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Wikipedia wants to erase propaganda and bias from its pages

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Wikimedia Foundation launches investigation following reports of widespread 'sockpuppeting'

Wikipedia Proper - No credit needed -
Wikipedia Proper - No credit needed -

The Wikimedia Foundation is cracking down on deceptive and spammy Wikipedia entries as part of an ongoing effort to maintain the online encyclopedia's credibility. At issue are two related practices known as "sockpuppeting"— whereby Wikipedia users create fake online identities "for the purpose of deception" — and paid advocacy editing, which pays users to edit Wikipedia pages on behalf of a brand, product, or company.

The Daily Dot exposed the breadth of these practices in a report published earlier this month, describing a sockpuppet network that, as of September, encompassed more than 300 confirmed and 84 suspected offenders. Paid and deceptive editing have been an ongoing issue for Wikipedia, though the sockpuppet operation uncovered last month was the largest such network known to date.

"We consider it a 'black hat' practice."

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, responded to the report in a blog post published Monday, confirming that the organization is investigating the matter, and that users have already shut down or banned more than 250 fraudulent user accounts.

"Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic," Gardner writes. "We consider it a 'black hat' practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people."

Wikipedia has established guidelines on neutrality and verifiability, and deceptive editing is prohibited in its Terms of Use. Sockpuppet investigations, as reported by the Daily Dot, are typically carried out by a small team of administrators, who use a tool called CheckUser to determine whether suspected fake accounts come from the same computer. It was this process that uncovered the massive sockpuppet network in September, though Wikipedia seems intent on taking further steps to mitigate the problem.

Gardner notes that such practices can severely damage a brand's reputation, as well as the credibility of Wikipedia's information. She writes that the organization is currently "assessing all the options at our disposal," and that it will have more information "in the coming weeks."