Tag Archives: wikipedia

How to investigate Wikipedia edits

Ian Silvera (@ianjsilvera) gives a step-by-step guide on how to find out who’s behind changes on a Wikipedia page. Cross-posted from the Help Me Investigate blog.

First, click on the ‘view history’ tab at the top right of the Wikipedia entry you are interested in. You should then be directed to a page that lists all the edits that have occurred on that entry. It looks like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Paul_Bradshaw_(journalist)&action=history

Second, to identify if someone has been deleting unhelpful criticisms of an organisation or person on their Wikipedia entry, you could read through each edit, but with large Wikipedia entries this exercise would be too time-consuming. Instead, look for large redactions. Continue reading

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Sockpuppetry and Wikipedia – a PR transparency project

Wikipedia image by Octavio Rojas

Wikipedia image by Octavio Rojas

Last month you may have read the story of lobbyists editing Wikipedia entries to remove criticism of their clients and smear critics. The story was a follow-up to an undercover report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Independent on claims of political access by Bell Pottinger, written as a result of investigations by SEO expert Tim Ireland.

Ireland was particularly interested in reported boasts by executives that they could “manipulate Google results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour”. His subsequent digging resulted in the identification of a number of Wikipedia edits made by accounts that he was able to connect with Bell Pottinger, an investigation by Wikipedia itself, and the removal of edits made by suspect accounts (also discussed on Wikipedia itself here).

This month the story reverted to an old-fashioned he-said-she-said report on conflict between Wikipedia and the PR industry as Jimmy Wales spoke to Bell Pottinger employees and was criticised by co-founder Tim (Lord) Bell.

More insightfully, Bell’s lack of remorse has led Tim Ireland to launch a campaign to change the way the PR industry uses Wikipedia, by demonstrating directly to Lord Bell the dangers of trying to covertly shape public perception:

“Mr Bell needs to learn that the age of secret lobbying is over, and while it may be difficult to change the mind of someone as obstinate as he, I think we have a jolly good shot at changing the landscape that surrounds him in the attempt.

“I invite you to join an informal lobbying group with one simple demand; that PR companies/professionals declare any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, name and link to them plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).”

The lobbying group will be drawing attention to Bell Pottinger’s techniques by displacing some of the current top ten search results for ‘Tim Bell’ (“absurd puff pieces”) with “factually accurate and highly relevant material that Tim Bell would much rather faded into the distance” – specifically, the contents of an unauthorised biography of Bell, currently “largely invisible” to Google.

Ireland writes that:

“I am hoping that the prospect of dealing with an unknown number of anonymous account holders based in several different countries will help him to better appreciate his own position, if only to the extent of having him revise his policy on covert lobbying.”

…and from there to the rest of the PR industry.

It’s a fascinating campaign (Ireland’s been here before, using Google techniques to demonstrate factual inaccuracies to a Daily Mail journalist) and one that we should be watching closely. The PR industry is closely tied to the media industry, and sockpuppetry in all its forms is something journalists should do more than merely complain about.

It also highlights again how distribution has become a role of the journalist: if a particular piece of public interest reporting is largely invisible to Google, we should care about it.

UPDATE: See the comments for further exploration of the issues raised by this, in particular: if you thought someone had edited a Wikipedia entry to promote a particular cause or point of view, would you seek to correct it? Is that what Tim Ireland is doing here, but on the level of search results?

Wiki journalism: the experiences of WikiCity Guides

I asked Pat Lazure, co-founder of the wiki journalism project WikiCity Guides, to tell me more about his experiences with the project. This is what he said:

Key Factors Driving Citizen Journalism

There has been a lot written about citizen and crowd-sourced journalism, and to this end, several entrepreneurs and creative folks have aggressively explored the widening opportunities within this space. I could write a chapter on why this is happening but instead, boiling it all down, there are two key factors driving these opportunities: Continue reading

Today’s online news: too much surface area, but too little depth?

Even though I had followed the latest financial crisis since its inception on every news site of relevance, I had to wait for the Atlantic’s cover story on the topic to understand where Wall Street had gone wrong (at least to the extent that anyone understood it).

While online news as it exists today is great for 24/7 access, real-time updates, increased transparency, and multiperspectival discussions, it still lacks the depth and detail of a feature story in a print magazine.

As a proponent of digital communication, I can appreciate the pervasiveness of news coverage in the online age, but as a student of journalism I often crave the completeness of long-form journalism, which is lacking on the Internet.

