of Wikipedia, the content of a Wikipedia article about a business is important because it can have a positive or negative impact on the reputation of the business. This in turn can impact on its value.

Previously it was a major exercise to carry out research about the track record of a company stretching back to its inception. Now it is, or at least should be, instantly and freely accessible via the Internet to the public and investors. And Wikipedia is the main online source of such information.

Businesses are therefore rightly concerned about the content of Wikipedia articles about them.

I have been an editor of Wikipedia articles for the last four years. I am aware of the difference between writing a blog on my own website and making edits on Wikipedia. I have always strived to operate within Wikipedia guidelines. This includes ensuring that information added is neutral, accurate, and can be verified by reference to a cited independent reputable source. In other words information written without bias on the part of the editor. Most of my contributions have related to Royal Dutch Shell.

From the outset I openly declared my name and background. I have already pointed out that the vast majority of contributors choose to conceal their identities and background by using a pseudonym, as they are fully entitled to do under Wikipedia guidelines. As we will see, a Wikipedian who chooses to declare their name and background is at a disadvantage to those opting to conceal that information.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

From the start, some Wikipedian’s operating under alias names have challenged me over an alleged conflict of interest. I have repeatedly invited anyone to produce evidence to support that contention i.e. where I have added my own words which display a bias. No one has ever provided any such evidence.

I received a tip off informing me of the identity of a Wikipedian using an alias “BozMo” who had nominated the royaldutchshellplc.com Wikipedia article for deletion. “BozMo” turned out to be Andrew Cates, a former CEO of a Royal Dutch Shell company. Mr Cates is mentioned in the “Related Articles” – links below.

I am retired from business and have always operated websites on an entirely non-commercial basis, including royaldutchshellplc.com. I have no litigation in progress or pending with Shell.

Inevitably people who have some connection with Shell or an interest in Royal Dutch Shell are the people most likely to edit Royal Dutch Shell related Wikipedia articles. I know that people associated with Shell, including Mr Cates, have monitored and/or contributed to the articles.

So when does a connection with Shell amount to a potential conflict of interest in editing a Wikipedia article about the company? Are Shell shareholders to be banned on that basis? Or former Shell employees? Or people who have campaigned against Shell?

Surely the simple test is whether a personal biased point of view is being expressed, as opposed to factual information supported by verifiable evidence from an independent reputable source. If properly sourced factual information is assembled under a particular heading, say “Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell“, then that does not make the article biased.

CENSORSHIP

By coincidence or otherwise, in a short period of time, under the guise of various alleged issues, Wikipedia is being systematically cleansed of negative, but true, properly sourced verifiable information about Shell. Articles have already been deleted by a handful of anonymous censors reaching a consensus.

This aroused my suspicions because: –

1. I know that Royal Dutch Shell management is obsessed with my Wikipedia editing/contributions. Among the documents Shell has been legally obliged to supply to me are several Shell internal documents and emails, some marked confidential, which discussed my editing on Wikipedia and the possible impact on shareholders and students. There was also discussion about the risk of Shell being caught if it tried to edit the material.

2. Editing of the articles was made from Shell premises. This was detected by WikiScanner.

3. When Shell has dirty work in mind, it is often passed on to a third party, thereby distancing Shell from actions taken by the third party. Shell HAS hired a third party agency specializing in reputation clean up on the Internet. I have the evidence. There are many such agencies.

4. There is information freely available on the Internet providing a blueprint of how to infiltrate Wikipedia utilizing the policy which permits concealment of identity and background. It advises on a stratagem of deception to disguise true intent. This includes editing a wide range of articles to avoid being identified as a one topic contributor. It discusses implications relating to IP addresses. The objective being for an organized group of infiltrators to edit target articles without detection. I will not go into detail for obvious reasons.

CONCEALING IDENTITY

It is impossible to make any judgment about possible conflict of interest by contributors using an alias, because unless they reveal their real name and background, there is no information to check. However, Wikipedian’s who choose to remain anonymous can from that sheltered position use background information freely disclosed by individuals editing under their own names, to cast doubt on their bona fides. The person who has been completely open, is at a disadvantage.

Although Wikipedia etiquette requires editors/contributors to act in a civil way towards one another when discussing issues which inevitable arise, the fact that people can hide behind an alias means that they sometimes adopt a dictatorial aggressive and even bullying tone that they would never use under their real name. I have noticed a great difference between dialogue with individuals using an alias and dialogue with the same persons after they have disclosed their real identity. The tone changes completely.

Unfortunately it is impossible to judge in such circumstances who is genuine and who is not. I assume that the vast majority are genuine, but unfortunately a minority are not. And you also have the unedifying spectacle of a person who is open and honest having their integrity publicly impugned by someone choosing to hide behind an alias.

People sheltering behind an alias may not be immune from libel action, but it makes it far less likely that anyone will attempt to sue them, because it would obviously entail first finding out their real identity. This is likely to involve legal action against a third party if a third party published their comments. Again, the person choosing to be open is at a disadvantage.

Operating on the current basis means there is not a level playing field between those you choose to be open and those who prefer secrecy, which is an option, not compulsory. I have already pointed out how easy it is to switch to a new identity.

As a result of the strenuous efforts by a handful of dedicated people apparently on a mission, the information about Royal Dutch Shell on Wikipedia has been transformed. Negative accurate information supported by newspaper articles, government agency publications, court documents etc has vanished. Instead we have a collection of sanitized information about Royal Dutch Shell which could have been written by or on behalf of Shell media.

The Wikipedia article royaldutchshellplc.com was nominated for deletion again just over a week ago by the same anonymous party involved in all of the recent deletions of negative factual articles relating to Royal Dutch Shell. When the vote consensus was to keep the article, that decision was deemed unacceptable and the voting period has been extended, presumably until the desired outcome is achieved. The current article in place for over a year with minor changes, was not authored by me.

It cannot be right for Wikipedia articles about other major oil companies to contain balanced information – the positive and the negative – while masses of accurate, properly sourced, unbiased information about Royal Dutch Shell has been removed solely because the information is negative in nature. It is censorship on an industrial scale by parties unknown.

Commonsense suggests that anyone who wishes to edit a Wikipedia article in which monetary considerations are involved should be compelled to disclose their identity and background so that the information can be exposed to public scrutiny. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before the culture of subterfuge and deception at Wikipedia results in a scandal.

Because of certain related matters, I am considering taking legal action against Wikipedia (which has been duly notified). Whether such an action will be practical remains to be seen.

COMMENT RECEIVED

thekohser on Oct 12th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

As the founder of MyWikiBiz, I am someone who has, and continues to, manipulate information in Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients. Call it dirty work, but for the most part, I think the way the Wikimedia Foundation is scamming the public about how it is (not) governing the world’s “knowledge” is a far worse state of affairs.I’m soon to publish a book about Wikipedia and business:
http://www.mywikibiz.com/Directory:Your_Business_and_Wikipedia

Gregory Kohs is a marketing research director for a Fortune 100 media company. His enterprise, MyWikiBiz, has been the subject of news stories appearing in USA Today, the Washington Post, and MSNBC.com. He has appeared on national television and has presented “how to” information about Wikipedia to academic audiences. His experience with MyWikiBiz and Wikipedia has been documented in numerous books and scholarly works.

FURTHER RELATED ARTICLES

Royal Dutch Shell Wikipedia Machinations: 29 March 2010

Wikipedia Klan exposed: 13 October 2010

Instant reaction on Wikipedia: 13 October 2010

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