Abstract: How might the Wikimedia community better engage with organizations that have a clear conflict of interest – advocacy organizations, governments, corporate entities, communications professionals and paid editors? While some parts of the movement have strict guidelines around engagement, many may not be aware of engagement in French, Italian and Swedish Wikipedia with paid entities that provide a much more complex range of engagement possibilities. How might these issues related to non-likeminded collaboration be incorporated into the Partnerships working group for the Wikimedia 2030 strategic direction?
Background and previous work: Wikipedia has a long history of managing the conflict of interests that its contributors may bring. Its volunteer community has created projects like the COI Noticeboard and the Request Edit queue, and the Wikimedia Foundation has taken steps
to address high-profile rule violations.
The presenters have led major discussions around this topic dating back to Wikimania 2014 (link) and South by Southwest 2015 (link), based on their work with a groundbreaking WP:PRCOM statement where major public relations and communications firms agreed to a set of guidelines around engaging Wikipedia in an ethical and responsible manner.
However, in recent years new issues have arisen. From Burger King to The North Face, large brands have sought to leverage Wikipedia's prominence with casual disregard for the community's values. The North Face, which surreptitiously replaced existing photos with branded replacements, even termed its spamming as "collaboration" (link). These cases, and the questioning of the accuracy of information on social media, have once again brought COI issues to the fore.
Proposed session: This panel seeks to examine possible futures for Wikipedia's relationship with self-interested outside organizations, from global consumer brands to university communications departments to the neighborhood mom and pop store. Is collaboration with these entities possible? Are there any steps Wikipedia can take to direct their interest in Wikipedia's reputation and reach? This presentation will describe multiple thought-provoking scenarios and invite audience discussion.
Wikipedia's present and future success necessarily depends on finding ways to coexist in the online media world with the many actors who are pursuing their own interests. Too often these come at Wikipedia's expense, and reducing burdens on Wikipedia's volunteer community can free it up to focus on topics traditionally considered more important, such as matters of social, economic, and environmental development. Make no mistake, many outside organizations who focus on these issues are also among those who see Wikipedia as a point of leverage for their own interests, and reducing conflicts involving them will redound to the benefit of all.
At the end of the session, the following will have been achieved:
First, the audience will develop a clearer understanding of the various methods which outside organizations endeavor to leverage Wikipedia for their own interests, from the age-old unsophisticated practice of polishing articles about their brand identities to highly coordinated efforts to manipulate Wikipedia's integration into voice search technology.
Second, the audience will become familiar with different possibilities that volunteers may take on their own, that the Foundation may be asked to promote, and which outside interests, including professional associations, should be encouraged to support. The co-presenters will begin with ideas they have brainstormed and crowdsourced, and will invite additional suggestions.
Finally, therefore, audience participants will be given an opportunity to share feedback with the panelists and to influence the perspectives of all present about this always present but often ignored topic. The co-presenters have led initiatives of this sort before, and in seeing new trends in self-interested manipulations of Wikipedia, are looking for the right response for this time.
The session leaders are veterans of multiple Wikimanias and have previously led sessions on similar topics at Wikimania 2014, 2015 and 2017, as well as WikiConference USA in 2014 and WikiConference North America in 2016.
William Beutler, CEO of Beutler Ink
Andrew Lih, Wikimedia DC; Wikimedia Strategist, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Each Space at Wikimania 2019 will have specific format requests. The program design prioritises submissions which are future-oriented and directly engage the audience. The format of this submission is a:
Any closed space with room for approximately 25 participants
Any are welcome, but especially invited are all volunteers who work on dealing with COI topics, OTRS, and Wikimedia Commons, as well as Foundation employees and contractors from the communications, community, development, and legal departments.
Participants will record the session themselves, and willing to have the conference organizers do so as well, but do not require it