Jimmy Wales & CNN Punk’d?

Concerned about biased and inaccurate material in Wikipedia, Dough Mahugh contacted Rick Jellife (a long-time independent expert in the topic at hand) with a proposal.  He asked if Rick could review the Wikipedia article and make edits according to his own expert opinion, in exchange for money.  Doug further stipulated that he would not review or approve anything Rick said, and that Rick was welcome to discuss the offer publicly on his blog before coming back with counter-proposal or accepting.

In other words, Doug threatened to get an independent expert involved, and did so in the most transparent way possible.

The headlines scream “Microsoft PR pays money to manipulate Wikipedia!”.  All very exciting and predictable, but untrue.  Doug doesn’t work for PR, no money ever changed hands, and the article is finally accurate for the first time in many months.  In fact, it appears that most of the edits were made by someone from the opposing camp who suddenly decided to care about fairness and accuracy.

The real shame here is that it took a little prank like this to get Wikipedia contributors to self-police.  Several corrections were made by the opposing camp, which is admirable, but one must question how those inaccuracies got in there in the first place?  Is Jimmy Wales going to do an inquiry and find out which full-time employees of which organizations made the offending entries that needed to be corrected?  Was the sin of Doug that he simply was too transparent and open?

The truth is, Doug baited with the appearance of impropriety, which the press swallowed hook line and sinker — but ultimately did nothing wrong.  On the other hand, there apparently has been conflict-of-interest editing going on, while Wikipedia seemed primarily interested in avoiding the appearance of impropriety.  I am pleased that Wikipedia seem to be re-examining their rules for conflict of interest.


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