Some of the attendees at the chapter's recent annual general assembly
The Swiss Wikimedia chapter was founded on May 14, 2006, almost exactly ten years ago. It counts about 250 paid-up members and is one of only two chapters allowed to process income from fundraising banners directly. Recent discussions on the French Wikipedia have drawn attention to the involvement of some of the chapters' current board members in a paid-editing firm. The Signpost investigated this issue.
Discussions on French Wikipedia
On the French Wikipedia, discussions began on April 6, 2016 on the paid-editing activities of Swiss firm Racosch Sàrl, whose website states:
Wikipedia by Wikipedians
Racosch is a Swiss boutique consulting firm specialised in editing Wikipedia articles.
Our clients are companies as much as high-profile individuals, as well as other Public Relations specialists who want to update or add factual information, correct inaccuracies or address the presence of unsightly banners at the top of articles.
In the course of the discussions, outgoing Wikimedia Switzerland (WMCH) board member Gabriel Thullen (GastelEtzwane) wrote that it is common knowledge – at least within WMCH – that two of the company's principals have been long-standing board members of the chapter, while a third is married to a WMCH employee. The company's three principals are listed on Swiss company registration websites as Stéphane Coillet-Matillon, Frédéric Schütz, and Nicolas Ray. Coillet-Matillon (Wikipedia user Popo le Chien) and Schütz (Wikipedia user Schutz) are current WMCH board members; Schütz is the chapter's vice-president and French-speaking press contact on the WMCH website.
The involvement of chapter board members in paid PR work has previously led to significant adverse publicity, as evidenced by the 2012 Gibraltarpedia controversy. We contacted WMCH requesting further information and received prompt replies from Frédéric Schütz.
Our questions and Schütz's answers are below.
The Swiss chapter's logo
1. Please confirm which present or past WMCH board members or staff are personally involved in Racosch Sàrl, or have close family ties to people involved with the company.
I am personally involved. Stéphane is also involved – but he did not stand for reelection at the recent general assembly and his term ends June 1st. The third associate is the husband of WMCH's administrative assistant. No WM CH staff is involved.
2. On which Wikipedias are Racosch Sàrl editors with such ties to WMCH active?
FR and EN at the moment.
3. Do they declare their ties to WMCH onwiki?
Not on-wiki. More specifically: the name "Racosch" is never associated with the name WMCH, to avoid giving the wrong impression that Racosch is in any way endorsed by the Chapter.
But this is being discussed openly, e.g. within the Swiss community (see below). Stéphane recently attended the Berlin WM conference and was also very transparent about it; he will likewise attend Wikimania and we're discussing making a Beutler/Lih type of presentation at the upcoming French Wikicon.
4. How is the chapter dealing with the potential for conflicts of interest? For example, do you have formal rules forbidding WMCH staff and board members from recommending any particular Wikipedia PR firm to companies, organisations, and members of the public who contact WMCH for advice on Wikipedia?
The chapter has a policy on conflicts of interest, which requires disclosing all potential interests in writing – which was done.
In case of a request to Wikimedia CH, the policy is to reply that the chapter cannot provide advice on this topic and in particular cannot recommend anyone. This being said, one of us remembers that during past discussions someone had informally mentioned Beutler Ink, which was the only one we knew of that does proper paid editing.
Note that in any case such contacts are handled by our 3 community liaisons, not by board members (nor by the administrative assistant indicated above).
5. We understand that WMCH board members are elected at the annual general assembly. Are candidates required to disclose to the WMCH electorate potential conflicts of interest, such as involvement in a paid-editing firm; if so, how and where are such disclosures made?
6. How many WMCH members typically attend the annual general assembly? How many voted in this year's and last year's board elections?
The paid editing matter was spontaneously disclosed by both Stéphane and I while introducing ourselves, and was of course discussed during the general assembly (which typically attracts around 30+ participants). In the end, Stéphane did not recandidate (but he would likely have had no problem being reelected), while I received 27 votes/32 (second best score) – indicating that we approached the matter rather correctly.
7. In the WMCH 04/2016 newsletter, the linked minutes of your most recent general assembly are visible only to logged-in WMCH members. Will you consider making the pages documenting your election process publicly viewable?
We'll likely make it publicly available, yes. In the meantime, see attached a PDF version of the version currently available on our members wiki.
General assembly minutes
The general assembly minutes the Signpost received from Schütz contain two references to paid editing:
The 10 candidates introduce themselves. Stéphane Coillet-Matillon announces that he retracts his candidature as a member as he wants to concentrate on his new company.
The assembly asks questions to the candidates, in particular about potential conflicts of interest and paid editing.
A member suggests that the association should revise its bylaws and discuss the topic of paid editing; this is not discussed further, due to lack of time. Nevertheless, the new board will take this topic into consideration.
Since conflicts of interest cannot be avoided, they should be handled professionally. ...
Each member of the Board or of the Executive Management team should arrange his personal and business affairs so as to avoid, as far as possible, conflicts of interest with the association.
Should a conflict of interest arise, the member of the Board or Executive Management concerned should inform the President of the Board. The President, or Vice-President, should request a decision by the Board which reflects the seriousness of the conflict of interest. The Board shall decide without participation of the person concerned, and the conflict of interest and the board decision will be recorded in the minutes.
... Anyone having a permanent conflict of interest should not be a member of the Board or the Executive Management.
On the English Wikipedia, three user accounts presently mention an association with Racosch on their user pages, along with the articles they have made paid contributions to:
All three are also active under the same names on the French Wikipedia, where similar disclosures are made. Schutz's user page on the French Wikipedia has declared Wicodric as a secondary account for paid contributions since April 8, 2016.
The Signpost looks forward to further community discussion, and thanks Frédéric Schütz for his candid and timely replies to our questions.
Ed had worked in radio, first as a disc jockey and later with broadcast automation systems. He co-founded FenCon (a literary science-fiction event) and WhoFest (a convention dedicated to the iconic BBC series Doctor Who), and was well-known in the science fiction and fantasy communities. He was an Eagle Scout and a graduate of the United States Space Camp. He was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and at the time of his death, he lived in Dallas. His full obituary is here.
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