How to Fix an Inaccurate or Negative Wikipedia Page

Can Wikipedia be edited by anyone? Yes, anyone can edit a Wikipedia article. But those edits can be positive, negative, or neutral. If your brand, or even you, have been lucky enough to be eligible for a Wikipedia article, good for you! Wikipedia is highly visible in search results, confirms your brand as significant, and even feeds information to Googles’ Knowledge Panel. But with all of the good that comes with a Wikipedia article, there also comes the bad – again, anyone can edit most Wikipedia articles. Even haters

Negative Wikipedia articles are a two-sided problem. If there are factual errors or negative “spin” in a Wikipedia article you could simply edit the Wikipedia article yourself, or have someone else do it for you (but choose the right group of editors, not a solo act). Editing the Wikipedia article would instantly change it for the world to see. But if another Wikipedia editor doesn’t like your edit, they’ll probably just ‘roll it back’ to its original state, and they may even try to ban your account if suspect your account is breaking the rules. No real proof is necessary. 

The second issue with a negative Wikipedia article is the relative “strength” of the Wikipedia domain itself. Wikipedia tends to show up high in search results because Google considers it one of the strongest sites on the internet. By some measurements, Wikipedia shows up in more than half of all Google searches. Because of this strength and search result buoyancy it is extremely difficult if not impossible, to suppress (push Wikipedia down in search results for lower visibility) Wikipedia because of the sites’ strength.

Wikipedia: Difficult to remove but other options exist

It is nearly impossible to move a Wikipedia article down in search results because in order to do so stronger sites must be promoted to appear above it in search results. It can be done, but it is quite challenging.

Even when successful, a negative Wikipedia article is normally only suppressed to the third or fourth position on the first article of search results. The most common way to displace Wikipedia is by creating highly relevant and aggressively promoted websites and other content. The creation of high-quality content and websites is resource-intensive, thus, the costs to displace a negative Wikipedia article are generally high.

That said, we do not recommend attempting to suppress Wikipedia. 

What is Journavism?

Journavism is a term that we think was coined by Bridget Phetasy. Journavism conflates the words Journalism and Activism. Journavism is what happens when news reporting has been tainted by propaganda – often unintentionally. The problem with journavism is that it lacks the neutrality that information consumers may expect. An article may seem perfectly objective at first but then meanders into opinion. Consequently, journavism is a key ingredient in many dark PR campaigns, conspiracy theories, and opinion pieces masquerading as news.

At Reputation X, we can confirm journavism is a real thing that unbalances the online narrative in search, social, and Wikipedia. 

Wikipedia articles require references, but many of those articles are based on journalism that is actually journavism. Is it part of a conspiracy? Probably not. But activism from any part of the belief spectrum can easily infect the most disciplined journalist, and those individual beliefs flavor many of the articles used as references for Wikipedia articles.

When a Wikipedia editor selects an article as a reference, they are almost always seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to believe things they already believe. 

Removal of journavism references on Wikipedia is tough because the editors who placed the references truly believe the referenced article is the pure unadulterated fact, when in fact, it’s not. 

Can’t remove it? Incremental change is  the best approach

Sometimes Wikipedia articles that should be edited back to balance cannot be because of activist editors, “journavism” based reference articles,  or just plain obstinance. When this is the case, a slow and steady approach works best.

In George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ the more intelligent pigs that eventually took over the ruling class at the farm slowly changed the rules written on the side of the barn. By doing it slowly, the other animals weren’t sure things had changed. They suspected things were amiss but couldn’t really prove it or didn’t care.

The same can be said of Wikipedia editing. When attempting to bring neutrality and balance back to a Wikipedia article, big changes are often noticed, but small changes are noticed less often. 

Incremental change has proven to work to change a problematic Wikipedia article in many cases. Minor edits by multiple parties to a Wikipedia article over a long period of time often go unnoticed.

If you don’t honestly believe a Wikipedia article will work for your brand, we suggest setting up an entry on a sibling project – WikiData. WikiData is a semi-invisible Wikimedia project that feeds information to search engines and helps make sense of the web to Google, Bing, and others. You can learn more about WikiData here

A word about Wikipedia sock puppet accounts

Using different accounts controlled by the same person is a tactic called “sock puppets” by Wikipedia. Needless to say, Wikipedia frowns upon this practice and will ban accounts found or even suspected, to be sock puppets.

That’s right, a high-level Wikipedia editor doesn’t need to prove it; they just need to have a suspicion an account is being used for that reason, and – bam! – the account is banned. The editor can file a grievance to have their account reinstated, but these requests often, if not nearly always, fall upon deaf ears. At least, that’s what Wikipedia editors have told us over the years.

How does Wikipedia identify sock puppet accounts?

Wikipedia employs a number of tools and techniques to identify users they feel are abusing the system, like sock puppet accounts. A relatively small number of Wikipedia editors have been entrusted with the CheckUser ability. Wikipedia’s CheckUser authority allows some editors to see and track the IP addresses of users. This is done to ensure that the same person is not using different accounts with the same IP address, a possible sign of manipulation. Of course, Wikipedia editors who want to game the system rotate their IP addresses using various tools, or by visiting different coffee shops and using their WiFi. 

Note: Reputation X does not directly edit Wikipedia articles. We rely mainly on volunteers to make changes they personally feel have merit. Wikipedia editors we work with have total veto power over the edits they make, and for good reason. Their accounts are real and having them banned would be problematic. See this Wikipedia case study for more information.

Defensible edits

It is important to note that changes to Wikipedia must be rational, factual, and defensible. If an edit cannot honestly be defended, it shouldn’t be made in the first place. But even if an edit is fully compliant with Wikipedia guidelines, it can still be challenged or rolled back.

Therefore, even if a significant edit is solid as a rock, it still shouldn’t be made all at once. Often the best way to change a Wikipedia article is to simply soften the language bit by bit over time.

Wikipedia has a name for this, too – “whitewashing”. Wikipedia whitewashing is a somewhat ill-defined rule because one person’s whitewashing is another person’s “balanced” edit. The problem with this is human bias. Wikipedians are human, therefore imperfect and yet bold with their opinions. 

The problem with human bias on Wikipedia

Humans have bias built in. In our experience, Wikipedia editors tend to have a more liberal bias toward certain subjects. For example: if a company at one time had a negative environmental record but no longer does, the addition of positive current information to balance the Wikipedia record is often considered “whitewashing” and is deleted. The people that do this seem to believe that a person or brand that has made a mistake in the past deserves a life sentence. When this happens, the Wikipedia article becomes mere propaganda and degrades the mission of Wikipedia.

What can be done about Wikipedia bias?

The consensus among Wikipedia editors we have interviewed over the years is that there is little that can be done about this bias once the white washing label has been applied even if done so unfairly. Why? Because fairness is subjective.  Shielded by anonymity, roll-backs, biased edits, and banishment are acts of aggression that can be done from the comfort of one’s bathroom. One can engage in what’s known as a “flame war” – basically a heated Wikipedia argument among editors – but like any argument, it can be exhausting. Just try convincing someone to change their mind about the President of the United States. 

In our experience, slow and steady wins the race. It won’t guarantee success, but it will significantly improve the odds of bringing balance and fairness back to a Wikipedia article. 

There are alternatives to Wikipedia as well, you can check them out here


About the author

Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, a San Francisco Bay Area-based reputation management agency. Kent has over 15 years of experience with Wikipedia editing, Wikipedia page development, and reputation management strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics, and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters. You can find Kent’s biography here.

Tags: Online Reputation Repair, Wikipedia.

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