Best way to get inaccurate information changed on Wikipedia?
November 6, 2014 9:25 PM   Subscribe

The organization I work for is concerned about inaccurate information on our Wikipedia page. What's the best way to go about getting that changed?

My employer (a private foundation in the US) is concerned that the characterization of our politics on Wikipedia is inaccurate, and potentially detrimental to the work we do. I have the sense that just setting up an editor account and making changes is contrary to the spirit of Wikipedia, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed.

A single editor has been quite active on our page, and I'm considering setting up a Wikipedia account to email her (politely, of course), provide some citations and make our case for some changes.

For any Wikipedians out there on AskMe, does that sound like a reasonable course of action? Would you suggest something else? And does anyone else have experience of getting changes made on Wikipedia?

Finally, am I overthinking this? Should I just be making the changes myself (with cites, of course)?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From what I've read wikipedia editors are obsessed with their independence for good or problematic. A direct challenge could cause them to dig in. Consider marshaling or cultivating quality third party discussions. A discussion in the NYT or Atlantic of your policies would be more effective. Perhaps other established third party blogs.
posted by sammyo at 9:33 PM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

What you want is something published, either on your website or in an article, which specifies exactly what your politics are. Then, yes, I think you're within your rights to add that information to the Wikipedia page and include a link. Wikipedia demands sources for everything, but if you have a source, you're ok.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:36 PM on November 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm an editor on Wikipedia and I am on the advisory board to the Wikimedia foundation.

If you work for the organization I'd be careful about making changes on the org's page. Not that you can't but I'd be clear about identifying your link to the organization on your profile page and be very clear that you're only adding citable information. You can read up on their Conflict of Interest policy and here's help with editing. You might have better luck with adding citations to the page's Talk page and suggesting that there are some inaccurate statements that could use addressing.

Please be aware that stuff that isn't cited is a lot more "up for debate" than stuff that is accurately cited but just not what your organization prefers. The best way to go about any of this is to become familiar with Wikipedia culture, keep an eye on the page (you can add it to your watchlist if you want) and try to find ways to make the article more accurate, not just more favorable to your organization. Articles are supposed to have Neutral Point of View and while this is definitely an ideal and not something you see in every Wikipedia article, you should keep it in mind when you're thinking about what the current article could stand to do differently.

You might want to find other Wikipedians who edit articles on topics similar to your group's and see if they would help you get started. There are a lot of people who care a lot about Wikipedia and would love to help with this sort of thing if it's presented in the right way. Basically you have to go into it with the goal of making Wikipedia better, not just fixing your org's page and you are likely to be able to get some stuff accomplished. Wikipedia engenders strong responses in a lot of people. This is definitely not the only way to go about this (you could just hire someone to "fix" your page if you just wanted to get it done) but it's the one likely to lead to the best long term results.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 PM on November 6, 2014 [35 favorites]

If it's a simple statement of fact, I would make an account and just make the change. Like, if there was a Wikipedia article about me, and it said I was born in 1990 instead of 1981, I would just change it myself. Who cares if you upset the delicate egos of Wikipedians? Correct is correct.

If it's more that there's something in the article that you feel isn't strictly true, or wish was not how your organization is perceived, that's a much more delicate situation that I think you could get into with people who are more versed in the Wikipedia community, get the information you want out there in other ways (third party sites etc) or potentially just leave it alone.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on November 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Be careful that these "inaccurate" things are factually inaccurate and not just an interpretation that you don't prefer.

If it's the latter, I can imagine a Streisand-effect-like situation going down where your organization manages to cause the "inaccurate" information to spread AND you look like assholes trying to sneakily edit your own Wikipedia article.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:59 PM on November 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

As a caveat, this information that I'm giving you is a little old, but as far as I know it can still be effective. I used to be a Wikipedia editor (years ago), but I focused mainly on the processes of establishing notability and of reviewing article deletions.

If you feel that an editor is making your organization look bad or is entering inaccurate information, one way to get more eyes on the page is to try to get it into one of the many projects on Wikipedia. Not sure what your organization is, but if, for example, you are an historically-oriented organization, you might look for projects on Wikipedia that have to do with historians or historic organizations and invite editor(s) from those projects. If you drill down into the projects directory, you can see specialist projects from a variety of viewpoints or categories.

A point about the projects: Each one has its own mission, guidelines, style guides, bylaws and so forth. If you do decide to go the route of getting one or more projects involved, do show good will and good faith by, after selecting these project(s), reading up on their guidelines and style guides, their process and so on, and do your best to follow their preferred process in order to get them involved.

