Wikipedia has been systematically cleansed of negative, but accurate, properly sourced, verifiable information about Royal Dutch Shell. Entire articles about Shell were totally deleted. Fortunately, I kept copies, the content of which are republished in this book. The above graphic is based on an article by The Independent: ”Mystery of the Wikifixer: who is the secret image-cleansing agent?)
I am a fan of Wikipedia and use it frequently. Its co-founders each deserve plaudits and respect for its creation and for making it free to use.
Regretfully, however, Wikipedia is flawed to a degree that damages the integrity of many Wikipedia articles that have a commercial connection. For example, Wikipedia articles about companies.
Such articles, covering the ethical conduct of a company, can potentially affect its value.
The basic flaw to which I am drawing attention is the policy of permitting anonymous editing of Wikipedia articles. It allows skullduggery to take place.
Wikipedia entries are supposedly written by open and transparent consensus among article editors. In reality, Wikipedia is built on a platform of secrecy and concealment.
It leaves articles about businesses wide-open to censorship, manipulation and sabotage by parties with undeclared commercially driven motives.
Unpaid volunteers acting as administrators and editors are supposedly the bedrock on which Wikipedia is built. It is a mainly secretive community in which the vast majority of volunteers edit articles using aliases. They are free to edit any articles, without anyone having a clue about who they are or about their background. Consequently, it is impossible to determine if they have a potential conflict of interest.
Editor’s using aliases are also able to comment on the editing work of other contributors and vote on the deletion of Wikipedia articles.
Hence, there is a lot of power and influence and no real accountability.
If due to some alleged transgression, a Wikipedia editor is banned from editing, they can return under a new alias using a new IP address, with no bad odour attached. In other words, an entirely fresh start.
“Wikipedian” culture has some similarity to the Ku Klux Klan, fortunately without the racist element.
The privacy of those choosing to keep secret all information about their identity is respected and maintained within the Wikipedia community. A community that has developed its own cultish language, arising partly in response to skullduggery by some editors.
There are Wikipedia articles about every major business. A company is not permitted to edit any articles about itself. For example, BP is not supposed to edit Wikipedia articles about BP.
Because of the popularity of Wikipedia, the content of a Wikipedia article about a business is important. It can have a positive or negative impact on the reputation of the business and this, in turn, as already highlighted, can impact on its value.
The behind-the-scenes editing of Wikipedia articles has been described as the world’s biggest spinning operation. See centre article.
With regard to Shell, in particular, Wikipedia has been systematically cleansed of negative, but accurate, properly sourced, verifiable information about the company.
Some entire articles about Shell have been totally deleted by a handful of mainly anonymous censors reaching a consensus.
My suspicions about what was going on were aroused for a number of reasons:
- I discovered to my surprise an obsession by Royal Dutch Shell management over my past voluntary work editing Wikipedia articles. In particular, articles relating to Shell. Information Shell supplied to me in response to a Subject Access Request, included Shell internal documents and Shell internal emails from March 2007, some marked confidential. Participants in the correspondence were discussing my Wikipedia editing and its possible impact on shareholders. The subject was mentioned 105 times within Shell internal correspondence. To verify, click on this link and run a search for “Wikipedia”. You will see 105 matches and the internal discussion about the risk of Shell being caught if it tried to edit relevant Wikipedia articles. One participant in the correspondence pointed out: “Companies, their agents, or anyone else for that matter, are not supposed to edit Wikipedia entries they have a vested interest in. Doing so undermines the editorial integrity of the product.”
- “WikiScanner” technology detected that articles were actually edited from Shell premises. When Shell has dirty work in mind, it is normally passed on to a third party, thereby distancing Shell from illicit actions taken by the third party. Shell HAS in the past hired a third party agency specializing in reputation clean up on the Internet. There are many such agencies offering their services.
- Information freely available on the Internet provides a blueprint of how to infiltrate Wikipedia and manipulate articles. It exploits the Wikipedia policy permitting concealment of identity and background. It advises on a stratagem of deception to disguise intent. For example, editing a wide range of articles to avoid being identified as a one-topic contributor. It discusses implications relating to IP addresses. The objective being for an organized group of infiltrators to edit target articles without detection: I will not go into detail for obvious reasons.
- When I became a volunteer editor on Wikipedia, I declared from the outset my name, website, and connection with Shell. Very soon after making the first edits, it became apparent that a then senior editor using the pseudonym “BosMo” was closely monitoring my contributions. I gained the impression that he or she was an admirer of Shell. “BosMo” quickly nominated for deletion a Shell related article that I originated. It survived the nomination. I then received a tip from a Shell insider identifying Andrew Cates, a former CEO and Country Chairman of Shell, as being “BosMo.” Mr Cates confirmed to me that this was true.
Please see “Royal Dutch Shell Wikipedia Machinations” for more information about my contact with Mr Cates, a man I admire despite his high regard for Shell.
See also see my article published 7 Sept 2015 on an American news-based website: “I WARNED WIKIPEDIA YEARS AGO THAT ALIAS EDITING WOULD RESULT IN SCANDAL”
On my own website, royaldutchshellplc.com I feature all published articles about Shell, whether positive or negative in relation to the oil giant.
I took the same approach when acting as a Wikipedia volunteer editor.
Ironically, a Wikipedia article I instigated and authored, containing nothing but positive information about Shell, covering, for example, charitable works and donations by the company and/or its employees, was removed in its entirety on the grounds of being biased in favour of Shell. It was deleted despite the fact that all of the information within the article was supported by linked verifiable independent sources.
As a result of the strenuous efforts by dedicated people apparently on a mission, many acting under the cover of an alias, information about Royal Dutch Shell on Wikipedia has been transformed. Negative accurate information supported by newspaper articles, government agency publications, court documents, etc. has vanished.
Instead, we have a collection of mainly sanitized information about Royal Dutch Shell. Much of it could have been written by, or on behalf of, Shell PR people. Perhaps it was.
It is not just business articles that are laundered. The same thing has happened to Wikipedia articles about politicians. See “Capital Hill Buzz: Polishing senators’ images on Wikipedia.”
Much of the content of this chapter is taken from my article: “Ku Klux Klan culture at Wikipedia: secrecy and censorship.”
In response to the article, I was contacted by an industrious entrepreneur, Gregory Kohs the owner of an agency MyWikiBiz, who has freely admitted to manipulating information on Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients.
Instantly accessible articles providing verifiable detailed information stretching back over the entire history of a company could be invaluable to shareholders and the news media.
It would then be immediately evident if a company had been issuing unfulfilled pledges, for example, to end gas flaring in Nigeria, or give the highest priority to employee safety, when factually detailed current and historical information indicated otherwise.
In September 2015, a number of articles were published about the alias-editing flaw that I first drew to the attention of Wikipedia five years ago.
The articles are self-explanatory:
Forbes: 5 Oct 2012: Wikipedia’s “Pay-for-Play” Scandal Highlights Wikipedia’s Vulnerabilities
The Telegraph: 2 Sept 2015: Wikipedia hit by blackmail scandal as victims are charged for content
The Independent: 2 Sept 2015: Wikipedia rocked by ‘rogue editors’ blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities
ADDED FEBRUARY 2021
- Bergstein, Brian (2007-01-24). “Idea of paid entries roils Wikipedia”. NBC News/Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
- Peer, Mathias (2006-08-24). “Wikipedia-Artikel, die man kaufen kann (Wikipedia articles that you can buy)”. Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 2008-08-20.
- Noisette, Thierry (2006-08-11). “Wikipedia, nouvel enjeu de relations publiques (Wikipedia, a new issue of public relations)” (in French). ZDNet. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Zittrain, Jonathan (2008). The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It. Yale University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-300-12487-3.
- Read, Brock (2007-01-24). “Wikipedia Blocks a Pay-for-Play Scheme”. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- “Centiare on the heels of Wikipedia”. press release. 2007-01-05. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
Guardian Newspaper 2 Sept 2015: Wikipedia blocks editor accounts linked to extortion scam
FT.com 4 Sept 2015: Wikipedia’s struggle to save its soul
THINKPROGRESS 4 Sept 2015: Wikipedia Editors Uncover Extortion Scam And Extensive Cybercrime Syndicate
Daily Beast 4 Sept 2015: I Was Shaken Down by Wikipedias Blackmail Bandits
Guardian Newspaper 6 Sept 2015: Wikipedia founder backs site’s systems after extortion scam
Science Times 7 Sept 2015: Wikipedia Blocks 381 “Black Hat” Accounts
According to an article published by the Guardian newspaper in March 2016, the Putin regime has “set up warehouses in which an army of bloggers sat day and night, charged with flooding the internet with comments favourable to Russian interests.” They include “Wikipedia trolls” working to edit blogs and web pages to Russia’s advantage,” exploiting the anonymous editing flaw.
An article published in 2005 – “Wikipedia Founder Edits Own Bio” – revealed, among other things, that Jimmy Wales, the joint founder of Wikipedia, changed his own Wikipedia bio 18 times “deleting phrases describing former Wikipedia employee Larry Sanger as a co-founder of the site.” Wales claimed that although “Wikipedia generally frowns on people editing entries about themselves, there is no hard and fast rule against it.”
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