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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-05-31/From the editors

Picture that: The North Face sneaks in advertisements, apologizes after being caught


An anniversary hit us right between the eyes just before deadline: June 16 marks the fifth anniversary of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) changing its terms of use to ban undeclared paid editing.

This Tuesday, Ad Age revealed that employees of Leo Burnett Tailor Made replaced photos in Wikipedia articles on a dozen national parks and similar sites, with photos of the same sites featuring models wearing clothing from The North Face, complete with the company's logo. The employees who replaced the photos did not declare their paid status on Wikipedia. They violated Wikipedia policies that prohibit advertising, marketing, promotion, and public relations content, as well as the WMF's terms of use. I am not a lawyer, but it looks like they also violated the Federal Trade Commission's rules against deceptive advertising.

The undeclared paid editors then bragged about it in a video now posted on Ad Age. Other news coverage that includes the video are "North Face tried to scam Wikipedia to get its products to the top of Google search" in The Verge and "Wikipedia is mad at The North Face for 'unethically' manipulating pages" in Dazed. The WMF reacted quickly and appropriately with "Let's talk about The North Face defacing Wikipedia".

The North Face's paid editors were honest to the extent that their intentions as stated in the video were perfectly clear. They wanted to use Wikipedia – while avoiding the scrutiny of Wikipedia's editors and administrators – to reach the top of Google searches for images of those outdoor sites for marketing purposes.

They were not honest when they said that they were "collaborating with Wikipedia".

Ad Age, in a new story, reports that The North Face has apologized via twitter:

We believe deeply in Wikipedia's mission and integrity – and apologise for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles. Effective immediately, we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we'll strive to do better and commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on Wikipedia's site policies.

We hope to hear more from The North Face.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the terms of use change that banned undeclared paid editing, the next issue of The Signpost will focus on how paid editing affects our encyclopedia. We want to hear from editors, administrators, arbitrators, bureaucrats, WMF employees and board members. We want to hear from all sides of the issue, including those who oppose paid editing, those who support it, and paid editors – both declared and undeclared. And most of all we want to hear from ordinary Wikipedia editors.

We also invite The North Face to publish an apology here, addressed directly to Wikipedia editors and readers.

We want to know how to fix a system of dealing with paid editors that has not been working very well. We want to know:

  • How paid editing affects your work on Wikipedia.
  • Has the ban on undeclared paid editing affected your ability to add encyclopedic information?
  • Have you interacted with paid editors? How effective has it been?
  • What are your ideas on solving the problem?

Send article length submissions to Signpost/Newsroom/Submissions. If you want to simply write a paragraph, please add it to the comments below. If you want to submit material confidentially, please email me directly.