Published September 19, 2012
Wikipedia users are up in arms over accusations that a trustee was providing front-page exposure and favorable edits to paying clients.
Roger Bamkin is a trustee for the the Wikimedia Foundation UK, the group behind the open-source encyclopedia. He is also a paid consultant, according to a CNET report, and has reportedly been using his position within Wikipedia to forward the cause of his clients.
The country of Gibraltar, which Bamkin has been representing, was featured in Wikipedia’s coveted “Did You Know” main page section seventeen times in August. Most other entries appear just once (with the exception of the Olympics), giving Gibraltar access to an enviable hundred million page views per month -- and really annoying some of the site's editors.
“It is wildly inappropriate for a board member of a chapter, or anyone else in an official role of any kind in a charity associated with Wikipedia, to take payment from customers in exchange for securing favorable placement on the front page of Wikimedia or anywhere else,” Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales wrote, when members broached the subject.
Wales admitted he didn’t know all the details of the case, but concluded that if the facts were true, Bamkin should resign from his post or sever ties with his client.
“The honorable thing for anyone with a conflict of interest driving them to act on behalf of a client ... is resign from the board of Wikimedia UK, or resign from the job with the client," he wrote.
Bamkin has been working on “Gibraltarpedia” for some months, a project in which Gibraltar would use QR codes and Wikipedia to digitize the city in the hopes of boosting tourism, which makes up a significant portion of the economy.
Several Wikipedia editors stepped in to defend the trustee, who they say has been upfront about his dual rules.
"As the minutes and disclosure statements show, Roger has been pretty clear about this with the board," wrote Craig Franklin on an internal discussion board. "If there is a grand conspiracy here ... then it's a pretty inept one."
Bamkin himself weighed in, saying he has tried to be upfront about the potential conflict.
"I have referred ethical dilemmas to the board. I have offered my resignation twice and it has not been accepted," he wrote on the same board, denying that his actions represent any conflict.
But Wikipedia administrator “Beeblebrox” agreed with Wales. “Roger is acting as a paid consultant at the same time as he is on the Board of WMUK,” he posted in response to the co-founder’s comments. “That's their problem but I share Jimbo's feelings on the matter, he needs to resign one post or the other.”
There is no official policy against "paid editing," noted Chris Keating, the chair of Wikimedia UK.
It’s the second time in a week that Wikipedia has come under scrutiny for conflicts of interest, after community members exposed another “Wikipedian in Residence” for running a PR and SEO-optimization business that leveraged his access to the Internet’s most popular encyclopedia.
Max Klein, the editor in question, quickly responded on his site, untrikiwiki, noting that despite advertising such services, he had yet to do any such business. “Although we have advertised such a service, we’ve not aggressively pursued it -- and we have not accepted any clients interested in on-Wikipedia work.”
Wales was understandably peeved when users brought the incident to his attention in the same thread.
“If what you say is accurate, then of course I'm extremely unhappy about it. It's disgusting,” he wrote.