Wikipedia is a powerful source of authority for any business, individual, or entity. When a user wants to know who you are, they likely perform a Google search. Google, if you haven’t paid conscious attention to it before, loves to layer their search results with “knowledge boxes” full of content pulled from other sites. One of the primary sources of that information is Wikipedia.
This can make a surprisingly large difference in how people perceive your brand or your reputation. They can find out who you are just by looking at this box. Or, if the box isn’t there, they might wonder: is this brand/person not noteworthy enough to have this box?
It makes sense, then, that most noteworthy individuals and businesses want to get themselves a Wikipedia page, edited with accurate and positive information. Those who don’t have one want to get one, and those who have one want to make sure it’s full of positive information.
There’s also a natural desire to sculpt information on Wikipedia. You might want to minimize what you view as misinformation or propaganda while pushing your truth. You may even be tempted to edit your Wikipedia page yourself.
If you do this, well, you might find that your page is deleted. We even wrote a post covering that, and what you can do to deal with it. For now, though, let’s talk about the reason you can’t edit your own Wikipedia page.
Editing Wikipedia is Serious Business
Wikipedia takes its data accuracy seriously. They have pages and pages of rules governing what you can and can’t do to pages, and those rules vary depending on your relationship to the page and the subject. They want Wikipedia pages to be:
- Accurate. They want the data on the page to be as accurate as possible, with as little bias as possible. This is why they require sources for nearly every sentence on some pages.
- Unbiased. Their goal is to present factual information and context, not make judgments. Even the most heinous criminals get unbiased treatment on their pages.
- Free from advertising. Wikipedia doesn’t even advertise for itself outside of the rare annual donation drive. Any content deemed advertorial will be removed.
There are massive pages full of rules about what information is relevant and what makes a company, organization, or individual notable enough to have a Wikipedia page in the first place. Pages look like this, with thousands of words of rules every editor has to follow.
At the same time, editors are not given training. Everyone can edit Wikipedia, which is part of the true strength of the platform. It’s not a walled garden guarded by the informational elite; it’s open to anyone to portray facts as they stand in reality. This is enforced by the community; if someone edits in misinformation, others can spot it and remove it.
Pages that get too much misinformation too frequently, or that are vandalized, can be protected. A page being protected is the only way it can be restricted from editing.
Ideally, your Wikipedia page will meet all of the criteria for relevance, notability, and factual information necessary to make it a long-standing page. Unfortunately, many brands and individuals don’t meet the notability guidelines, and thus end up having their pages deleted.
The Problem with Editing Your Page
The main issue with editing your own Wikipedia page is something called a conflict of interest. You may be familiar with the concept of a conflict of interest from business dealings, media, or simple cultural osmosis.
It goes like this. If you’re editing your own Wikipedia page, how can anyone trust you to be factual and unbiased? You have a vested interest in portraying your company or yourself in a positive light. Even if you don’t lie about anything, you might be tempted to play up the positives and leave out controversies.
There have been quite a few instances of conflict of interest on Wikipedia in the past. Examples include:
- Members of the United States congress editing their Wikipedia pages to alter reporting on voting records and stances on issues.
- Microsoft staffers editing pages on competing code standards to make them seem worse in comparison to Microsoft’s offerings.
- British MP staffers editing the articles for their MP removing “controversy” sections.
- A PR firm editing Wikipedia articles on behalf of their clients.
Wikipedia has a large page documenting both their rules for conflict of interest editing and recorded instances of it happening in the past. You can find that document here.
What Penalties Might Occur?
So, if you edit your Wikipedia page, you may be found to be violating rules. If you are, there are a range of possible penalties you might be subjected to.
Your page might become protected. When a Wikipedia page becomes protected, it means that only certain super-editors are allowed to make changes to it. The general public won’t be able to change it. This tends to happen in one of three cases:
- The page is controversial and subject to a lot of people wanting to remove misinformation and push their agenda. Pages like that on COVID-19 might fall into this category.
- The page is being vandalized repeatedly. Popular figures who are broadly hated might be subject to this.
- The page has been subject to repeated edit attempts from sock puppet accounts. Many brands and public figures fall into this category.
To prevent all but the most trusted editors from making changes to a page, a page can be protected. There are quite a few more reasons and different kinds of protection (for instance, protection against being moved, or protection for the template but not the content) which can be found here.
Your account might be restricted. Just like how a page can be protected, an account can be restricted. This is usually done to certain users who are generally good but biased for or against certain entities. The user access levels can be found here if you want deeper nuance. Usually, though, an account is simply blocked, temporarily or permanently.
