A few months back we ran a basic guide to Wikipedia editing for beginners. In the wake of a scandal this week involving presenter Naomi Robson and her manager Max Markson, it seems worth revisiting the topic of Wikipedia policies.
The full story of the scandal first emerged on media site Mumbrella, but in a nutshell, Markson (a well-known publicist) removed large sections of Robson’s Wikipedia entry last week, just prior to her launching an online-only dating show. Markson was quite open about this — he revealed his actions on the discussion page for the article — but failed to realise that Wikipedia’s volunteer community were likely to notice and revert those changes, as indeed they did.
One of Wikipedia’s core rules is “assume good faith”, so we should assume that Markson wasn’t aware of the relevant policies. So here they are in case he (or anyone else) wants to learn how to be a better Wikipedia citizen.
Avoid editing entries in which you have a personal involvement. Markson has made no secret of his professional relationship with Robson, but Wikipedia discourages individuals from editing material that’s directly about them or closely-related people or entities. That doesn’t mean they can’t contribute, but the suggested approach is to raise the issue on the article discussion page and let the actual changes be made by someone else, to ensure neutrality.
Wikipedia’s biographies of living people policy emphasises that potentially libellous material should be removed, and in that instance the conflict of interest rule doesn’t necessarily apply. Since, however, much of the objectionable material was sourced to contemporary, third-party reports, the wholesale deletion Markson attempted wasn’t justified (and was quickly reverted). That’s not to say that a more nuanced edit of that material wouldn’t be justified, but again, this is best not performed by someone who is being paid to do so.
Provide reliable sources so information can be verified. As noted above, this is an important step, even for apparently minor details. One of Markson’s changes was to alter Robson’s date of birth, making her appear younger. He didn’t provide any source for his information, and no source was provided for the earlier version either, so it’s impossible to tell if he was correcting a genuine error or attempting to make his client look younger. A reliable source — which means a reputable publication, whether in print or online — would have solved that problem definitively.
Messing with Wikipedia becomes material for Wikipedia. One cynical school of thought holds that Markson’s entire strategy was to get noticed editing Wikipedia, thus ensuring further publicity. Even assuming that were true, it’s rather counter-productive, since the entire editing incident itself is likely to end up being referenced in the article once it has been documented by external, reliable sources. Result? More material for the controversies section, not less.
If there’s a pleasing outcome to this incident, it’s the fact that (so far) Markson’s attempted edits haven’t resulted in the article becoming unbalanced in the direction of sugar-coating, proving that Wikipedia’s volunteer-supervised model can work. As ever, though, that relies on helpers, so if you make regular use of the site, also make regular contributions to it.
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