Thursday, March 17, 2011

The encyclopedia that anyone can be paid to edit

There is an incredible fuss over here about the American company Koch Industries employing a public relations firm (New Media Strategies) that specialises in “word-of-mouth marketing” for major corporations. This included editing the Wikipedia pages for “Charles Koch,” “David Koch,” “Political activities of the Koch family,” and “The Science of Success” (a book written by Charles Koch). The best part of the article is the comments. Vituperative, abusive, almost unanimous in their condemnation of this ‘unethical’ approach to editing.

What is unethical about it? Wikipedia is branded as the ‘encyclopedia that anyone can edit’, and it permits this because of the theory of ‘crowdsourcing’. Just as the crowd at the country fair guessed the weight of the bull better than any expert, so (supposedly) a crowd of people editing Wikipedia will arrive at the truth better than any expert. So why can’t employees of Koch Industries edit? Logic suggests that the range of ‘anyone’ covers them too.

The paid editing merely exposes the fallacy of crowdsourcing. No one edits Wikipedia for free. As I pointed out here, everyone has an interest of some sort. Pedophiles write on Wikipedia to get the pedophile point of view across. Proponents of the fraudulent ‘Neurolinguistic programming’ edit to promote their view on NLP. Brahma Kumaris edit to promote Brahma Kumarism or whatever. Because they don’t get paid for it doesn’t mean they are not being rewarded in some way. So what’s the problem with a financial reward? Presumably if Charles Koch had the time to edit the article about him, he would do that. Being a busy man, and a rich one, naturally he pays someone to do it.

In summary: if you believe in crowdsourcing, you have no problem with paid editing.

Consequens autem falsum, ergo antecedens.


Gregory Kohs said...

Bravo! Until the day the tagline changes to "...the encyclopedia any unpaid volunteer without a personal agenda can edit", I will continue to edit Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients.

Unknown said...

I have what should be a simple question. The blog post at Think progress confirms that these guys were tagged and banned as sockpuppets.

But the users don't have ban notices on points to this Wikipedia Administrator Noticeboard discussion. Can someone decipher this?

Edward Ockham said...

(For the uninformed, i.e. most of the usual readers of this bloggy):

A 'sockpuppet' in Wikipedia terminology is either a user evading a ban, or a user with several accounts which are used to 'game' the system (e.g. by giving the appearance of there being more support for a view than there actually is).

Neither appears to be the case here, as Seth has noted.

Gregory Kohs said...

Here's how funny Wikipedia is. Fred Bauder is there, declaring, "I think he needs to declare exactly what his relationship is with the Kochs, and the PR firm, if there is to be an adequate declaration of conflict of interest."

No sign of any counter-argument that Fred Bauder should declare his relationships, such as the one here: