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Wikipedia:Conflict of interest

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Conflict of interest (COI) editing involves contributing to Wikipedia about yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships. Any external relationship can trigger a conflict of interest. That someone has a conflict of interest is a description of a situation, not a judgment about that person's opinions, integrity, or good faith.

COI editing is strongly discouraged on Wikipedia. It undermines public confidence and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and companies being promoted. Editors with a COI are sometimes unaware of whether or how much it has influenced their editing. If COI editing causes disruption, an administrator may opt to place blocks on the involved accounts.

Editors with a COI, including paid editors, are expected to disclose it whenever they seek to change an affected article's content. Anyone editing for pay must disclose who is paying them, who the client is, and any other relevant affiliation; this is a requirement of the Wikimedia Foundation. Also, COI editors should not edit affected articles directly, but propose changes on article talk pages instead.

When investigating COI editing, do not reveal the identity of editors against their wishes. Wikipedia's policy against harassment, in particular the prohibition against disclosing personal information, takes precedence over this guideline. Editors discussing changes to this guideline should disclose whether they have been paid to edit Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's positionEdit

Purpose of WikipediaEdit

As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia's mission is to provide the public with articles that summarize accepted knowledge, written neutrally and sourced reliably. Readers expect to find neutral articles written independently of their subject, not corporate or personal webpages, or platforms for advertising and self-promotion. Articles should contain only material that complies with Wikipedia's content policies and best practices, and Wikipedians must place the interests of the encyclopedia and its readers above personal concerns.

COI editingEdit

Editors with a COI should follow Wikipedia policies and best practices scrupulously:

  • you should disclose your COI when involved with affected articles;
  • you are strongly discouraged from editing affected articles directly;
  • you may propose changes on talk pages (by using the {{request edit}} template), or by posting a note at the COI noticeboard, so that they can be peer reviewed;
  • you should put new articles through the Articles for Creation (AfC) process instead of creating them directly;
  • you should not act as a reviewer of affected article(s) at AfC, new pages patrol or elsewhere;
  • you should respect other editors by keeping discussions concise.

Note that no one on Wikipedia controls articles. If Wikipedia hosts an article about you or your organization, others may add information that would otherwise remain little known. They may also decide to delete the article or decide to keep it should you later request deletion. The media has several times drawn attention to companies that engage in COI editing on Wikipedia (see Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia), which has led to embarrassment for the organization concerned.

Edit

An editor has a financial conflict of interest when they write about a topic with which they have a close financial relationship. This includes being an owner, employee, contractor, investor or other stakeholder. Being paid to contribute to Wikipedia is one form of financial COI; it places the paid editor in a conflict between their employer's goals and Wikipedia's goals. The kind of paid editing of most concern to the community involves using Wikipedia for public relations and marketing purposes. Sometimes called "paid advocacy", this is problematic because it invariably reflects the interests of the client or employer. The Wikimedia Foundation requires that all paid editing be disclosed.

If you receive or expect to receive compensation (money, goods or services) for your contributions to Wikipedia:

  • you must disclose who is paying you, on whose behalf the edits are made, and any other relevant affiliation;
  • you should make the disclosure on your user page, on affected talk pages, and whenever you discuss the topic;
  • you are very strongly discouraged from editing affected articles directly.
  • you may propose changes on talk pages (by using the {{request edit}} template), or by posting a note at the COI noticeboard), so that they can be peer reviewed;
  • you should put new articles through the Articles for Creation (AfC) process instead of creating them directly;
  • you should not act as a reviewer of affected article(s) at AfC, new pages patrol or elsewhere;
  • you should respect volunteers by keeping discussions concise (see PAYTALK).

If you are an administrator, you must not use administrative tools for any paid-editing activity (except when related to work as a Wikipedian-in-residence, or as someone paid by the Wikimedia Foundation or an affiliate).

Requested edits are subject to the same standards as any other, and editors may decline to act on them. To find an article's talk page, click the "talk" button at the top of the article. See WP:TEAHOUSE if you have questions about these things.

Wikimedia Foundation terms of useEdit

The Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use require that editors who are being paid for their contributions disclose their employer (the person or organization who is paying for the edits); the client (the person or organization on whose behalf the edits are made); and any other relevant affiliation. This is the policy of the English Wikipedia.

