The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has announced that it is to work with Wikipedia, to provide members with guidance on how to interact with the Wikipedia community.
This follows suggestions of undisclosed editing of Wikipedia entries by individual public relations firms.
While many PR firms who engage with the public through online communities have policies in place on editing in line with the CIPR’s Social Media Guidance, as well as following community guidelines, the CIPR feels there is a need to take action to further clarify the position specifically in relation to Wikipedia.
Jane Wilson, CIPR CE, said: “The CIPR has clear ethical and practical guidance on the most appropriate manner for PR professionals to work with open, online communities such as Wikipedia. It is not only important they are upfront about who they are and their intentions, but they should seek to deal openly and honestly with the public at all times. This rules out any behaviour that sets out to hide the true source or motivation for any updates. PR without transparency is unprofessional. It has less to do with the ‘dark arts’ and more to do with the dark ages.
“I am delighted Wikipedia will be working with us on this. There is a need to develop understanding of the mutual advantages of open, transparent engagement with the public through Wikipedia.”
Roger Bamkin, chair of Wikimedia UK - the local chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the charity behind Wikipedia - added: "Recent incidents highlighted by Tom Watson MP and in the national press show that in some parts of the PR profession, a lack of understanding on how to engage with the Wikipedia community persists. We will work with the CIPR to ensure that their members, and through them the wider PR Profession, have access to the clearest possible guidance on the best way to work with Wikipedia.
“We believe that attempts to mask the true identity of anyone seeking to edit the site are unethical as well as counterproductive."
Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, added his support for the initiative, saying: "Wikipedia is becoming the world's first port of call for accurate, fact checked information regarding companies, services and people. It is therefore vital that the PR industry adheres to the highest standards when representing the interests of their clients. There have been a number of negative press stories that have not just harmed the credibility of the information contained on the pages of Wikipedia, but caused reputational harm to the PR and lobbying firms and their clients who were the subject of negative stories.
"PR professionals need clear guidelines in this new world of online-information-sharing. That's why I am delighted that interested parties are coming together to establish a clear code of conduct.
"I am delighted to help in any way I can with this important initiative."