Wikimedia sweeps shill accounts after stunt doubles, waterparks scammed

Sockpuppet purge flushes 400 accounts

Update The Wikimedia Foundation has gone on another shill-kill, announcing that it's flicked 381 “paid advocacy” accounts and pulled 210 articles created by the offending accounts.

The latest action is a continuation of a long programme attempting to rid Wikipedia of poo-polishing posts.

Blogging about the move, Ed Erhart and Juliet Barbara wrote that “most of these articles, which were related to businesses, business people or artists, were generally promotional in nature, and often included biased or skewed information, unattributed material, and potential copyright violations”.

There was also enough similarity in the sockpuppet edits to convince the volunteer editors looking through the accounts that the edits “were perpetrated by one coordinated group”.

Reports in the Independent in the UK even quote Wikipedia as suggesting that the payments relating to some articles stepped beyond simple PR and "in some cases, the requests for money amounted to blackmail".

The paper cited a Wikipedia insider, who said that businesses or individuals struggling to get Wikipedia pages published on the site "were often told their articles had been rejected due to concerns of excessive promotional content – although in some cases the scammers themselves may have been the ones causing the articles to be removed".

The fraudsters would then demand payment of up to several hundred pounds to "re-post or re-surface" the piece, sometimes followed by demands for ongoing monthly payments to "protect" the page. The fraudsters usually claimed to have Wikipedia editor or administrator access rights. Once the money was paid, the article would be "reviewed" by another sockpuppet account belonging to the fraudsters and then made ready for publication.

According to the Independent, the hundreds of businesses and individuals targeted in this way included a Hertfordshire holiday company, a Northern Irish toy shop, a waterpark in Ayia Napa, a stunt double from Essex and Paul Manners, a former Britian's Got Talent contestant.

A previous clean-up in 2013 swept out a similar number of dodgy accounts.

At that time, a Texan outfit called Wiki-PR was identified as being behind the sockpuppet accounts, and its activities led to a change in Wikipedia's Terms and Conditions.

The foundation noted that some paid-to-edits were legitimate – for example, the new post cites university and museum staff, who disclose their affiliations and maintain factual edits. ®

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