How to disclose a COIEdit

General COIEdit

If you become involved in an article where you have any COI, you should always let other editors know about it, whenever and where ever you discuss the topic. If you want to use a template to do this, place {{connected contributor}} at the top of the affected talk page, fill it in as follows, and save:

Connected contributor template
{{Connected contributor|User1=Your username |U1-declared=yes| U1-otherlinks=(Optional) Insert relevant affiliations, disclosures, article drafts or diffs showing COI contributions.}}

Note that someone else may add this for you. You can also make a statement in the edit summary of any COI contribution. If you want to note the COI on your user page, you can use the {{UserboxCOI}} template:

UserboxCOI template

Edit your user page and type {{UserboxCOI|1=Wikipedia article name}}, then click "save".

Example
For a COI editor's talk-page declaration, see Talk:Steve Jobs

If you propose significant or potentially controversial changes to an affected article, you can use the {{request edit}} template. Place this at the bottom of the talk page and state your suggestion beneath it (be sure to sign it with four tildes, ~~~~). If the proposal is verifiable and appropriate, it will usually be accepted. If it is declined, the editor declining the request will usually add an explanation below your entry.

Edit

If you are being paid for your contributions to Wikipedia, you must declare who is paying you, who the client is, and any other relevant role or relationship. You may do this on your user page, on the talk page of affected articles, or in your edit summaries. As you have a conflict of interest, you must ensure everyone with whom you interact is aware of your paid status, in all discussions on Wikipedia pages within any namespace. If you want to use a template to disclose your COI on a talk page, place {{connected contributor (paid)}} at the top of the page, fill it in as follows, and save:

Connected contributor (paid) template
{{Connected contributor (paid)|User1=Username of the paid editor|U1-employer=Name of person/organization that is paying for the edits|U1-client= Name of client|U1-otherlinks=Insert diff to disclosure on your User page.}}
Example
For a paid editor's talk-page declaration, see Talk:Mia Farrow.

The employer is whoever is paying you to be involved in the article (such as a PR company). The client is on whose behalf the payment is made (usually the subject of the article). If the employer and client are the same entity—that is, if Acme Corporation is paying you to write about Acme Corporation—the client parameter may be left empty. See {{connected contributor (paid)}} for more information. Note that other editors may add this template for you.

You are expected to maintain a clearly visible list on your user page of your paid contributions. If you propose changes to an affected article, you can use the {{request edit}} template. Post it on the talk page and make your suggestion underneath it. Paid editors must respect the volunteer nature of the project and keep discussions concise; see WP:PAYTALK.

What is conflict of interest?Edit

External roles and relationshipsEdit

While editing Wikipedia, an editor's primary role is to further the interests of the encyclopedia. When an external role or relationship could reasonably be said to undermine that primary role, the editor has a conflict of interest. (Similarly, a judge's primary role as an impartial adjudicator is undermined if she is married to the defendant.)

Any external relationship—personal, religious, political, academic, legal, or financial (including holding a cryptocurrency)—can trigger a COI. How close the relationship needs to be before it becomes a concern on Wikipedia is governed by common sense. For example, an article about a band should not be written by the band's manager, and a biography should not be an autobiography or written by the subject's spouse.

Subject-matter experts (SMEs) are welcome on Wikipedia within their areas of expertise, subject to the guidance below on financial conflict of interest and on citing your work. SMEs are expected to make sure that their external roles and relationships in their field of expertise do not interfere with their primary role on Wikipedia.

COI is not simply biasEdit

Determining that someone has a COI is a description of a situation. It is not a judgment about that person's state of mind or integrity. A COI can exist in the absence of bias, and bias regularly exists in the absence of a COI. Beliefs and desires may lead to biased editing, but they do not constitute a COI. COI emerges from an editor's roles and relationships, and the tendency to bias that we assume exists when those roles and relationships conflict.

Why is conflict of interest a problem?Edit

On Wikipedia, editors with a conflict of interest who unilaterally add material tend to violate Wikipedia's content and behavioral policies and guidelines. The content they add is typically unsourced or poorly sourced and often violates the neutral point of view policy by being promotional and omitting negative information. They may edit war to retain content that serves their external interest.

Actual, potential and apparent COIEdit

An actual COI exists when an editor has a COI with respect to a certain judgment and is in a position where the judgment must be exercised.

Example: A business owner has an actual COI if he edits articles and engages in discussions about that business.

