Microsoft is in trouble for paying for changes in Wikipedia that appeared to place the company’s stance on open standards in a bad light. While I recognize the danger in allowing paid partisans to contribute to Wikipedia, it does raise some questions.
Wikipedia is built on the idea that good material will rise to the top. It specifically does not ban idiots, ideologues, or conspiracy theorists. Why is it that money should make things that much worse? I think this highlights a larger problem. We don’t care who you are, as long as you are not paid, seems to me to be a fuzzy and difficult line to draw.
I’ve updated Quinnipiac’s Wikipedia page to indicate the development of a new campus. I’m paid by Quinnipiac. That I do not happen to be in the PR department shouldn’t matter that much.
When I was at Buffalo, an email went around suggesting that the School of Informatics should take a significant role in rewriting the social informatics page on Wikipedia. I made my position clear: that it was entirely appropriate for the faculty, staff, and students to edit that page. After all, we were experts in the area, and who better? But I also noted that we needed to be careful to observe the principles of neutrality, and not promote the School directly. In the end, I don’t know that anyone actually made changes. I did, inserting a link to the department at the end of the article, but I don’t believe I made any major changes.
The idea that Wikipedians are disinterested is ridiculous. If they were not interested in the topics they write about, they wouldn’t write about them. Money changing hands should not make a difference. Heck, I would love to see the day when someone offered bounties for Wikipedia articles, providing payment for people to fill in lacking areas. When I provide students with better grades for contributing, is that suspect?
Wikipedia is built on the idea that the community is large enough to root out misinformation or bias and fix it. Why not trust that?