Ever wondered about the consequences of making an unwise Wikipedia edit?
Today, Wikipedia made headlines for banning changes made from Church of Scientology IP addresses. The ban came as a result of the fourth Scientology-related dispute and is attributed to biased and untraceable editing practices.
Now, some may argue that this is unfair—that Wikipedia is supposed to embody the ideals of free speech for everyone. Why is it OK to limit the free speech of some? I’d argue this is the same question that some of our clients have when they want to edit their own Wikipedia pages.The answer, ultimately, is that biased material hurts the integrity of the entire site.
In this particular case, the ban does not mean there is no longer a church of Scientology site; only that certain IP addresses are now prohibited from maintaining it. This is fitting with the second pillar of Wikipedia—all biases are supposed to be disclosed and neutralized when editing an article.This ensures that every edit is made honestly and is traceable to the editor.
Apparently, the Church of Scientology has had certain members act in a way not fitting with this pillar—in essence, writing articles that are too complimentary. According to the democratic principles and the fourth pillar, Wikipedians have made the decision to block the offending parties. To maintain fairness to all, individual users from within the set of IP addresses can petition to be exempt from the ban. Now, chances are that this ban will not prohibit the particularly zealous from finding a workaround, but this is an effort to control overtly improper Wikipedia use while maintaining a neutral resource for all.
To apply these lessons to our clients, we regularly work to ensure that client Wikipedia articles are neutral—no marketing or sales language allowed. Furthermore, the article has to prove the client's notability to a fairly high standard, with reference materials. As PR professionals, we help our clients create a presence in critical online and print resources—and with Wikipedia, that means we help them to prove their notability in an open and neutral way. It also means we help them avoid the very same ban with which the Church of Scientology now struggles. In fact, it’s in Wikipedia’s strong merit as a neutral resource that our clients find so much value.
And hey—without the peer editing abilities of Wikipedia, we never would have ended up with that infamous scene from 30 Rock, cut below. If you haven’t already seen it, the female character is trying to immerse herself in her new role as Janis Joplin—and is basing her role on Wikipedia research…