Wikipedia is no stranger to scandals, but a quiet update on its administrators’ announcement board reveals a big problem. The site’s CheckUser team recently banned 381 editors’ accounts for “undisclosed paid advocacy.” In other words, these Wikipedians were secretly shilling for brands and even resorting to extortion.
The scam is relatively straightforward. Using sockpuppet accounts, the fraudster editors would create complete but unpublished articles about anything from Bitcoin casinos to rock bands. They’d then approach the subject of the article and offer to publish it for a fee. If the subject agreed, the page would go live, and the Wikipedia editors would then offer the subject of the article an insurance policy of sorts. For about $30 a month, they’d “protect the article from vandalism and prevent its deletion.” That’s kind of like how you can pay off the mafia so that you don’t get robbed.