The CIPR has commented that “Public relations professionals should not directly edit Wikipedia for a client or employer” following the revelation that public relations company RLM Finsbury edited Alisher Usmanov's Wikipedia entry.
According to reports, RLM Finsbury edited the Russian billionaire's Wikipedia entry to remove mention of a freedom of speech row, where Usmanov had allegedly threatened bloggers.
The firm had been hired to neutralise negative comments about Usmanov.
Jane Wilson MCIPR, CIPR CEO, said: “Wikipedia’s rules on conflict of interest editing are clear. Public relations professionals should not directly edit Wikipedia for a client or employer, and should instead suggest amendments for consideration by Wikipedia’s community of editors – a point which today has been clarified by Jimmy Wales [Wikipedia founder], and also recognized by the team at Finsbury. Importantly, this isn’t a special rule, only applicable to those who work in public relations. This applies because they, like any other employee or consultant, would have a conflict of interest. The same Wikipedia rules would apply if you worked in finance, strategy or HR for an organisation. The difference is that reputation is our business.
I’d urge those who haven’t read our latest guidance on how PR professionals can work Wikipedia, to do so today. The majority of public relations professionals work with transparency and openness as guiding principles and, as when working with any other community, the profession should respect, and not disregard, their rules and values. In this case, it’s quite simply Wikipedia’s ball and so it’s their rules. However, I recognise that the process can be a frustrating one for any organisation with inaccurate information on the site. Wikipedia are working on the speed and ease with which simple factual inaccuracies can be amended without compromising the strong stance on conflict, and I look forward to the CIPR working with the community closer on this.”
Director general of the PRCA, Francis Ingham, added: “While we would not condone PR professionals anonymously amending Wikipedia entries, we understand why frustration sometimes drives them to do so.
“The Wikipedia internal process for amending inaccurate or inflammatory material remains in our view opaque, time-consuming, and cumbersome.
“We have worked over the past year to help PR practitioners understand better how Wikipedia works. But unfortunately too many of the people who edit Wikipedia still do not understand PR. Too many of them continue to have the knee jerk reaction that information from a PR professional must intrinsically be wrong.
“We continue to urge Wikipedia to implement radical reform to its editing process, so that this kind of case can be a thing of the past. Such reform would demonstrably be in its own best interest, and in the interest of accuracy."
RLM Finsbury has apologised for making the changes, saying: “This was not done in the proper manner nor was this approach authorised by Mr Usmanov. We apologise for this and it will not happen again.”