A recent PRSA study is making the news today. The way it was presented in Tulsa, Okla is that business entries have a high degree of inaccuracies and Wikipedia won’t do anything to help. Of course the headline from PRSA likely isn’t helping either, “Survey Finds Majority of Wikipedia Entries Contain Factual Errors” which at its core is incorrect and sensationalistic. The truth is only in the case of Wikipedia articles about companies. Really PRSA, you couldn’t include that clarification?
Like all things, there is much, much, much more to the story. You can read the entire study here and I encourage you to do so.
One part they go to right is this, “Results of the survey indicate a gap exists between public relations professionals and Wikipedia concerning the proper protocol for editing entries.” Perhaps this is the real story.
There are two parts to the study which just doesn’t make sense to me. Before we get to that here is what Wikipedia has to say about PR people making edits:
I work in PR, and would like to fix up the article about the person or company I represent. Is that okay?
Possibly, if you do it in a way that respects Wikipedia’s goal of being an accurate, unbiased source of information.
- remove obvious vandalism (see Help:Reverting if you want to do this as cleanly as possible)
- fix minor errors in spelling, grammar, usage, or facts
- provide accurate references for information that’s already in the article (and we have a strong preference that the reference/citation be a reliable source)
- add or update facts, such as a person’s date or place of birth, a company’s location or number of employees, or details of a recent event – and if you do, please add a reference/citation; otherwise, other editors have no way of knowing if the change is true or not
Please do not
- try to use Wikipedia to promote or advertise your client(s) (see our policy on conflict of interest, for details)
- remove negative material (exception: material that violates our policy regarding living people)
- copy-and-paste content from another site, even if you manage the other site (if you personally own the copyrighted text, see WP:IOWN for requirements for copying it)
- add information that cannot be independently verified, or that isn’t significant for an encyclopedia article
- add, delete, or modify text that’s particularly controversial or where facts are disputed (again, with the exception of removing unsourced controversial information about living people, per WP:BLP)
If you’re not sure a particular edit will be welcomed, then please ask in advance on the article’s talk page.
Please be aware that other people will edit what you’ve written, and that each article’s history page is public and will reflect exactly what you have changed. If you aren’t willing to accept that, then you should not edit. (from wikipedia FAQ)
Here is what I don’t understand. From the study:
“The most common error types as selected by respondents who indicated that they had errors currently on their company or client’s Wikipedia article were historical information (68.5%, n=287), dates (37.7%, n=153), leadership or board information (37.4%, n=152), financial figures (28.8%, n=117), criticisms (27.1%, n=110), spelling (21.2%, n=86), and other (35.2%, n=143) (see Chart 1). The “other” category included errors about product information, links, locations, general facts, and even company names.”
It would seem to me that each of those errors could be corrected by a PR person and be within the guidelines set forth by Wikipedia.
For those who did make changes the study says the following:
“Of those who have directly edited Wikipedia for their company or client, 32% indicated that their edits always “stuck” (n=112) while 24% said they “stuck” about three quarters of the time (n=85), 21% said about half the time (n=74), 11% said about one quarter of the time (n=39), and 12% said their edits never stuck (n=41) (see Chart 3). In other words, this means that about 77% of edits stick at least half of the time.”
If you’ve ever edited a wikipedia article you know the requirements for doing so are high. Third party verification, no opinion, etc. You see, Wikipedia tries to keep it on the up and up. (see rule re not using Wikipedia to promote or advertise your client). I’ve seen news break on wikipedia only to be kicked out until it can be truly verified. And when it was the content was put back up.
In my opinion, the real value of wikipedia isn’t just the information, but the debate which ensues around that information. The smallest detailes are debated and posters are challenges. My favorite example is the definition of social media. If you look at the conversations you will see this little nugget, “This page was nominated for deletion on 27 July 2007. The result of the discussion was no consensus, default to keep.”
Facts are facts and opinions are opinions. Wikipedia does a great job keeping the two separated. Scratch that – the wiki community does a great job of keeping the two separate.