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Indian Fakers Teach Wiki PR

by E. A. Barbour

In our research on paid editing on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, we discovered a number of administrators whose financial interest conflicted with their involvement in the project. One example stands out.

Editor Wifione joined Wikipedia at the beginning of April 2009, although he did not start editing properly until the end of June. The gap may be explained by the rumor that he was the reincarnation of another editor (Nichalp), a Wikipedia ‘bureaucrat’ (senior administrator) who was forced out in disgrace after he was found to have used sockpuppet accounts to edit for payment. Nichalp was the first bureaucrat in Wikipedia history to be removed “for cause”.

In his four year career at Wikipedia, three of them in a position of trust, Wifione has been part of a campaign of censorship and misinformation that has been waged across the internet by powerful vested interests. It is a campaign, according to one commentator, that is in some ways more damaging than China’s practice of locking up dissidents, because it is more insidious and less visible.

This is the story of how such a thing was possible in a project where the principles of free knowledge and freedom from censorship are held as sacred and inviolable.

Indian Institute of Planning and Management

.

.

Wifione’s mission was to promote the interests of a group of Indian business schools, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, owned by flamboyant millionaire businessman Arindam Chaudhuri. You cannot escape the Institute’s advertising presence in India: bold, glossy ads promising job placements for its students, multinationals recruiting on campus, affiliation with other accredited institutions, awards of degrees from those institutions and so on. Hundreds or thousands of supporters – almost certainly paid supporters – promote his interests on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, other internet forums. Chaudhuri’s Facebook page currently has four million likes. It seems to be money well spent. Its ‘degrees’ are practically worthless, but unsuspecting parents are persuaded to mortgage the family farm, or take out loans of 10 lakh (about £10,000) or more to send children to the Institute.

Wikipedia is simply part of its campaign. Before Wifione arrived, Chaudhuri’s agents relied on an army of sockpuppets. This sockpuppet investigation shows the sheer scale of their operation. This page shows how socks can be used to give the impression of numbers and apparent weight of opinion against an opposing editor. “As the controversy section is fairly outdated and holds no relevance now, given the High Court rulings favouring IIPM, I propose deleting the complete controversy section,” says paid editor Mrinal Pandey. “What makes you say it is out of relevance?” asks Joshua Artgobain Benedict, a sockpuppet of Pandey. “Seems to be sensible,” chips in Addy kundu, another sockpuppet. “Yes, delete!” Deborah Fernandes adds her voice to the chorus. But she too is another sockpuppet. (And so say sockpuppets -Sumitpatel12 and Ianchapell, and all the rest).

Reliable sources
This approach was not particularly successful, largely down to the heroic efforts of a user called Makrandjoshi, who was not deterred by the sockpuppets, nor by threats of violence, nor death, nor destruction. Wifione’s approach was entirely different. He deferred to Wikipedia’s cultural norms, using one account and being polite at all times. Most importantly, he used his comprehensive knowledge of Wikipedia’s policy to make his edits stick. One pillar of the ‘neutrality’ policy is the requirement forreliable sources. But there are few extant reliable sources about Chaudhuri’s empire. The Indian mainstream media depends on the Institute’s advertising revenue – it is supposed to have spent the equivalent of 8 million dollars one year – and are unlikely to carry any criticism. Media without a wide circulation are not reliable sources for Wikipedia and, in any case, they are likely to be banned through India’s defamation laws, where almost any kind of criticism amounts to defamation, and where truth is not enough if ‘malicious intent’ can be established.

When Rashmi Bansal wrote an article in JAM magazine in 2005, accusing the Institute of misleading students by advertising rankings which were no longer current, claiming wholly unrealistic job placements, and making false statements about corporate recruiters, Chaudhuri’s agents filed a case for defamation, and after a court ruling, the article was removed from the internet. In parallel with that, Wifione removed any claims sourced from Bansal’s article, appealing to the ‘Reliable Sources’ policy.

