'Fixer' cleans Wikipedia entries for senior business figures
David Singleton, prweek.com, 09 June 2011, 9:30am
A string of senior business figures have had their Wikipedia entries
burnished by an anonymous 'reputation cleanser,' believed to be a
senior figure in the PR industry.
The London-based fixer has changed entries for Carphone Warehouse
co-founder David Ross, Von Essen Group chairman Andrew Davis, British
property developer David Rowland and billionaire Saudi tycoon Maan
The fixer has also made numerous changes to the entry for the 19th
Earl of Derby who has been in a long-running battle with campaigners
over his plans to build over greenfield land in Newmarket.
An investigation by PRWeek found that a total of 42 changes to various
Wikipedia pages were made from the same London IP address between
April 2009 and June 2011. In most cases, negative or controversial
details were erased from the entries. On other occasions, positive
information was added.
PRWeek’s investigations suggest that the changes were made by a senior
PR professional who is well-known in industry circles. The individual
in question failed to respond to calls and emails.
The entry for Carphone Warehouse boss Ross was altered to remove
controversial details about his personal life, while the entry for
property developer Rowland was changed to portray his decision to move
to France for tax purposes in a more positive light.
On Lord Derby’s entry, opposition to his plans to develop land near
Newmarket was downgraded from ‘considerable’ to ‘some’. This contrasts
with The Daily Telegraph’s assertion in December 2009 that Lord Derby
had ‘earned the opprobrium of the racing establishment with plans to
build up to 1,200 new homes on part of his estate’.
Meanwhile, the entry for Al-Sanea was altered to remove details of a
clash with Saudi Arabia’s central bank and the entry for his Saad
Group conglomerate was also doctored.
The idea of PR people editing Wikipedia entries has long been
extremely controversial. In 2007 Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
threatened to ban PR agencies from contributing to the site because of
a conflict of interest.
CIPR social media guidelines suggest that PROs work with a Wikipedia
editor to have the information corrected rather than to do it
Portland partner Mark Flanagan, a former head of digital in Downing
Street, said: ‘I actually think it’s fine to neutralise Wikipedia
entries and correct factual inaccuracies but turning someone’s entry
into pure spin is unacceptable. It is also vital to respect the rules
of Wikipedia and make sure changes are submitted to the community for
Wolfstar Consultancy managing director Stuart Bruce said: ' It’s not
always a case of unethical practice when people do things like this,
quite often it’s simply ignorance and not taking the time to find out
the right thing to do.
'A PR person should always ask themselves not just is this right, but
will it appear to most people to be right. And most people would say
that a PR person is not a neutral source and therefore shouldn’t be
editing Wikipedia pages.’
Labour digital guru Jag Singh, who headed up digital comms for the No
To AV campaign, said PROs should be careful about such tactics
backfiring: 'Be warned that it will draw more attention to the
activity you're trying to cover up, and your likelihood of being
discovered is even higher.'
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> Portland partner Mark Flanagan, a former head of digital in Downing
> Street, said: ‘I actually think it’s fine to neutralise Wikipedia
> entries and correct factual inaccuracies but turning someone’s entry
> into pure spin is unacceptable. It is also vital to respect the rules
> of Wikipedia and make sure changes are submitted to the community for
> their approval.’
I am really, really pleased that PR Week chose these three as their
expert quotes on the issue - all are basically what we would have said
had they asked us. It's okay to correct errors in good faith ; but you
have to work with the community ; tread carefully when doing anything
that might be non-neutral ; and if you do it badly it'll blow up in
your face, so don't do anything you don't want to see in the papers.
> I am really, really pleased that PR Week chose these three as their
> expert quotes on the issue - all are basically what we would have said
> had they asked us. It's okay to correct errors in good faith ; but you
> have to work with the community ; tread carefully when doing anything
> that might be non-neutral ; and if you do it badly it'll blow up in
> your face, so don't do anything you don't want to see in the papers.
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