Wikipedia cease and desist letter to Wiki-PR, with a lawsuit threatened

Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation that owns Wikipedia, has sent a three page cease and desist letter to public relations firm Wiki-PR, including threats of legal action, following allegations of paid advocacy edits to the online encyclopaedia.

Wiki-PR first came to public attention following articles on The Daily Dot and Vice focusing on public relations firms that help businesses ‘manage’ their pages on Wikipedia.

The PR firm allegedly claimed it had a network of editors and admins who could create and maintain articles for paying clients, as well as administrators, who have the power to ban users from the site and delete articles.

“Are you being unfairly treated on Wikipedia? Our Crisis Editing team helps you navigate contentious situations. We’ll both directly edit your page using our network of established Wikipedia editors and admins. And we’ll engage on Wikipedia’s back end, so you never have to worry about being libelled on Wikipedia,” Wiki-PR originally stated on their website.

Following the articles, Wikimedia executive director Sue Gardner issued a statement announcing an investigation, as well as a crackdown on ‘sockpuppet’ accounts.

“Editors on the English Wikipedia are currently investigating allegations of suspicious edits and sockpuppetry (i.e. using online identities for purposes of deception).

“At this point, as reported, it looks like a number of user accounts – perhaps as many as several hundred – may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products, and have been violating numerous site policies and guidelines, including prohibitions against sockpuppetry and undisclosed conflicts of interest.

“As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.”

Wikimedia retained the services of law firm Cooley LLP to review and investigate allegations WikiPR engaged in paid advocacy editing in contravention of the Wikipedia terms of use.

In a letter also published on the Wikimedia website, the law firm has ordered the public relations firm to cease and desist editing Wikipedia, including a threat of legal action.

“When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creasing or allowing false, unauthorised or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia’s reputation is harmed. This practice, which [is] sometimes referred to sockpuppetry or meatpuppetry, is expressly prohibited by Wikipedia’s terms of use.”

The letter goes on to claim the investigation has found evidence of Wiki-PR allegedly engaging in sockpuppetry.

“Wikimedia Foundation hereby demands that Wiki-PR, its owners, employees, contractors, agents, and anyone acting on its behalf or in concert with it, cease and desist from further editing of the Wikipedia website unless and until you have fully complied with the terms and conditions outlined by the Wikimedia community” the letter states.

“Should you fail to comply with the terms of this cease and desist letter, Wikimedia Foundation is prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights.”

For its part, Wiki-PR has updated its services page.

“Our consultants help you abide by Wikipedia’s community rules and guidelines. We respect Wikipedia and its rules against promoting and advertising. And we never directly edit Wikipedia ourselves,” the page now reads.

“We’ll help you draft a Wikipedia page and ensure it is 100% accurate with our page creation and editing service.”

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