Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
February 23, 2012

Should Public Relations Professionals be Allowed to Edit Wikipedia Articles?

To explore current public relations/communications practices with Wikipedia, I’m conducting a survey sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Center. My goal is to explore current engagement with Wikipedia and identify what changes are necessary.

I started researching Wikipedia in 2006 with Marcus Messner, Virginia Commonwealth University, and we have been arguing for years that public relations professionals should monitor their Wikipedia articles. Our 2010 study found that the negative content in corporate Wikipedia articles increased from 2006 to 2008 to 2010 and articles were becoming less focused on historical information and more on legal issues and controversies.

Given our findings and the wide use of Wikipedia by the public, having articles with incorrect or outdated information is not in anyone’s interest, but edits made by public relations professionals are unlikely to stick. Gerry Corbett, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, along with many others have suggested that Wikipedia policies should be based on accuracy and transparency in Wikipedia articles; no matter who does the editing, as long as the information is accurate, unbiased and properly referenced.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, doesn’t agree and has stated “This is not complicated. There is a very simple “bright line” rule that constitutes best practice: do not edit Wikipedia directly if you are a paid advocate. Respect the community by interacting with us appropriately.”

Unfortunately, many public relations professionals don’t know the rule, tried playing by it without success, have chosen to ignore it, and/or quite possibly the rule needs to be changed or better communicated.

I’m a member of the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE) group and we are working with Jimmy Wales and other Wikipedia editors to identify how we can have a constructive relationship with the goal of maintaining accurate Wikipedia articles. This has proven not to be an easy task and hopefully my research study can help.

Please take a few minutes to complete this important survey. A white paper with the results will be available on Institute for Public Relations soon.

This article originally appeared as a Research Conversations blog posting on the Institute for Public Relations website.

Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Pennsylvania State University, Chair of the PRSA Financial Communications Section, and Co-Chair of the PRSA National Research Committee.

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