In the news
Bell Pottinger investigation, Gardner on gender gap, and another plagiarist caught red-handed
The Bell Pottinger affair
Bell Pottinger, a public relations company headquartered in London, UK, has taken heat after coming under scrutiny for several possible conflicts of interest. The group has admitted to editing articles, but strongly stressed that it "[hasn't] done anything illegal." The investigation centers around Wikipedia user Biggleswiki, exposed by blogger Tim Ireland, for actively contributing biased information to several of its client's articles. In a letter to the company, Ireland points out the irony in the situation stating, "[the account accuses others] of being biased and/or of having a hidden agenda, when all along he/she was making edits according to a hidden bias/agenda dictated by money."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has published a list of some of the articles edited by Bell Pottinger, asserting that it has "evidence [which shows] the company made hundreds of alterations to Wikipedia entries about its clients in the last year". Among those included in the list are Chime Communications, the parent company of Bell Pottinger, and Naked Eye Research, the latter of which was edited after Bell Pottinger purchased 55 percent of the company. Biggleswiki, the source of the biased edits, has apparently made edits without being logged in, resulting in the standard publicity of their IP address. The WHOIS report shows the address is indeed held by Bell Pottinger Communications.
Lord Bell, the chairman of the parent company Chime Communications, stated "If we’ve done things that are not in the spirit of the site, we’ll say so and acknowledge it, and improve our processes." Bell also is quoted by the London Evening Standard as saying, "On the basis of what has been reported so far, I can see no example of people behaving improperly, though perhaps behaving indiscreetly." As a cautionary measure, led by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, a sockpuppet investigation, stemmed from the account Slaine1, blocked multiple accounts believed to be operated by Bell Pottinger, as well as its parent company Chime Communications.
Gardner reiterates call to close the gender gap
This week Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, discussed with news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) the importance of attracting more female editors to the site. At present only one in ten editors is thought to be female, a fact highlighted repeatedly by the Foundation as a cause for concern.
Gardner told the agency that women have different interests from men, and to ensure that the quality of Wikipedia is not compromised by gaps in coverage, it is necessary for Wikimedia's websites to attract more women. She pressed the idea of a rich text editor to enable those without knowledge of wiki syntax to edit more easily, explaining that a beta phase of the software should be made available to "experienced Wikipedia users" by early next year. A full roll-out of the software "need[s] to be developed in collaboration with the editing community and [the Foundation] aspire[s] to achieve consensus", she said.
She also noted that efforts to attract new editors will not specifically target women, that any attempt to attract editors will have to be a "general outreach" achieved by creating "an environment where people want to help."
My question is, then, who are these Wiki-worker ants cobbling together nearly four million articles in English alone?
Are there communes somewhere in the backlands of the US — log cabins barricaded in by books and home to red-eyed scholars in front of scores of MacBooks? Perhaps they have momentous beards and resemble Socrates in a checked shirt.
Or perhaps these are the true pioneers of knowledge because they are the ones without any desire or hope for recognition in some unending quest for amassed learning.
— Christopher Lord lauds Wikipedians in the pages of The National
- Another writer plagiarizing Wikipedia? Der Bund and other Swiss newspapers carried an article (in German) reporting that Swiss writer Michael Theurillat reused the German language Wikipedia's description of Hawala, a traditional Islamic money transfer system, in his novel Rütlischwur without attribution. The article recalled similar allegations of plagiarism previously leveled against French novelist Michel Houellebecq, involving the French language Wikipedia, and German writer Helene Hegemann.
- Journalist tangles with whitewashers: Jeremy Sear of Australian politics magazine Crikey found himself caught up in an edit war as he attempted to restore information apparently "whitewashed" by a number of anonymous IPs. He raised concern over the edits of one editor, whose articles all related to media figures based in Melbourne but appeared "bereft of independent sources".
- Wikipedia apps reviewed: The BBC's Click programme had a look at Wikitude, a free smartphone app using augmented reality to link to Wikipedia articles; BlackBook tried WikiMaze, which automatically turns Wikipedia articles into quizzes; and global positioning system Toozla announced that it has added over 125,000 articles from the Portuguese, Turkish and Greek Wikipedias into its system.
Check back for the next Signpost on December 1.