Should there be Disclosure of Paid Edits on Wikipedia?

By | March 2, 2014

There is a lot of interesting discussion concerning a proposed policy change over at Wikipedia concerning disclosure of compensated edits on Wikipedia.  And people are all over the place in their opinions, with a lot of concerns being raised.  Perhaps there is a different solution.

Proposed Amendment

Here is what they are proposing:

A subsection added to the end of Section 4 of the Terms of Use, namely “Refraining from Certain Activities.

Paid contributions without disclosure

These Terms of Use prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. To ensure compliance with these obligations, you must disclose your employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution to any Wikimedia Projects for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation. You must make that disclosure in at least one of the following ways:

  • a statement on your user page,
  • a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or
  • a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.

Applicable law, or community and Foundation policies and guidelines, such as those addressing conflicts of interest, may further limit paid contributions or require more detailed disclosure. For more information, please read our background note on disclosure of paid contributions.

Wikipedia logoConcerns

Although I like their intent, I am concerned about several things.

  1. Factual information could be deleted simply because someone’s affiliation or compensation.
  2. It requires people to read the terms of use to know the provision is there, which will cause people to violate the rule unknowingly.
  3. Compensated edits are not associated with a specific edit or article when users put a statement on their user page.
  4. It is unclear whether simply being employed by a company requires disclosure, when they are not compensating you to edit an article.
  5. You could potentially have to disclose everywhere you ever worked on your user page, which is a privacy issue.
  6. It requires people to create an account and login to ensure full disclosure and does not address edits by people not logged in.
  7. It does not address situations where someone may be biased, but is not compensated.

Alternate Solution

Instead of the current implementation, I would recommend the following solution instead.

  1. On the edit screen, add a set of checkboxes allowing people to specify one or more of the following:
    • I was compensated for this edit.
    • I am affiliated with a company, person or entity mentioned in this article.
    • I work in this industry or field, but am not affiliated with anything in this article specifically.
    • I have not been compensated and am not affiliated with anything in this article.
  2. On a person’s user page, automatically generate a list of articles edited by the user, grouped by the following:
    • Subject Matter Expert (Edits Related to my Industry or Field)
    • Contributions (non-compensated and non-affiliated)
    • Edits Related to Companies, People or Entities I am Affiliated With
    • Compensated Edits
  3. Flag edits on the edit history page as being a compensated edit.

One reason I like having more than one checkbox is that it helps identify bias in all its forms (paid or unpaid), and at the same time helps identify people who may be an expert in a field.

Wikipedia tends to have a hard time dealing with subject matter experts, and someone who has first hand knowledge of something often gets chastised if that information is not published anywhere else on the web already. Allowing people to identify that they work in a particular field would allow readers and editors to judge for themselves whether the information is more or less valuable than an edit from someone not in the industry.

To deal with the repetitive nature of the checkboxes appearing every time, users should be able to select a default option so they only have to make changes if a different checkbox applies for this specific edit.  This could be accomplished by asking the user if they want to save there choice for next time.  If so, then every time they edit, those checkboxes will automatically be checked.  This allows them to change it if needed, while reducing the need for them to check a box every time.  You could also make the checkboxes optional (from a form submission standpoint), with the assumption that nothing checked means they were not compensated.

I’d rather see something like this, than what they have proposed now.  What do you think?


Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™