A potential COI exists when an editor has a COI with respect to a certain judgment but is not in a position where the judgment must be exercised.

Example: A business owner has a potential COI with respect to articles and discussions about that business, but she has no actual COI if she stays away from those pages.

An apparent COI exists when there is reason to believe that an editor has a COI.

Example: Editors have an apparent COI if they edit an article about a business, and for some reason they appear to be the business owner, although they may actually have no such connection. Apparent COI causes bad feeling within the community and should be resolved through discussion whenever possible.

Dealing with edit requests from COI or paid editorsEdit

Responding to requestsEdit

Editors responding to edit requests from paid editors are expected to do so carefully, particularly when commercial interests are involved. When large amounts of text are added to an article on behalf of the article subject, the article has, in effect, been ghostwritten by the subject without the readers' knowledge. Responding volunteers should therefore carefully check the proposed text and sources. That an article has been expanded does not mean that it is better.

  • Make sure the proposed paid text complies with WP:WEIGHT.
  • Look for unnecessary detail that may have been added to overwhelm something negative.
  • Make sure nothing important is missing. Responding editors should do their own search for independent sources. Do not rely on the sources offered by the paid editor.
  • Look for non-neutral language and unsourced or poorly sourced content.
  • Be cautious about accepting content based on WP:SPS such as a personal website, or primary sources such as a company website or press release.
  • If the paid text is added to the article, the edit summary should include full attribution; for example: "Text inserted on behalf of paid editor User:X; copied from Draft:Paid draft." See WP:COIATTRIBUTE below.

Attribution in edit summariesEdit

If editors choose to add material to an article on behalf of a COI or paid editor, they must provide attribution for the text in the edit summary. The edit summary should include the name of the COI or paid editor, a link to the draft or edit request, and that the edit contains a COI or paid contribution. For example: "Text inserted on behalf of paid editor User:X; copied from Draft:Paid draft." This transparency helps editors and readers to determine the extent of COI influence on the article. It also complies with copyright requirements.

Edit

Paid editors must respect the volunteer nature of the project and keep discussions concise. When proposing changes to an article, they should describe the suggested modifications and explain why the changes should be made. Any changes that may be contentious, such as removal of negative text, should be highlighted.

Before being drawn into long exchanges with paid editors, volunteers should be aware that paid editors may be submitting evidence of their talk-page posts to justify their salaries or fees. No editor should be expected to engage in long or repetitive discussions with someone who is being paid to argue with them. Editors who refuse to accept a consensus by arguing ad nauseam may find themselves in violation of the disruptive-editing guideline.

Copyright of paid contributionsEdit

Editors are reminded that any text they contribute to Wikipedia, assuming they own the copyright, is irrevocably licensed under a Creative Commons-Attribution-Sharealike license and the GNU Free Documentation License. Content on Wikipedia, including article drafts and talk-page comments, can be freely copied and modified by third parties for commercial and non-commercial use, with the sole requirement that it be attributed to Wikipedia contributors.

Paid editors must ensure that they own the copyright of text they have been paid to add to Wikipedia; otherwise they are unable to release it. A text's author is normally assumed to be the copyright holder. Companies sometimes provide paid editors with text written by someone else. Alternatively, a paid editor might write text for Wikipedia within the scope of their employment (a "work for hire"), in which case copyright resides with the employer.

Where there is doubt that the paid editor owns the copyright, they (or the employer or author) are advised to forward a release from the copyright holder to the Wikimedia Foundation (permissions@wikimedia.org). See WP:PERMISSION for how to do this and Wikipedia:Declaration of consent for all enquiries for a sample letter.

If editors choose to add material to an article on behalf of a paid editor, they must provide attribution for the text in the edit summary. See WP:COIATTRIBUTE for how to do this.

Covert advertisingEdit

US Federal Trade Commission and native advertisingEdit

All editors are expected to follow United States law on undisclosed advertising, which is described by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at Endorsement Guidelines and Dot Com Disclosures. The FTC regards advertising as deceptive if it mimics a content format, such as a news report, that appears to come from an independent, impartial source:

Marketers and publishers are using innovative methods to create, format, and deliver digital advertising. One form is "native advertising", content that bears a similarity to the news, feature articles, product reviews, entertainment, and other material that surrounds it online. ...

