Companies struggle to correct faulty Wikipedia entries

Well, bang goes the lazy journalist’s version of research: a survey has found that a whacking 60 percent of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors.

Some have been very entertaining indeed: the edit which depicted Microsoft founder Bill Gates as a devil, for example, or the one which – some would say accurately – described Bernie Madoff as ‘a very clever asshole who stole shitloads of money’.

But, says the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which has carried out a survey of 1,284 public relations professionals, it’s making their lives very difficult.

When respondents tried to engage editors through Wikipedia’s ‘Talk’ pages to request factual corrections, 12 percent said it took weeks to get a response – and a quarter never heard back at all.

Only 35 percent actually got any response, either through the Talk pages or by directly editing of a client’s entry.

Of those who were familiar with the process of editing Wikipedia entries, 23 percent said making changes was ‘near impossible’, and 29 percent said their interactions with Wikipedia editors were ‘never productive’.

The PRSA says it’s also discovered that PR people barely understand Wikipedia’s rules for editing.

“It does not surprise me that so many Wikipedia entries contain factual errors. What is surprising, however, is that 25 percent of survey respondents indicated they are not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients,” says Marcia DiStaso, co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee and an assistant professor  at Penn State University.

“At some point most, if not all, companies will determine they need to change something in their Wikipedia entries. Without clear, consistent rules from Wikipedia regarding how factual corrections can be made this will be a very difficult learning process for public relations professionals.”