Wikipedia: the perpetual motion native ad machine

Adland: 

Native advertising has been all the rage for some time now, with publications like Buzzfeed touring ad agencies to convince them to hand the creative reigns over to their "viral making" millennials who spend all day poisoning the well with borrowed images & listicles. Site networks like Gawker want to create hip animations for IBM as a creative shop in one end, and then chew Intel out in editorials on the other. Forbes lends its masthead to blogs written by people who work in industries like advertising and PR, and readers see it as "Forbes", not as written by people who may have an agenda. CNN lets anyone post iCNN articles, and spammers hope that these articles stick when people don't spot that it's user generated content and mistake it for real news, a trick famously used when Draft tried to seed the Alpha1 fake stunt. The border between journalist's work, editorial pieces, bloggers content and paid for content has blurred to the point of not even existing anymore, when even the New York Times, formerly a bastion of journalistic ethics, now has an entire "branded content" department.

Neil Macdonald, a senior correspondent at CBC writes in "Ads masquerading as journalism, the slippery slope of branded content" that deception of readers is causing him major concern these days. It bothers me too, advertising was never about deception, it was always about selling something, and you don't need to lie to do this. Advertising is information in the right context. This phrase seems to have mutated in recent years, now clients can go straight to the famous mastheads and ask them to place this information in a piece that the consumer finds interesting to read. Bye ad agencies, the media powerhouses are doing it for themselves.

Evangelists for the old ways, people like the author and editor Andrew Sullivan, are appalled.
Sullivan's case against native advertisement is powerful and succinct."It is advertising that is portraying itself as journalism, simple as that," he told me recently.
"It is an act of deception of the readers and consumers of media who believe they're reading the work of an independent journalist."
Advertisers, he says, want to buy the integrity built up over decades by journalists and which, in the past, was kept at arm's length.
Now they will happily pay to imitate it: "The whole goal is you not being able to tell the difference."

In a media climate where online banners aren't clicked on, subscriptions are dead, the only way to survive is to become part of a larger network, and to whittle staff down to the bare minimum having them regurgitate stories seen in other outlets without doing any independent research of their own...A perpetual motion machine has appeared that if skillfully used by creative PR, can ensure that your brand is seen in thousands of media outlets. Without you having to do anything other that get the ball rolling. I'll prove it to you, dear reader, using an article about the Wikipedia. I don't mean "creative PR" like best job in the world, I mean it like today is a good day to bury news.

On the 23rd of January, another bastion of journalism once famous for its accurate reporting, published an article with the headline: "Wikipedia bans five editors from gender-related articles amid gamergate controversy". It continues to explain: 'The sanction bars the five editors from having anything to do with any articles covering Gamergate, but also from any other article about “gender or sexuality, broadly construed”.' The problem was that no such thing had ever happened. Today the article carries an update and the headline has changed to: Wikipedia votes to ban some editors from gender-related articles. The update reads:

This article was amended on 28 January 2015. An earlier version gave the impression that the bans had been finalised, and a quotation suggested that no pro-gamergate editors had been banned from the site, and that no feminist editors remained active.

Now, the first article, as it was a The Guardian article spawned thousands of articles like it around the world. Gawker: Wikipedia Purged a Group of Feminist Editors Because of Gamergate, Jezebel: Wikipedia is banning feminist authors from gender-related articles., Bust : Wikipedia Tries To Ban Feminists From Editing GamerGate Entries, Thinkprogress: Wikipedia Wants To Ban Feminists From Editing GamerGate Articles , Rawstory: Wikipedia bans five editors from gender-related articles amid #Gamergate controversy, The Mary Sue: Wikipedia Has Banned Five Feminist Editors From Gamergate Articles & More.
All of these articles are based off the Guardian article, which was based on a blog post by Mark Bernstein, who "was topic banned by Gamaliel and later blocked by HJ Mitchell" on the very Wikipedia topic he was blogging about, see GamerGate arbitration case. The Wikipedia Foundation itself had to publish a post stating "Several press stories have mistakenly claimed that Wikipedia has targeted and banned feminist or female editors. This is inaccurate.", but as the saying goes; a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. The five feminist editors who never existed, now exist because the Guardian said so.