In digital media, native ads often resemble the design, style, and functionality of the media in which they are disseminated. ... The more a native ad is similar in format and topic to content on the publisher's site, the more likely that a disclosure will be necessary to prevent deception. —Federal Trade Commission, 2015

To judge whether an ad is deceptive under the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, the FTC considers "both what the ad says and the format it uses to convey that information ... Advertisements or promotional messages are deceptive if they convey to consumers expressly or by implication that they’re independent, impartial, or from a source other than the sponsoring advertiser ...".

European fair-trading lawEdit

In 2012 the Munich Oberlandesgericht court ruled that if a company or its agents edit Wikipedia with the aim of influencing customers, the edits constitute covert advertising, and as such are a violation of European fair-trading law. The ruling stated that readers cannot be expected to seek out user and talk pages to find editors' disclosures about their corporate affiliation.

UK Advertising Standards AuthorityEdit

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK found in 2012 that the content of tweets from two footballers had been "agreed with the help of a member of the Nike marketing team". The tweets were not clearly identified as Nike marketing communications and were therefore in breach of the ASA's code.

Advertising Standards CanadaEdit

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, administered by Advertising Standards Canada, states: "No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement."

Other categories of COIEdit

Legal and other disputesEdit

The biographies of living persons policy says: "[A]n editor who is involved in a significant controversy or dispute with another individual – whether on- or off-wiki – or who is an avowed rival of that individual, should not edit that person's biography or other material about that person, given the potential conflict of interest."

Similarly, editors should not write about court cases in which they or those close to them have been involved, nor about parties or law firms associated with the cases.

Campaigning, politicalEdit

Activities regarded by insiders as simply "getting the word out" may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with campaigns in the same area, you may have a conflict of interest. Political candidates and their staff should not edit articles about themselves, their supporters, or their opponents. Government employees should not edit articles about their agencies, government, political party, political opponents, or controversial political topics.

Writing about yourself, family, friendsEdit

You should generally refrain from creating articles about yourself, or anyone you know, unless through the Articles for Creation process. If you have a personal connection to a topic or person, you are advised to refrain from editing those articles directly and to provide full disclosure of the connection if you comment about the article on talk pages or in other discussions.

An exception to editing an article about yourself or someone you know is made if the article contains defamation or a serious error that needs to be corrected quickly. If you do make such an edit, follow it up with an email to WP:OTRS, Wikipedia's volunteer response team, or ask for help on WP:BLPN, our noticeboard for articles about living persons, or the talk page of the article in question.

Citing yourselfEdit

Using material you have written or published is allowed within reason, but only if it is relevant, conforms to the content policies, including WP:SELFPUB, and is not excessive. Citations should be in the third person and should not place undue emphasis on your work. When in doubt, defer to the community's opinion: propose the edit on the article's talk page and allow others to review it.

Cultural sectorEdit

Museum curators, librarians, archivists, and similar are encouraged to help improve Wikipedia, or to share their information in the form of links to their resources. If a link cannot be used as a reliable source, it may be placed under further reading or external links if it complies with the external links guideline. Bear in mind that Wikipedia is not a mirror or a repository of links, images, or media files.

Wikipedians in residence, reward boardEdit

There are forms of paid editing that the Wikimedia community regards as acceptable. These include Wikipedians in residence (WiRs)—Wikipedians who may be paid to collaborate with mission-aligned organizations, such as galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. WiRs must not engage in on-Wikipedia public relations or marketing for their organization, and they should operate within the bounds defined by Core characteristics of a Wikipedian in Residence at Wikimedia Outreach. They must work closely with a Wikipedia project or the general Wikipedia community, and are expected to identify their WiR status on their user page and on talk pages related to their organization when they post there.

Another example of acceptable paid editing is the reward board, where editors can post incentives, usually to raise articles to featured-article or good-article status. If you participate in this, transparency and neutrality are key.

MiscellaneousEdit

Solicitations by paid editorsEdit

In any solicitation sent to a prospective client, paid editors should disclose the following information:

  • Paid editors do not represent the Wikimedia Foundation nor the Wikipedia editing community, and they have no authority beyond that of any volunteer editor.
  • Paid editors must disclose their employer, client, and affiliations on Wikipedia. There is no confidentiality for the client.
  • Paid edits may be reviewed and revised in the normal course of work on Wikipedia. Neither the client nor the paid editor own the article.
  • Paid editors cannot guarantee any outcome for an article on Wikipedia. It can be revised or deleted by other editors at any time.