In a very enlightening article in the Nieman Reports’ fall edition, Matt Thompson brings up this very point about digital journalism. Thompson writes that while each new day brings with it an array of breaking news stories on various topics, virtually none of them purport to explain the significance, context or relevance of the subject at hand. Continue reading

Wikipedia to require new biography edits to be approved first

The New York Times reports that edits by new users to biographical entries on Wikipedia will be held back from publication until a more experienced editor approves them.

This seems something of a no-brainer to me. When I talk to students about Wikipedia I always point out that the main risks come with biographies, because of the obvious personal element involved (I also point them to the discussion pages behind each entry, and the ability to look at the history of edits and who made them).

It’s more likely that someone will have a beef with a former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville than they will with the atmosphere of Jupiter.

Likewise, when someone dies, people know they can have fun with the media by inserting a little myth that they can guess will be repeated as fact by journalists under a deadline. (Recently Popbitch’s Camilla Wright, whose readers helped debunk inflated Michael Jackson sales figures, argued in a Press Gazette column that web journalists don’t seem to be as vulnerable to this as print journalists).

And it’s worth pointing out that the much-quoted study by Nature which compared Wikipedia’s accuracy with Britannica only looked at science articles.

So it’s a no-brainer on the accuracy front. But for Wikipedia it still raises that community issue: if a new contributor doesn’t see their edit go live immediately, how does that affect their involvement? How does creating a 2-tier system affect the community? Why not instead try adding a disclaimer to the top of all biographies urging caution because “this is about a person”?

It will be interesting to see what happens. In the meantime, I’m off to read about the atmosphere of Jupiter before someone hoaxes it.

Add context to news online with a wiki feature

In journalism school you’re told to find the way that best relates a story to your readers. Make it easy to read and understand. But don’t just give the plain facts, also find the context of the story to help the reader fully understand what has happened and what that means.

What better way to do that than having a Wikipedia-like feature on your newspaper’s web site? Since the web is the greatest causer of serendipity, says Telegraph Communities Editor Shane Richmond, reading a story online will often send a reader elsewhere in search of more context wherever they can find it.

Why can’t that search start and end on your web site?

What happens today

Instead of writing this out, I’ll try to explain this with a situation:

While scanning the news on your newspaper’s web site, one story catches your eye. You click through and begin to read. It’s about a new shop opening downtown.

As you read, you begin to remember things about what once stood where the new shop now is. You’re half-way through the story and decide you need to know what was there, so you turn to your search engine of choice and begin hunting for clues.

By now you’ve closed out the window of the story you were reading and are instead looking for context. You don’t return to the web site because once you find the information you were looking for, you have landed on a different news story on a different news web site.

Here’s what the newspaper has lost as a result of the above scenario: Lower site stickiness, fewer page views, fewer uniques (reader could have forwarded the story onto a friend), and a loss of reader interaction through potential story comments. Monetarily, this all translates into lower ad rates that you can charge. That’s where it hurts the most.

How it could be

Now here’s how it could be if a newspaper web site had a wiki-like feature:

The story about the new shop opening downtown intrigues you because, if memory serves, something else used to be there years ago. On the story there’s a link to another page (additional page views!) that shows all of the information about that site that is available in public records.

You find the approximate year you’re looking for, click on it, and you see that before the new shop appeared downtown, many years ago it was a restaurant you visited as a child.

It was owned by a friend of your father’s and it opened when you were six years old. Since you’re still on the newspaper web site (better site stickiness!), you decide to leave a comment on the story about what was once there and why it was relevant to you (reader interaction!). Then you remember that a friend often went there with you, so you email it to them (more uniques!) to see if they too will remember.

Why it matters to readers

For consumers, news is the pursuit of truth and context. Both the news organization and the journalists it employs are obligated to give that to them. The hardest part of this is disseminating public records and putting it online.

The option of crowd-sourcing it, much like Wikipedia does with its records, could work out well. However just the act of putting public records online in a way that makes theme contextually relevant would be a big step forward. It’s time consuming, however the rewards are great.

Review: Search Engine Society by Alexander Halavais

Searching is the most popular activity online after email. It is the prism through which we experience a significant proportion of the world’s information – from news and information about our community, through to health information, commerce, and just about anything that has a presence online.

Search Engine Society takes a critical look at search engines, how they work, the techniques used to manipulate them – from gaining better rankings to censorship, and the implications for privacy and democracy. Continue reading