Your edits will likely be reverted. By far the most common penalty is simply that any edit your account made will be scrutinized for its accuracy and, in most cases, will be reverted. Any good you think you have done to your page will be scrubbed once you are discovered editing with a conflict of interest.
Your page may be audited. In extreme cases, the discovery of conflict-of-interest editing may trigger a full-page audit. A full-page audit can result in anything from some information being removed as irrelevant or inaccurate, to a “controversies” section being added, to the entire page being marked for deletion.
Your page may be deleted. If your edits make your page stand out in the wrong way, your page could end up deleted. This tends to happen most with small businesses and individuals who believe they are noteworthy, but who do not meet the minimum notability guidelines.
Your account may be deleted. If your account has been particularly egregious about making edits, rather than restricting it from editing, Wikipedia might simply delete the account, and can potentially issue an IP block to prevent you from making a new account and returning to the same business.
In extreme cases, you may be subject to legal action. Depending on the size and scope of your company or your interests, and on the degree and content of the edits, it’s occasionally possible to violate laws against covert or false advertising. The two main jurisdictions for this are the EU and the USA, though Canada does have its ad standards that you need to watch out for.
Why You Might Want to Edit Your Page Anyway
Despite the risks and the potential penalties, there may be good reasons why you would want to edit your Wikipedia page.
For example, maybe a major story is breaking and you want to get ahead of it. Major reputation crises can occur, and Wikipedia is generally considered an unbiased source of information. Thus, if you can get ahead of the issue and post your side of the story first, you may be able to establish it before others put a less flattering version on your page.
Of course, you need to be factual and unbiased when you do this. Otherwise, you’ll simply be called out, the unbiased information edited in, and perhaps even evidence of your edits added to use against you.
Another reason you might want to edit your page is if you’re making a change to your company in some way. For example, if you’re rebranding and changing your business name, you might want to edit your Wikipedia page to reflect the new name, with a section identifying the old name of the business. For example, the company Altria has a line in the first sentence of their page stating who they previously were.
It’s also possible that you’ve noticed factual errors in your page, or even something as small as a typo, and you want to fix it. These kinds of edits can generally be made without fear of reprisal or auditing, since fixing a typo isn’t a conflict of interest.
There are certainly legitimate reasons why you might want to edit your own Wikipedia page. The question is, how can you go about it?
Options for Editing Your Wikipedia Page
You generally have three choices when getting your Wikipedia page edited. Note the phrasing, you’ll see why in a moment.
Option 1: Editing it yourself in plain view. By disclosing your connection to the business, sticking to factual edits with unbiased sources, and making no attempt to hide your association, you can get away with more than you might expect. People will likely give your edits more scrutiny, and there will be a warning that edits with a close association to the subject are discouraged, but it’s still possible to do.
This option is fine if you’re making minor edits and generally trying to stay factual. The primary risk is simply that an editor might decide that your page isn’t noteworthy enough to keep and removes the whole thing. Still, if you don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself, you may be able to keep up with factual edits with no issues.
Option 2: Editing it yourself while hiding your association. The primary ways Wikipedia uses to detect association are generally name-based and IP-based. For example, if you’re editing your Wikipedia page and your IP address traces back to your headquarters, it’s pretty obvious it’s you or a member of your staff. Likewise, if Justin Trudeau’s page was being edited by a user named ‘JTrudeau’, you can probably assume he’s editing his page.
Many people choose to obfuscate their association with the pages they edit. By choosing an unrelated screenname and using a VPN or a proxy to edit from a different IP address, you can often hide that connection. At that point, your edits will only receive the same scrutiny other people do. Unfortunately, one mistake can bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
Option 3: Hire a Wikipedia editor. There are perhaps thousands of Wikipedia editors who sell their services on the side. This is also against the Wikipedia rules, but it’s much harder to detect, and often passes under the radar.
The best option is none of the above; it’s to hire a reputation management company to handle the issue for you. A good reputation management firm can approach the problem from two angles. On one hand, they have editors on staff who can make edits to pages without suspicion. On the other, they can establish content on other websites entirely, which can then be used as cited sources, giving their edits more legitimacy. On top of that, they can deal with other reputation issues for you. It’s no wonder that it’s the best option.
If you have any additional comments, questions, or concerns regarding Wikipedia page editing, reputation management, or otherwise, feel free to reach out to us for assistance at any time!