Though JAM calls itslef [sic] JAM magazine (I guess Just Another Magazine), there is no confirmation that this is a magazine. There is no registeration[sic] of it as a magazine or a newspaper. I tried to search but could not find. I propose some editor kindly [our emphasis] give confirmation of the same. As I guess we can give references of only authentic newspapers or magazines.

Exceptional claims

Using another policy, Wifione removed a link to a copy of a letter from Stanford University held on MBA-Channel, with the comment “It’s only a career portal. Only reliable secondary sources are to be placed in exceptional claims.” He was referring to the Wikipedia policy that “Exceptional claims require exceptional sources”, which was to prevent the sourcing of self-published information from wacky fringe sites. But in the Stanford letter case, the information was perfectly reliable! It was a clearly genuine copy of a letter from Gale Bitter, Associate Dean, denying the Institute’s claim – in a major advertising campaign across India – to have a partnership with Stanford.

Neither the Stanford Graduate School of Business nor the office of Stanford Executive Education has ties of any kind with IIPM. Any claims to this effect are false and misleading.

And in any case, the letter was what Wikipedia calls a ‘primary source’, which is not allowed either. After removing the link to the letter, Wifione comically added a ‘citation needed’ tag.

.

.

Another of Wifione’s targets was a magazine called Careers 360, a publication which also tried to reveal the truth about IIPM. In June 2009 they published ‘IIPM – Best only in claims?’ Like Bansal, they found that the IIPM degrees were worthless. “For us only registered institutions with accredited programmes are considered credible”, said the Belgian government agency. Employers denied having any association or recruitment process with IIPM. Academic sources like McCombs Business School, University of Texas at Austin, said they were unaware of any association between the McCombs and IIPM. The ‘international’ job placements were low-paid and the terms poor. An ex-student told them that they were frequently taught by students who had just graduated from IIPM. You would not know this from reading Wikipedia, which said that Careers 360 was ‘poor in quality and a shady new yellow journal that ran illogical and brazenly false stories about IIPM’. Its source was a story in The Sunday Indian, the newspaper edited by Chaudhuri himself. Wifione claimed the story was unreliable, although editor Mahesh Peri told us that Careers 360 is the largest career magazine in India, launched by Dr. Kalam, former president of India. “We knew who we were taking on, hence stuck to facts.”

In the West, the investigation by Careers 360 would have certainly drawn action from the authorities. In India, it was the other way around. Chaudhuri’s agents took legal action against them, and a summoning order was passed on 12 Oct 2009 by a magistrate, forcing them to take the article down, and to prepare a legal defense. “A lot of things can be done with money”, Bansal told us. “Also Indian courts admit all kinds of cases without merit and then drag them on for 10-15-20 years. The system is a joke.” She never knew about Wifione’s role, though. “It’s deeply distressing to know this is happening on Wikipedia.”

The High Court of Uttarkhand eventually dismissed the case as an abuse of the law, saying “Truth is also the best defence in a case of defamation. A truth spoken for public good can never be called defamatory”, but this was never reported on Wikipedia. Wifione removed any reference to the High Court judgment, using the ‘exceptional claims’ policy as before. “Please don’t use ‘Lounge’ pieces for exceptional claims” (Link). On 24 January 2012 he managed to completely revise the section about Careers 360, under the pretext of “reformatting” the article. The section now said that the courts had admitted IIPM’s defamation cases against Outlook and Careers 360, and that the contents of the Careers 360 article were “prima facie defamatory”. This entirely misrepresented the legal process.

As well as promoting articles about Chaudhuri’s business, Wifione added derogatory material to articles about Chaudhuri’s competitors, particularly Amity University, repeatedly adding claims that its founder was wanted on fraud charges (link), (link). In the introduction to the article about the Indian School of Business, he claimed that its Chairman Rajat Gupta had been sentenced for insider trading, with the comment “reformatted intro to balance the whole article” (link).

His persistence, the veneer of civility in which he couched his insults, and his command of policy succeeded where death threats had failed. In August 2010, after Wifione removed a reference to a UGC censure, a reference to EFMD removing an affiliated institution IMI from its membership, and a link to the Stanford letter, Makrandjoshi simply gave up, and never returned.

