Submissions/Can Conflicts of Interest (COI) be aligned with the Wikimedia project?

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2015.

Submission no.
Title of the submission
Can Conflicts of Interest (COI) be aligned with the Wikimedia project?
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Discussion / roundtable
Author of the submission
William Beutler (User:WWB) and Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado)
E-mail address,, all interested parties welcome
WWB, Fuzheado
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
  • Beutler Ink,
  • American University, Wikimedia DC
  • (Seeking editor from WikiProject Integrity)
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

This roundtable will gather community members and communications professionals to discuss how paid and COI-motivated editors means for the future of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects. This session builds on the Wikimania 2014 panel "We Need to Talk About Paid Editing" by moving from an initial discussion of paid editing to a broader set of participants. Since at least 2006, Wikipedia has wrestled with the implications of paid and self-interested editing of Wikipedia, with several attempts to ban this activity in English Wikipedia and moderately successful attempts to regulate it. Yet the community still has a wide variety of contradictory views about permitted COI activity, which continues today in paid and unpaid, disclosed and undisclosed ways. This session seeks to advance a conversation that some find scary, others find tedious, and yet will continue to be a major issue for concern so long as Wikipedia remains in a powerful position to shape public opinion in every topic it covers.

Wikimania 2014 - We Need to Talk about Paid Editing: Sorting Out Wikipedia's Most Enduring Argument - Aug 10, 2014. Panel at Wikimania 2014 with Andrew Lih, Christophe Henner and William Beutler.

Wikipedia’s intention to be the "encyclopedia anyone can edit" contains the inevitable possibility that conflicts of interest will arise. The Conflict of interest guideline has existed on Wikipedia in some form since 2004, and as recently as 2014 the Wikimedia Foundation updated its "terms of use" to deal with problems related to paid editing activity. That same year, a number of public relations firms released a joint "Statement on Wikipedia from participating communications firms" pledging to follow Wikipedia’s guidelines.

On the English Wikipedia, rules erected to ward off these problems contain their own problematic contradictions. For example, the "conflict of interest" guideline advises that "when advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest". This guideline implies the ability to determine the motivations for an edit, and conflicts with the official WP:NPA policy that states one should "Comment on content, not on the contributor". Likewise, the official WP:OUTING policy forbids the posting of identifying information of editors who have chosen to use pseudonyms and, being one of the most seriously enforced rules on Wikipedia, it has presented challenges to identifying undisclosed paid editing networks.

Meanwhile, different language editions of Wikipedia have chosen to go another path, especially the German and Swedish Wikipedias, which have created rules that seek to accommodate input from companies and organizations. Likewise in other editions, partnerships have been formed between chapters, academics and companies to develop Wikipedia. Notably, Wikimedia Italia and Telecom Italia have partnered to develop encyclopedia content.

Questions about paid vs unpaid conflicts have also vexed the community with debates about the propriety of bounty boards and crowdsourced funding for Wikipedia editing, while efforts like the Kickstarter-funded Vanamo Online Game Museum were widely praised. This roundtable will aim to explore what the future may bring, discuss best practices across projects and language communities, and what lessons can be drawn from these past experiences.


This roundtable will seek to address a number of questions, including:

  • How might COI editors offer something of value to the community beyond the current status quo?
  • Can a meaningful distinction be made between what is acceptable interested editing and unacceptable advocacy?
  • What are the best practices from other language communities and Wikimedia projects that add to our understanding of how COI editing could work well?
  • Has anything useful resulted from the "Statement on Wikipedia" by major PR firms?
  • What does the community think of Jimmy Wales' "Bright Line" approach to dealing with paid advocacy, in which paid editors are permitted to participate on Talk pages, and volunteers are encouraged to help?
  • Are there lessons to be drawn from the GLAM movement, or partnerships like those made by the WikiProject Med Foundation and Wiki Education Foundation?
  • Is there anything to be done about undisclosed "black hat" paid edits?
  • Or should we be talking about something more important?
Related materials
WikiCulture & Community
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
60 minutes (if possible)
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
Special requests

Interested attendees

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  1. CT Cooper · talk 17:35, 1 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  2. KrystleChung (talk) 20:26, 1 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  3. Ocaasi (talk) 16:49, 2 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  4. -Another Believer (talk) 18:41, 4 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  5. Risker (talk) 02:29, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  6. Varnent (talk) 22:01, 8 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  7. GeorgeLouis (talk) 21:24, 14 March 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  8. Marcio De Assis (talk) 15:06, 21 June 2015 (UTC)[reply]
  9. --Ліонкінг (talk) 06:37, 17 July 2015 (UTC)[reply]
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