By Gregory Kohs
Over the past few weeks, the worldwide media has finally cottoned to the fact that certain leaders and members of the non-profit Wikimedia UK charity have been exploiting Wikipedia on the side for personal financial gain. Wikimedia UK director and trustee, Roger Bamkin, has been marketing his Victuallers Ltd consulting service to paying clients like the town of Monmouth, Wales and the territory of Gibraltar.
These clients signed up with Bamkin in the hopes that he would inspire more editors to create glowing Wikipedia articles that would help boost tourism in those locales. And he did successfully manipulate Wikipedia to the pleasure of his clients, judging by the ample evidence presented on Wikipedia, on the Wikimedia UK’s mailing list, and on the leading Wikipedia criticism site,Wikipediocracy.* Now that some of the most widely-read news organizations in Spain, inFrance, in America, and finally in the United Kingdom itself have documented the corruption taking place — indeed, in the month of August alone, Bamkin and his business affiliates were able to boost Gibraltar factoids to be featured on the front page of Wikipedia an astonishing 17 times — the pressure mounted on the Victuallers racket. It was a public relations dream for Monmouth’s and Gibraltar’s tourism interests, until it turned into a media nightmare for Bamkin and his fellow Wikipedians, Maximilian Klein, John Cummings,Steve Virgin, and the pseudonymous editor “Prioryman”, who even announced publicly his October travel plans to Gibraltar, too.
Roger Bamkin has resigned his “volunteer” post with the Wikimedia UK.
Where other media would essentially conclude now their coverage of this scandal, the Wiki Edits Examiner endeavors to reveal to the reader the various layers of denial and cover-up that have already begun within the Wikipedia community. As we saw earlier this year when the former chairperson of the Wikimedia UK charity was finally blocked from editing Wikipedia and persuaded to relinquish the chapter chair due to his unseemly behavior, there was never a shortage of his defenders who would shout down any and all criticism of the organization. The same process is already taking place where it comes to the “Gibraltarpedia” scandal.
“It looks like this could have been better handled from a perception standpoint via faster and more complete disclosure, but I have heard and seen nothing that makes me believe anything seriously untoward has happened here. Thanks.”
So, given all of the ample evidence that international media-worthy manipulation of a public charity was taking place, her downplaying it to this degree seems like a denial. Then again, Gardner is no stranger to denial, considering that when Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales was cornered by simultaneous scandals with abundant evidence compiled against him, she was ready to appear on camera and say “Jimmy has never done anything wrong.”
Pseudonymous traveler to Gibraltar, “Prioryman” was far more strident in addressing those who helped unravel the layers of the Wikimedia UK’s pay-for-PR flap:
“In my estimation it’s getting close to time to shut down Wikipediocracy. Those idiots are going to damage the project with their unfettered attacks on other users and crazy conspiracy theorizing in the project’s name.”
How Prioryman would “shut down” a privately-operated forum for Wikipedia criticism is not clear.
The standard practice among Wikipedians when exposed for doing something wrong is to cover up the wrongdoing. Whistle-blowers are even sometimes told that they are not allowed to “out” the person doing wrong, especially if the scoundrel is “in good standing” with the project, but the accuser is “outside the project”.
Given the fact that Roger Bamkin was a trustee of a highly-publicized charity, a co-developer of QRpedia, on the steering group for MonmouthpediA, and now internationally noted for his role in launching the Gibraltarpedia campaign, one might think he himself qualifies for a Wikipedia biography. But, since that would contain too much bad publicity for Wikipedia – poof! – no such article will be allowed to exist.
In August, Max Klein had an elaborate infographic on his wiki consulting website, Untrikiwiki.com, which advertised “Wikipedia Editing as a PR Service” and warned ironically against “international bad press” and the “public shaming” of a public relations agency that might manipulate Wikipedia in an “unskilled” way. Well, now in September, Klein’s site awkwardly explains:
“Starting now, and lasting indefinitely, we will not accept any paid conflict of interest Wikipedia editing work. To support this statement, we have removed mentions of the services from our website. This isn’t because we think it’s wrong, but because we think it would serve as an unfortunate distraction to our current work and because we recognize that if we ever pursued paid editing as a service, we need to first publicly develop and declare a process that will be acceptable to Wikipedia’s community.”
Then there was the time when the Wikimedia UK was providing communications support for the Gibraltar project, but after it became a point of criticism – poof! – gone was that affiliation.
And then there was a special template created on Wikipedia, to be used to help promote the Gibraltarpedia operation. However, when someone had a question about how exactly it was to be used – poof! – it was deleted by Bamkin within half a day.
When Charles Ainsworth, a noted “Featured Article” builder on Wikipedia asked “Prioryman” if he was being compensated for his upcoming trip to Gibraltar – poof! – that question was made to disappear, with the bitter admonishment, “not interested, peddle your bullshit somewhere else”.
When another editor points out that maybe Prioryman shouldn’t be editing the Wikipedia article about Gibraltarpedia – poof! – Prioryman is there within 10 minutes to say there is no conflict of interest!
Is this is how an “open” and “transparent” encyclopedia project is supposed to be operated, where criticism of its flaws is disparaged, suppressed, and reverted? Whatever the answer, it is exactly how Wikipedia is operating today.
* The Wikipediocracy.com domain name is owned by this report’s writer, Gregory Kohs, although he has not invested financially in the site’s operation, nor does he have moderator’s access to its forum.
Image credit: Flickr/RaMaOrLi ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)