In September 2010 Wifione was promoted to Wikipedia administrator. This did not confer any special privileges for editing articles about the Institute, but it provided considerable protection against other users who were questioning his conflict of interest. For example, in January 2012 a complainant alleged that Wifione was putting spin into the IIPM article, and removing criticism. Was this a PR exercise? “Whenever the user has been asked about any affiliation with IIPM, he/she has evaded the question”. But the complaint was slapped down by another administrator, saying that Wifione was not compelled to answer conflict of interest questions, and that “repeatedly insisting on it could be considered harassment”. Later, when we politely questioned him about his conflict of interest by email, he was able to complain of harassment as an administrator on the English Wikipedia, and requested that the account we used be blocked from Wikipedia. Administrators are held in such a degree of trust on Wikipedia that it is almost impossible to challenge them.

Insidious suppression

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.

Is it harmless? Wikipedia is only an internet site, after all. And there are thousands of other articles created by editors with a conflict of interest. But in many cases these merely promote local bands, books, small businesses and so on. Wifione’s activities are more damaging. Wikipedia is one of the few channels that Indian students can use to check the fraudulent claims of ‘schools’ like the Institute. Even warnings by the University Grants Commission are targeted by Chaudhuri. In February 2013 he got over 70 URLs blocked, one of them belonging to the Indian University Grants Commission which had merely publicised the fact that IIPM was not recognised by them. This provoked free knowledge apostle Cory Doctorow to protest.

Such misinformation can destroy lives. One parent spoke of being ‘ruined’ after taking out a bank loan. All they have is misinformation. “We got lured by the fake ads coupled with newspaper news praising IIPM institute,” said one parent. And as Chaudhuri’s lawyers were blocking official sites that may have helped the students and their parents, Wifione was at work on Wikipedia, removing statements like “Historically, IIPM has also been by far the largest advertiser among Indian educational institutions,” and “IIPM has been involved in controversies with respect to its advertising.” (Link)

Acclaimed writer Siddhartha Deb, who has also been a victim of Chaudhuri’s campaign of censorship, says that this kind of suppression can be far more insidious than the way China locks up dissidents, because it is much less visible.

It passes without notice in the west, but what is more significant is how damaging it is to India’s fragile democracy. It promotes, in a country that is diverse but also deeply hierarchical, a culture of cringing before the rich and the powerful.

Despite the fact that the Institute was running a blatant scam, Wifione has, for a long time, been able to use his deep knowledge of Wikipedia policy and his connections to its administration to prevent any of this being divulged. Yet, given that the Western media have largely ignored the issue of India diploma mills like IIPM, and given the effective censorship of criticism under the draconian laws on defamation, Wikipedia is often the only place which students can – in theory – reliably depend on. It is deeply ironic that this censorship and suppression has reached into the very heart of a project like Wikipedia, which was based from the very beginning on the principle that knowledge and truth ‘want’ to be free.

This article incorporates material from the forthcoming book, Wikipedia through the Looking Glass, copyright Edward Buckner and Eric Barbour.

Image credit: Flickr/Gadgetdude ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Technorati Claim code : SFRB4PDXHRQ5

 

30 comments to Indian Fakers Teach Wiki PR

  • Has Wikipediocracy received a cease and desist letter yet from Chaudhuri’s attorneys?

  • I have seen IIPM closely and the kind of shady practices they follow is simply disgusting. With the kind of censorship record of IIPM, I would not be surprised if this blog goes down soon. Best of Luck tlll then.

  • ankit madan

    Feeling sorry for the students who get lured by seeing these ads in known newspapers/tv/magazines and spend so much money for thr higher education. Its is very hard to target IIPM but at a time when known criminals like Asaram getting arrested, his days might also come. Thanks

  • Salys Bourden

    And while you were talking… As AICTE (India’s regulatory body) loses its case in India’s Supreme Court against IIPM, IIPM crosses 2 million fans on FB (6 May 2013). http://www.millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=27413

      • John Lilburne

        Irrelevant. In the other places ‘schools’ can call the bits of paper you issue whatever you like too. McDonald’s University can hand out Hamburger degrees.