It's a lot better, on Wikipedia, to get more editor eyes on a page and to get more collaboration going over the pages to try to get to an "objective" truth, be it citable or otherwise independently verifiable than it is to try to unilaterally "fix" things towards your organization's sensibilities. These kinds of "fixes" are often treated as vandalism on Wikipedia and reverted.

As a side-note, and this is dark siding it and gaming the system, so I wouldn't by any means recommend doing this intentionally, but Wikipedia has lots of rules, process and regulations. If you get the page to a state you want to keep, and you do look into getting a project or projects involved in review and editing of the page, note that engaging one or more projects ups the process-orientedness of the page and its supporting pages. The effect here is that when you do involve more editors and more formalism of process is that the frequency and rate of changes to your page can slow to a crawl, both because no one wants to rock the boat and because working through the formalized processes takes time. If your page is low priority, the slowing effect is magnified (because even though the page is part of a project, getting to it is not prioritized by the project-member editors). Editors in general will often take a project tag on a page as indication that someone will eventually get to that page and not mess with it so much themselves.
posted by kalessin at 10:34 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an account there, as many do, and I've made a few very slight changes to puncutation and syntax and in one case geography, none of which have been reversed but when you deal with matters of politics you will run into vested interests.

"I have the sense that just setting up an editor account and making changes is contrary to the spirit of Wikipedia, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed."

The "talk" tab or the "view history" tab are informative here. Your position may have been stated previously.

Proceeding slowly and taking a look at the process is best. It's quite possible that you have some insight to offer but making wholesale changes is likely to result in resistance. It's more a negotiation when it works.
posted by vapidave at 10:35 PM on November 6, 2014

Unfortunately, my experience has been that PR agencies and other commercial interests can get away with almost whatever the hell they want on Wikipedia. Most aggressive Wikipedia editors are more interested in feeling magisterial and defending whatever they perceive is their own turf than anything else, and are often easily manipulated, and unaggressive Wikipedia editors don't feel like dealing with the aggressive ones. Neither individual editors nor the system in general seems to have any sophisticated approach to countering sustained unobtrusive "vandalism" by accounts that generally follow the rules.

For example, particularly given the recent elections in the U.S., I would expect that it's quite easy to find numerous Wikipedia articles that are basically brochures advertising individual candidates, edited by legions of interrelated accounts which coincidentally all work on groups of articles that correspond to the publicly-listed clientele of political PR agencies. This has been the case during past elections, at least; they haven't had to make any concerted effort to hide it.

Just be aware that, if you find yourself opposed by someone intentionally maligning your organization who isn't playing by the rules and is getting paid to grind away at the Wikipedia game, playing by the rules yourself can pretty easily become a completely Sisyphean and fruitless task.
posted by XMLicious at 2:06 AM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am a Wikipedia editor too. I am low level editor that only gets involved periodically.

I do, however, value Wikipedia, and I take my editing there seriously. I also am dismayed at other Wikipedia editors who insert things in articles without citation. Poor editing undermines the value of the entire project. I feel strongly that if an editor can not properly provide citations, they should not be editing Wikipedia pages.

You say that this editor is inserting things about your company without citation? That is the kind of thing that annoys me.

MeMail the page. And your independent sources proving that the current Wikipedia page is inaccurate. I will look at the page, and at your sources. I will also search for me own sources. And I will edit the article with care, providing citations and neutral stance. Keep in mind, I an NOT saying that I will edit for you in your interest. I am not concerned about your interests here. My concern is Wikipedia.

I know that higher level editors will review my work. I am fairly certain that if my work is accurate, properly cited, and neutral - my edits will trump inaccurate and uncited work.

I am not making you any promises here. I can not of course guarantee what higher level editors will do. Nor, how dedicated this other editor is at installing misinformation. But, if you send me information, for the good of Wikipedia, I will try to re-write the page in question in a fair, accurate, and neutral way.
posted by Flood at 4:18 AM on November 7, 2014 [19 favorites]

I have the sense that just setting up an editor account and making changes is contrary to the spirit of Wikipedia, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed.

No I don't think this is correct. Make the changes you need to make, but just be sure that you can provide online citations to support your edits. Often the pages aren't even moderated by real humans, but by bots anyway.

Wikipedia is more faithful to process than to actual ethics anyway, so you're not in the wrong at all by going in and ensuring your company is represented truthfully.
posted by Nevin at 8:32 AM on November 7, 2014

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