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The FTC’s guide Dot Com Disclosures specifies that “disclosures must be communicated effectively so that consumers are likely to notice and understand them in connection with the representations that the disclosures modify.” For state law implications, see, e.g., N.Y. Attorney General’s 2013 investigation regarding companies engaging in astroturfing.
Laws applicable outside the US may also prohibit non-disclosure of paid contributions. The EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (and the corresponding national versions) ban the practice of “[u]sing editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer” and “[f]alsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer.” National legislation of EU member states may further restrict undisclosed paid contributions, such as through local competition laws, and, for similar reasons, local national courts may find violations in failing to disclose one’s affiliation on Wikipedia in the proper way. Indeed, government authorities may require disclosures of paid editing that are impossible to execute on Wikipedia — such as disclosures by businesses in the article itself to ensure notice to the reader; in such cases, paid editing is not allowed on the Wikimedia sites.
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There is an extreme likelihood that contributions which are paid for, but intentionally not disclosed as such, do not serve the public interest in a fair and beneficial manner. When considering the value of the contribution of content to the public on balance with the value of dissemination of the content, there is at least an implied conflict of interest that the balance will tend to serve the more private interests of the paid contributor. If it is accepted that this is the case more often than not, it is hard to imagine the expected outcome as a net positive for Wikipedia.
As repeated real life examples illustrate, undisclosed paid editing can have the unintended effect of causing negative public relations issues for companies, clients, and individuals. The press follows such stories closely. Failing to include a disclosure with a paid contribution may lead to a loss of trust with the broader public as well as the Wikimedia community. To maintain goodwill and to avoid misunderstandings, transparency and friendly cooperation is the best policy for those being compensated for Wikimedia contributions.
To avoid embarrassment, be sure to follow local policies regarding paid contributions, such as Wikipedia:Conflict of interest for the English Wikipedia.
How will community enforcement of these obligations work with existing rules about privacy and behavior?
This requirement, like others, should be applied constructively to enable collaboration and improve our projects. Users who violate them should first be warned and informed about these rules, and then only blocked if necessary. In other words: assume good faith and don’t bite the newcomers.
If an editor wishes to avoid the disclosure requirement of this amendment, they should abstain from receiving compensation for their edits.
How will this provision affect teachers, professors, and employees of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (“GLAM”)?
The intent of these requirements is not to discourage teachers, professors, or those working at galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (“GLAM”) institutions from making contributions in good faith. Disclosure is only required when contributors are compensated by their employer or client specifically for edits and uploads to a Wikimedia project. For example, if a professor at University X is paid directly by University X to write about that university on Wikipedia, the professor needs to disclose that the contribution is compensated. There is a direct quid pro quo exchange: money for edits. If that professor is simply paid a salary for teaching and conducting research, and is only encouraged by her university to contribute to projects about topics of general interest without more specific instruction, that professor does not need to disclose her affiliation with the university.
The same is true with GLAM employees. Disclosure is only necessary where compensation has been promised or received in exchange for a particular contribution. A museum employee who is contributing to projects about topics of his general interest without more specific instruction from the museum need not disclose his affiliation with the museum. At the same time, when required, a simple disclosure that one is a paid Wikipedian in Residence with a particular museum, for example, would be sufficient disclosure for purposes of the proposed amendment.
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As used in this provision, “compensation” means an exchange of money, goods, or services.
What does the phrase “employer, client, and affiliation” mean?
This means the person or organization that is paying you compensation — money, goods, or services — with respect to any contribution to a Wikimedia project. This could be a business, a charity, an educational institution, a government department or another individual, for example. The disclosure requirement is simple, and requires you to provide this information in one of the three ways described above. If you are editing an article on Wikipedia on behalf of your employer, for example, you must disclose your employer’s details. If you have been hired by a public relations firm to edit Wikipedia, you must disclose both the firm and the firm’s client. If you are a compensated Wikimedian in residence, for example, you must note the details of the GLAM organisation that is paying you.
Are paid editing disclosures required only when editing Wikipedia articles?
No, you must disclose your employment, client, and affiliation when making any type of paid contribution to any Wikimedia project. This includes edits on talk pages and edits on projects other than Wikipedia. That said, a simple disclosure on your user page satisfies this minimum requirement.
Does this provision mean that paid contributions are always allowed as long as I make the disclosure?
Does this mean that Wikimedia projects must change their policies?
No, unless their policies are inconsistent with these minimum requirements. Wikimedia projects are free to change their policies to reference this requirement or require stricter requirements for paid contributions. We encourage users to be respectful of user privacy and not harass others, even in cases of suspected paid contributions. For example, under the English Wikipedia policy on harassment, users must not publicly share personal information about other users.
How should I disclose paid contributions in my user page?
How should I disclose paid contributions in my edit summary?
You may represent your employer, affiliation, and client in the edit summary box before you “save” your edit or contribution. For example, before saving your edits to a Wikipedia article about your client, Jordan Smith, you may write this note in the edit summary box: “Jordan Smith has hired me to update their Wikipedia article” or “I work for Jordan Smith.”
How should I disclose paid contributions on a talk page?
You may represent your employer, affiliation, and client in the relevant talk page either before, or immediately after, you “save” your edit or contribution.
Do I have to disclose the details of the compensation I am receiving?
You do not have to disclose the amount or type of compensation you are receiving for editing; the minimum required is that you disclose your employer, client, and affiliation.
Does the Wikimedia Foundation encourage or accept paid advocacy editing?
WMF feels that paid advocacy editing is a significant problem that threatens the trust of Wikimedia’s readers, as our Executive Director said in her statement on paid advocacy editing. This proposal does not change that position.
However, it is hard to solve the problem of paid advocacy editing without accidentally discouraging good-faith editors, like the various GLAM (gallery, library, archive, and museum) projects. Because of this difficulty, this amendment takes a simple approach: requiring straightforward disclosure of information. This does not mean that paid-advocacy editing is acceptable! Instead, we think that the best way to attack the complex problem while still encouraging new good faith contributions is to combine this pro-transparency requirement with per-project policies that use this new information to make nuanced, difficult case-by-case judgments. We hope that this will lead to the best outcome by combining each Wikimedian’s ability to handle nuance and complexity with the resources of the Foundation (when that is absolutely necessary).
Also the proposed amendment makes clear that “community and Foundation policies, such as those addressing conflicts of interest, may further limit paid contributions or require more detailed disclosure.” This provision gives the community discretion to further limit paid editing, including paid advocacy editing, according to the needs of the specific project. That is, the proposed amendment is a minimal requirement, but the community may impose greater restrictions or bans.
- Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(2) (2006).
- Federal Trade Commission Act; 16 C.F.R. § 255.5, example 8, p.12.
- Parino v. Bidrack, Inc., 838 F. Supp. 2d 900, 905 (N.D. Cal. 2011) (plaintiff’s allegations, including defendant’s creation and use of fake reviews on website, were sufficient to bring a claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law)
- Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament (Annex I, points 11 and 22).