Wikipedia Consulting

The myth of the all-volunteer-edited Wikipedia

Paid editors utilize Wikipedia’s reach for businesses

True or false: All articles on Wikipedia are written by dedicated volunteers.

Answer: False.

Wikipedia, a knowledge site based upon fact, is itself the subject of many myths. One such myth is the often repeated “truism” that it is written and edited entirely by volunteers.

Yet the mainstream media continues to perpetuate this idealistic view of Wikipedia’s content. Just the other day, CBS News, in an article about Wikipedia’s most prolific author, wrote the following: “The online encyclopedia now boasts more than 5.7 million articles in English and millions more translated into other languages – all written by online volunteers.” (emphasis added)

The founders of the site encourage this myth because it supports what Wikipedia was supposed to be: A collaboration of volunteers. It is true that much of the editing is done by volunteers.


Paid Wikipedia editors exist

But paid editors, who are editing in a Conflict of Interest by Wikipedia standards, create and edit a considerable number of the articles contained in Wikipedia. Further, paid editing, while discouraged by Wikipedia’s rules, is permissible as long as the editing is well done, by Wikipedia standards.

How many articles are created and edited by paid editors? Impossible to say. Much of the paid editing is done under the radar by people who don’t disclose who they are or that they are being paid to edit. But the volunteer editing corps has been unable to stem the tide of paid editing.

The rise of a paid editing corps within Wikipedia’s editing ranks was inevitable once its significance as a marketing vehicle became clear. Wikipedia’s creators succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. But it has ballooned far beyond its creators’ control.

Now, paid editors are making valid contributions every day.


Volunteer editors struggle to control paid editing

Currently, Wikipedia’s top editors are fighting a battle of containment. These editors have made numerous attempts to reach an official compromise on paid editing.

Beginning in 2009, they debated a set of paid editing guidelines that would allow volunteer editors, as well as the usual hired guns, to be paid to write articles under certain circumstances. The proposal failed when voted on in 2017. But the issue continues to surface.

The paid editing banner is among the latest attempts to control it. Wikipedia’s rules now require paid editors to post a banner on their user pages acknowledging that they are paid to edit.

This is yet one more concession by the volunteer base that paid editing exists and will likely always be part of the matrix.  

Paid writers are not going away. But most of them want their contributions to enhance, not undermine, Wikipedia’s credibility. In most cases, they simply do not understand Wikipedia’s rules of engagement.

The challenge for Wikipedia is not to police its editing ranks, but to educate editors and encourage best practices, regardless of whether the editor is a volunteer or a hired writer.

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