        The issue is that if it isn’t accredited it has as much worth as Christmas cracker joke. That’s the point the regulatory body says that what you get out of the IIPM cracker is a joke as it isn’t accredit. Whether they can call them MBA or not is besides the point.

        • Donald Rommel

          What seems in the news source is that India’s only accreditation body has been struck down by a Supreme Court order and there is no more an accreditation body for MBA schools in India. The regulatory body seems a cracker joke itself actually. Anyways, can’t make what’s the point EB is trying to make. Someone uses RS, is civil, seems headstrong on an article. So EAB says he is paid? Convoluted

          • John Lilburne

            From one of the links above:

            the institute is engaged in conducting planning and entrepreneurship courses which are non-professional and non- technical and AICTE’s approval is not required to run such courses.

            IOW and in plain English the IIPM courses are not worth anything professionally or technically and the AICTE’s approval is only needed for non bullshit courses.

    • Daddy

      While you are talking let me link to the comprehensive Career360 article that gives indepth details on the IIPM scam. http://www.careers360.com/news/3067-iipm-best-only-claims

  • This man has been cheating, threatening, silencing, buying media all his life. In the process, more than 20,000 students have lost their lives and careers. And the facade and fraud continues…

  • Chandra

    Its pity of country’s education system. This fake popularity has to be cross checked with the actual financial position of the firms owned by its owner. The real story reveals. His ‘managerial capabilities’ have a proven track record… starting with his own business.

  • Harish Udayakumar

    Siddhartha Deb’s article in The Caravan (Banned by IIPM)was based on a chapter from his book “THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED: A PORTRAIT OF THE NEW INDIA.” The banned chapter is available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/61637448/The-Gatsby-of-New-Delhi-by-Siddhartha-Deb

  • Wer900

    Depressing indeed. I read some about it on the Wikipediocracy forum, but never really investigated it in depth. Great work, Eric; this should help to open the door to exposure to more shenanigans by this Chaudry character.

  • Wikied

    Seen the diffs & links. While IIPM may be like all Indian private b-schools fighting a now struck down regulatory body, the diffs & links don’t show anything you claim of paid editing. Editors can be stuck up on articles & this seemss such a case than paid editing. IMHO,you should be responsible while accusing an editor directly of paid editing.

    • Commenter

      The above response by Wikied, as well the responses by Coretheapple on Jimbos talk page, seems to be indicative of the way the IIPM and the Jimboists are going to respond to this issue. Namely that “no evidence of paid editing has been provided” and that the editing pattern could just mean that Wifione is “stuck up” on the IIPM. That is of course the main problem with (clever) paid editing, that no direct evidence can be provided if the deal about paid editing has been done in private between the employer and a third party for hire.

      In that case only the editing pattern can be used as an indicator of whether the editor in question is doing paid work. In this case the pattern does indeed very strongly suggest a paid editor, as Wifione not only has been remarkably active on mostly all IIPM and IIPM related pages, but it has also exclusively been edits that are either adding positive (promotional) material or removing criticism.

      This is way beyond an editor being “stuck up” on the subject, and if this pattern is not enough to convince the Wikipedia powers-that-be that this is a case of paid editing, then the future of paid editors on Wikipedia looks very bright indeed.

    • The article doesn’t assert that Wifione is with certainty a paid editor. Your criticism of the article is therefore moot.

      • Wikied

        Really? No kidding. Lemme place the first line of your blog in sunshine “In our research on paid editing on the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, we discovered a number of administrators whose financial interest conflicted with their involvement in the project. One example stands out.” Are you guys for real? I’m surprised you could make such an assertion and claim the article doesn’t make such an assertion. Not intending to spar but in the real world, blogs making such insinuations need to be prepared with evidence, which, by the looks of it, you all seem to have conveniently skipped.

