The Wikimedia Foundation this week accused a Texas-based public relations firm of creating hundreds of fake Wikipedia entries on behalf of its clients, as part of a widespread scam that was uncovered last month. The firm, Wiki-PR, is believed to have created more than 300 fake accounts used to edit Wikipedia pages — a practice known as "sockpuppeting" — thereby threatening the principles of objectivity and neutrality that the encyclopedia was founded upon. The Wikimedia Foundation and its lawyers, Cooley LLP, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company on Tuesday, requesting that Wiki-PR refrain from further editing WIkipedia pages until it complies with the site's terms of service.
The Wikimedia Foundation launched an investigation into the matter last month, after a report from the Daily Dot exposed widespread sockpuppeting and paid advocacy editing. According to the organization, the entire operation traces back to Wiki-PR, which has also been accused of engaging in "meatpuppetry": a practice whereby users with a fake identity join online discussions to support particular arguments.
"Wikipedia's reputation is harmed."
"We have come to the opinion that, based on the evidence we have to date, that agent(s) of your company have engaged in sockpuppetry or meatpuppetry to, among other things, make it appear as if certain articles are written by unbiased sources when in fact those articles are authored by Wiki-PR for money," the letter reads.
In a statement provided to the Independent, a Wiki-PR spokesperson said the company "is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and its counsel to sort this out." The organization said it would pursue legal action if the issue is not resolved.
"When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creating or allowing false, unauthorized or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia's reputation is harmed," it said in the letter. "By seeking to gain a commercial benefit from the Wikipedia brand, these publicity firms are attempting to profit from the substantial time and effort invested by the Wikipedia volunteer community."