Wikipedia announced a major attack in its war against sock puppets Monday.
Fear not, the Internet giant has no qualms against cotton-blend children’s toys; “sock puppets” actually refer to false online identities with one aim: deception. The crackdown targets writers who are paid to post articles that promote products.
Executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation Sue Gardner said that the site — which has half a billion readers, about 30 million articles, and 250,000 volunteer editors — just blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts.
“Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way,” Gardner wrote. “Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem.”
The Daily Dot recently broke that Wikipedia has spent a year investigating these sock puppet schemes. Vice also took a look at the proliferation of PR companies that subverted Wikipedia’s editing process. Wiki-PR, for example, is paid to edit Wikipedia pages for its clients, promising “We write it. We manage it. You never worry about Wikipedia again.”
Disingenuous editors and posts are hardly a new problem for Wikipedia, however.
An article about the completely fabricated “Bicholim Conflict” between Portugal and India’s Maratham Empire existed on Wikipedia for five years until editors finally figured out that it was a lie late last year. In 2008, members of Congress were caught trying to edit their own pages. And in 2007, a Wikipedia editor who claimed to have a PhD in theology and had edited thousands of articles about canonical law was barred after Wikipedia found out that he was actually a 24-year-old dude from Kentucky who was using Catholicism for Dummies as his primary source material.
Previous attempts to limit fraud and promotional self-editing have had limited success. In 2005, Wikipedia announced an overhaul of its previously open editing system, in which only registered editors could create new entries altogether. However, anyone with web access is still free to edit any existing entry on the site.