Earlier this year, MEPRA invited its membership to participate in a global study to understand the PR industry’s perspectives on Wikipedia. The Arthur W. Page Center funded the research which was designed and implemented by a Pennsylvania State University Professor, who is also the standing chair of the PRSA’s Financial Communications Section.
Overall, a total of 1,284 public relations professionals from MEPRA, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), and the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) participated in the study.
The survey found that 60 percent of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors.
Results also found that less than 21 percent of public relations or communications professionals were familiar with the editing rule and 35 percent have engaged with Wikipedia either to make edits directly or through the “Talk” pages. The result of this engagement left 23 percent feeling that making changes was near impossible.
This creates a major problem for the PR industry in that according to Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, “a ‘bright line’ rule exists that constitutes best practice: do not edit Wikipedia directly if you are a paid advocate.”
At the recent PRWC in Dubai, Bell Pottinger’s Chairman, Lord Bell, complained bitterly about Wikipedia and cited a case where a client had attempted to change an entry that wrongly granted him a new sibling. In December 2011 Bell Pottinger had been criticised for ‘ethical blindness’ by Jimmy Wales, for making anonymous edits to its clients entries.
According to the new survey’s author, Wales’ rule isn’t working because as the research found, this leaves factual errors on Wikipedia articles for longer than should be necessary. In fact, the research respondents who attempted to engage editors through Wikipedia’s “Talk” pages to request factual corrections found that it took days, weeks and 24 percent indicated that they never received a response. According to Wikipedia, the standard response time is between two and five days.
Marcia W. DiStaso, Assistant Professor of Public Relations College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University and author of the study commented in an email: “What’s even more shocking to me was that 25 percent of respondents were not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients. Wikipedia articles need to be monitored and the newly created CREWE Wikipedia Engagement Flowchart provides guidance on how to navigate the challenging editing process.”
Complete results are available in an article published in the Public Relations Journal and a further explanation of the problems with the current Wikipedia editing rule for public relations/communications professionals is available in an article published at the Institute for Public Relations. See the infographic on the PRSA blog for highlights of the two articles.
The survey’s conclusion is that the editing of Wikipedia by public relations and communications professionals is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed. The status quo can’t continue. A high amount of factual errors doesn’t work for anyone, especially the public, which relies on Wikipedia for accurate, balanced information.
Please contact Dr. Marcia W. DiStaso, Assistant Professor of Public Relations College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to discuss this further. MEPRA members are also encouraged to join the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE) Facebook group to get more involved.