Vice and the Daily Dot have reported on a big network of “sock puppets,” or undisclosed related parties on the Internet, who have been manipulating Wikipedia to boost the profile and reputation of companies on behalf of a PR firm. Ars Technica reports today that Wikipedia has now disabled 250 user accounts as part of its investigation.
However, as Daily Dot mentions, there are still many paid editors and sock puppets on Wikipedia. One company that has aggressively used paid editors and socks to first seek to eliminate its page entirely, and later to edit the page to be as positive as possible, is Derwick Associates.
I wrote about Derwick Associates benefits from aggressive reputation management efforts a couple months ago. At the time, a long-time Wikipedia editor wrote me to tell me how Derwick also benefits from someone apparently hiring people to cleanse the company’s Wikipedia page. The person requested anonymity so as to continue monitoring the site unmolested. According to our correspondent, the saga of Derwick’s page went like this:
An advertisement was placed on the freelancer job site Elance on January 17 2013: “We need to edit a wiki article and this must be done with a person with knowledge of wikipedia. The article is being used for defamation purposes and is using wikipedia’s power to damage a company. your deliverable would be to edit the article, watch it and ensure it stays that way for the foreseeable future”
The client who placed the advertisement is from London, and occasionally the contractors refer to the client as SomerMedia. SomerMedia says here and here that it is an SEO and PR company based in London. (Though it isn’t doing much SEO for itself — its website is down.)
On February 4, the job was awarded to Fergus Mason. Shortly after, Wikipedia editor FergusM1970 started editing the Derwick Associates page for the first time and nominated it for deletion.
Fergus refers to Cesar Batiz, one of the very few reporters with the guts to cover this story, as being “long on rhetoric and short on information” and says “I don’t see where it’s been established that [Derwick is] a multinational corporation or that it has huge contracts.”
FergusM1970 also removed negative information from the Derwick Associates article. A different Wikipedia editor, Justiciero1811, then tried to put the information back. This led to a dispute that continued for some months between the two.
Meanwhile the deletion discussion wasn’t going well, and it looked like it would be kept. Some new accounts turned up to vote to delete the article, but were found to belong to the same person. Here’s one and the other.
As some people were suspicious, there was an investigation into whether or not the two extra people voting delete were really FegusM1970 using different accounts. Eventually it was found that they weren’t FergusM1970, but were the same person. From memory they were operating out of the UK. Both accounts were blocked.
After that, the client on Elance hired Barbara Paterson and Casey Shea on February 21, and Jive Pepper on February 22. Jive Pepper takes a lot of Wikipedia editing contracts, and creates a new account each time. Casey Shea was new to me, but Barbara Paterson wasn’t, as she also does a lot of paid Wikipedia editing. Subsequently three people voted to delete the Derwick Associates article The Librarian at Terminus, Createmark, and BuickCenturyDriver. They probably correspond to the three people hired. and one of the accounts I know to belong to one of the Elance hires based on previous paid editing work on Wikipedia.
After the article was kept, FergusM1970 continued to fight to have the negative material removed. There were discussions in a few places, but the main ones were at the talk page of the Derwick Associates article, and Wikipedia’s dispute resolution noticeboard.
Justiciero1811 stopped editing in early May. With Justiciero1811 gone, FergusM1970 was able to keep most of the material out of the article, and he appears to have been paid in June.
It interested me at the time, as I wasn’t aware of Derwick Associates, but paying someone to delete an article was relatively unusual. I gather Wikipedia came up in the defamation case that Derwick Associates ran, and from reading between the lines, I get the impression that Derwick Associates may have previously put pressure on the Wikimedia Foundation about the article. The article now contains a reference to the Otto Reich case and the defamation case, but the Elance material hasn’t been removed.
Personally, I love Wikipedia. I use it a lot. So I find it annoying that people hire sock puppets for this sort of project. I personally just made a couple changes to the Wikipedia page to make a few items more neutral, but I’m not going to spend any more time pouring water into that sieve. If Wikipedia really wants to clean up sockpuppetry and paid editing, the site should make it easier to alert editors and administrators to possible problems and should back up those who report and repair the work done by such people. It makes no sense to use distributed editing for everything except that.