Providing a client with a link to this section is appropriate disclosure, if it is done in a neutral and non-deceptive manner.

If you received a solicitation from a paid editor that does not include this information, we recommend that you not do business with them. They are not following our policies and guidelines. Some of these solicitations have been linked to fraud. See Orangemoody editing of Wikipedia. If you think you’ve received a fraudulent solicitation, please forward it to arbcom-l@lists.wikimedia.org for investigation.

Law of unintended consequencesEdit

Once an article is created about yourself, your group, or your company, you have no right to control its content, or to delete it outside the normal channels. Content is irrevocably added with every edit. If there is anything publicly available on a topic that you would not want to have included in an article, it will probably find its way there eventually.

No shared accounts, no company accountsEdit

Do not create a shared organizational account, or use the name of an organization as the account name. The account is yours, not your employer's.

Making uncontroversial editsEdit

Editors who have a general conflict of interest may make unambiguously uncontroversial edits (but see WP:FINANCIALCOI). They may:

  1. remove spam and unambiguous vandalism,
  2. remove unambiguous violations of the biography of living persons policy,
  3. fix spelling and grammatical errors,
  4. repair broken links,
  5. remove their own COI edits, and
  6. add independent reliable sources when another editor has requested them, although it is better to supply them on the talk page for others to add.

If another editor objects for any reason, it is not an uncontroversial edit. Edits not covered by the above should be discussed on the article's talk page. If an article has few uninvolved editors, ask at the talk page of a related Wikiproject or at WP:COIN. Also see WP:COITALK.

Supplying photographs and media filesEdit

Editors with a COI are encouraged to upload high-quality media files that are appropriately licensed for Wikipedia and that improve our coverage of a subject. For more information, follow the instructions at Commons. In some cases, the addition of media files to an article may be an uncontroversial edit that editors with a COI can make directly, but editors should exercise discretion and rely on talk pages when images may be controversial or promotional. If the addition of an image is challenged by another editor, it is not uncontroversial.

How to handle conflicts of interestEdit

If an editor has disclosed that s/he is editing with a COI, or edits in a way that leads you to believe they might have a COI, raise the issue in a civil manner on the editor's talk page, citing this guideline, or open a thread on WP:COIN. Avoid making disparaging comments about the subject of the article, its author, or the author's motives.

If there has been no COI disclosure, consider first whether the issue may be simple advocacy. The appropriate forum for concerns about advocacy is WP:NPOVN. The appropriate forum for concerns about sources is WP:RSN. If there are concerns about sockpuppets or meatpuppets, please bring that concern to WP:SPI.

Avoid outingEdit

When investigating COI editing, the policy against harassment takes precedence. It requires that Wikipedians not reveal the identity of editors against their wishes. Instead, examine editors' behavior and refer if necessary to Wikipedia:Checkuser. Do not ask a user if they are somebody; instead one can ask if they have an undisclosed connection to that person. If revealing private information is needed to resolve COI editing, and if the issue is serious enough to warrant it, editors can seek the advice of functionaries or the arbitration committee by email.

Dealing with single-purpose accountsEdit

Accounts that appear to be single-purpose, existing for the sole or primary purpose of promotion or denigration of a person, company, product, service, website, organization, etc., and whose postings are in apparent violation of this guideline, should be made aware of this guideline and warned not to continue their problematic editing. If the same pattern of editing continues after the warning, the account may be blocked.

TemplatesEdit

Relevant article talk pages may be tagged with {{connected contributor}} or {{connected contributor (paid)}}. The article itself may be tagged with {{COI}}. A section of an article can be tagged with {{COI|section}}

Other templates include:

  • {{uw-coi}} (to be placed on user Talk pages to warn editors that they may have a conflict of interest)
  • {{uw-coi-username}} (another Talk page warning, this one for editors whose username appears to violate the WP:Usernames policy)
  • {{COI editnotice}} (this template goes on article talk pages and gives instructions to COI editors on how to submit edit requests to the article)
  • {{UserboxCOI}} (for users to self-declare on their own Userpages those articles with which they have a conflict of interest, one such template per article)

See alsoEdit

Wikimedia Foundation

Contact us

Article

Policies

Wikiprojects

Miscellaneous

Essays

Historical

Further readingEdit

(chronological)