Hundreds of Wikipedia user accounts were banned for taking undisclosed pay to create and edit “promotional articles.”
According to a post on Wikipedia’s administrator board, Wikipedia’s CheckUser team investigated for months to uncover the accounts creating bogus articles for cash. The 381 banned accounts—which may have been operated by numerous people—were active between April and August, but the “nature and quality” of the edits suggests that the scam had been carrying on for some time, the post states.
The “sock puppet” accounts, as they’re called, were essentially extorting their customers. First, they would create a draft article and populate it with promotional links. Next, they contacted their victim, often posing as more established Wikipedians, and requested a fee to publish the article. To keep the page from being edited or taken down, the accounts charged their victims $30 per month, in some cases.
Editing for pay on the down-low is nothing new on Wikipedia, and the community has been trying to stamp out the practice for years. It’s not like the community is particularly averse to PR agencies using the site, either—a number of agencies have signed an agreement to abide by Wikipedia’s editing policies. The issue is that the banned accounts were doing their paid editing in secret.The WIkipedia community is currently in damage control mode, and the CheckUser team is encouraging the community to review and correct the articles created by the banned accounts. Hopefully, the damage can be reversed.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Wikipedia lost 381 editors. This missed a subtle, but important, distinction between editors and user accounts which may be operated by more than one person, or the same person. A reference to these accounts "clogging" the site has also been removed, to more accurately convey the scope of the issue. Motherboard sincerely regrets these missed nuances, and the article, as well as the headline, have been updated to reflect them.