This has exposed what many have known for a long time, Wikipedia is run by editing cabals and modern journalists and bloggers regurgitate what's been written elsewhere with snazzier headlines, without checking accuracy. A blog post or Reddit thread can be the basis for an article in the Guardian. The Guardian, a reputable source, is then used in the Wikipedia. Since factual inaccuracies by reputable sources are fine to use in the Wikipedia, we ended up with The ArbitrationGate controversy Wikipedia page, and the fight to speedy delete it, because it mocked the Wikipedia vulnerability of allowing factual inaccuracies as long as they came from reputable sources.

With so many journalists & bloggers heading straight for the Wikipedia to learn about a topic, any factoid that makes it to a Wikipedia page is bound to be repeated indefinitely in the press. This isn't new, we wrote about the Wikipedia prankster gets made up facts published in the Mirror in 2008. With the current barely marked "native advertising" trend on famous mastheads, and the decline of fact checking it's easier than ever to inject your brand into a news story. That news story can then be quoted by the Wikipedia, which in turn gets quoted by more news stories. Ladies and gentlemen, the snake that eats itself is a perpetual motion native ad machine. Like the Energizer bunny, it can keep going, and going... It's simply up to you to use it, by pitching your clients in conjunction with news events as often as you can.
This has been the reigning strategy of some PR firms for a long time, I'm just saying that it's never been easier to hit the jackpot when relying on such tactics than it is now. With Wikipedia being consistently the top hit in google on any given topic, it has become more than the holy grail to be found in, it can actually shape the news.


Full disclosure; Adland's wikipedia page was somehow caught up in all this with a nomination for speedy deletion created by the Wikipedia editor who was later banned from the Wikipedia in the very Arbcom case the Guardian wrote about.


Image from wikipedia. Larger screendump of the Arbitrationgate page here.

Comments (5)

  • Vinzenz Stemberg's picture
    Vinzenz Stemberg (not verified)

    boy oh boy, remember the good ol' days when SEO bombing was considered a bad thing and NOBODY trusted websites at the top? Aaah, those were the days....The days of Askjeeves, Altavista, and of a google that actually delivered you the article or page you wanted, not the one they wanted to sell to you.

    Feb 05, 2015
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    Do also read: The Wikipedia Ouroboros - The online encyclopedia chews up and spits out bad facts, and its own policies are letting it happen at Slate. David Auerbach skewers the Guardian for its poor reporting and failure to correct its factually inaccurate article:

    Nobody had been banned. But according to the Guardian article, the sky was falling: Five editors who were “attempting to prevent the article from being rewritten with a pro-Gamergate slant” had been banned in a feminist purge, signaling doom for women on Wikipedia.
    The article’s hyperbole and defeatism frustrated me. Viral outrage stories don’t just travel quickly through the Internet, but they also reproduce themselves, fanning out into a swath of pointless anger. This happens whether the story is true or false, since truth has little friction on a story’s spread. I saw the first flames on Twitter, as people expressed their disappointment and said they were cutting off their donations to Wikipedia. I sent a correction to the Guardian and badgered it on Twitter. I even resorted to catchy visuals, to no avail.

    Feb 05, 2015
  • Avono's picture
    Avono (not verified)

    Correction for your disclosure: Your Article was put on Articles for Deletion not "Speedy Deletion" (CSD)

    Feb 05, 2015
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    ah yes, AFD not CSD, which I only just learned about. Strike applied. FWIW, I did get it right in tweets.

    Feb 06, 2015
  • sport's picture
    sport

    Wikipedia is the clearest example of a Web 2.0 scam. Have millions of people working for free on your product so that you become a millionaire without having to do anything, except reaping all the credit. It is also the easiest tool for proto-fascists to achieve 1984-esque levels of history manipulation without having to actually work in creating and financially supporting a product. They just program a bot and it does all the work for them.

    Sep 20, 2016

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm after growing up in Kiruna, Raleigh and Jiddah.