Wikipedia: Are Changes to Terms of Use a Tool or a Target on PR?

Wikipedia is now considering a proposed amendment to its terms of use. The gist of the proposal is that contributors and editors who get paid to add or modify content in a Wikipedia entry, must disclose their financial relationship when editing, for transparency and quality control.

The idea is to help eliminate biased entries, but could the effect be to marginalize otherwise responsible contributors?

Most of us know that Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, created as an open concept, open collaboration effort that allows users globally to develop and edit entries that are theoretically factual and bias-free. 

If you’ve ever created a Wikipedia entry, you know that there are detailed rules meant to keep these articles uniform and bias-free. And, there is a dedicated hierarchy of behind-the-scenes editors who review entries with the power to not publish them if they are deemed to be biased. 

Wikipedia contributors/editors come from a wide range of backgrounds, including:

  • Individuals interested in or having in-depth knowledge about a particular subject, who are willing to edit an entry for correction or enhancement
  • Employees, PR agencies or other paid representatives with factual knowledge about an organization, who update Wikipedia information in good faith (e.g. new address, management team change, new product, etc.)
  • Paid advocacy editors who are engaged by partisan special-interest groups to remove factual information or add biased, misleading content

Proposed Paid Contribution Disclosure Policy

While Wikipedia’s paid contribution disclosure proposal may at first glance sound logical and reasonable, it is a polarizing issue due to the varying levels of vested interest and emotion involved.

The result is that an amendment designed to prevent Wikipedia contributors from inserting biased, polarizing opinions creates its own polarizing issue that Wikipedia readers have been sounding off vehemently about online. There are very strong opinions both for and against implementation of this new policy.


Some of those who have posted comments in favor of the policy revision say:

  • Straight-forward disclosure encourages good-faith editors and discourages biased, paid advocacy editing.
  • With paid editors there is an obvious risk that the contribution might not represent a neutral point of view.
  • The fact that paid editors are receiving compensation implies that there are obvious interests at stake.
  • Paid advocacy editing is a significant problem that threatens the trust of Wikipedia readers.


Some of those opposed to the policy revision say:

  • This rule provides a framework for future invasions of privacy & unintended consequences will cascade, once enacted. 
  • Free access gives access to all. If approved, this will be the beginning of the end of the spirit of wiki.
  • This will do nothing to stop point-of-view pushers who don’t care about rules. Don’t assume that all paid contributors have a conflict of interest – that could push away many who simply wish to share their knowledge.
  • Every edit, be it from a paid or non-paid person, should be judged on its own merits. Forcing people to disclose this would make it too easy to discriminate against them & the content they create, even if it is perfectly valid.

We too, wonder if the proposed paid-contributor disclosure amendment would put a target on the backs of good-faith editors and cause them to be blacklisted?

In addition, just because someone is not being paid does not preclude them from adding biased or negative content. For example, a disgruntled former employee could certainly edit a company’s Wikipedia content and wreak all sorts of havoc.

Wikipedia has posted the changes in terms of use, and is taking public comment until March 21, after which they say the proposal may be presented to the Wikimedia Foundation Board for approval and adoption. 

We suggest that you take the opportunity to give them your input if you feel strongly on these proposals.