        • Financial conflict of interest doesn’t necessarily mean “paid editor”. If I am employed by Wal-Mart, they may not pay me to edit the Wal-Mart page on Wikipedia. But if I decide to edit in a “Controversies” section on the Target page on Wikipedia, I have a financial conflict of interest, while still not being a “paid editor”. Just because the discovery of Wifione’s financial conflict of interest happened during an investigation of paid editing, doesn’t mean that Wifione is a paid Wikipedia editor. I believe X-rays were discovered during a study of cathode rays, for example.

          • Wikied

            Your conjecture driven reply on supposed financial conflict is unpersuasive. Equivalent to saying that if you work for Comcast, then all Comcast anonymous IPs commenting on this issue on Wikipedia are either you or your team. Are they? Raking up diffs which are months if not years old and viewing them in isolation without matching them with talk page discusssionsthat happened is basically a gross misrepresentation of diffs. That’s one reason why, if you have an issue with an edit, we take it to the talk page of the article. And I see that for almost all diffs noted, leaving the early years, such discussions occured deeply. So your raking all this up on conjectures is a moot point.

  • Ryan

    This is fake. Wifione is a very good editor.

  • @Wikied — Maybe you don’t realize, but Comcast is the largest broadband Internet provider in the United States. So, if you’re supposing that any anonymous IP address that traces to Comcast is either one employee, or someone on his team, is a bit ridiculous, because there are about 20 million residential and commercial customers of Comcast Internet services who could be using a Comcast IP address, in addition to any of the 100,000 or so employees. Too bad I don’t work for, say, Cooley LLP, whose IP addresses are more limited and can be presumed to be used only by employees.

  • Vanamali Shastry

    Please check the following two reports regarding IIPM in the news media. The first one is about a court order requiring the removal of access to the UGC web page which declared IIPM illegal and the second regarding AICTE.

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/iipm-78-web-pages-including-ugcs-blocked-on-court-order/1075319/

    http://www.millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=27413

    One can note the distinctive anti-govt. tone in second article which claims – in the first part – that AICTE is a “self-claimed regulator” of technical education in India, whereas at a later stage, it refers to “AICTE Act”. Contradictory, aren’t they?

  • Ed

    We thought carefully about the question of whether to include the statement about financial conflict of interest. Given the evidence from diffs that we have not yet provided, we decided to include it. Wifione one is welcome to contact us with a complaint, but s/he hasn’t.

    Before the article was published, we emailed Wifione and asked very politely if s/he had any kind of financial relationship with IIPM, or with anyone associated with them who would have an interest in promoting the Institute. The simplest response would have been to say ‘no’. Wifione did not do that, however, but rather went to a Wikipedia noticeboard and asked to have our account banned.

    We also have a collection of diffs (not published) where Wifione refused to answer similar questions put by other Wikipedia editors. He replied to one as follows. “Can you please take out your statement “What is your association with IIPM?” from all the places you have mentioned it? The statement goes beyond a CoI question and has been made on a talk page of an article. It is quite disparaging for a fellow editor. Thanks ▒ Wirεłεşş ▒ Fidεłitұ ▒ Ćłâşş ▒ Θnε ▒ ―Œ ♣Łεâvε Ξ мεşşâgε♣ 09:14, 3 January 2010 (UTC)

    This is not consistent with complete innocence. Note also that his predecessor (Nichalp) was emailed by the arbitration committee in June 2009. He was punished when he failed to reply.

    “In response to community concerns about Nichalp (talk • contribs) using an undisclosed account (Zithan (talk • contribs)) for paid editing, and because of Nichalp’s failure to reply to the Arbitration Committee’s email enquiry about these concerns, Nichalp’s bureaucrat, administrator and oversight status, and his access to the associated mailing lists ( and ), are temporarily removed and User:Zithan is indefinitely blocked”.

    So there is a precedent. Again, if Wifione feels this is grossly unfair, he already has our contact details. The same questions are already being asked on Wikipedia (see Jimbo’s talk page) and s/he is feel to reply there too.

    • Wikied

      Ed if someone were to ask you repeatedly, whether your mother was a prostitute, would you believe the simplest way to answer the question is with a “No” everytime? The fact is that you’ll just start ignoring the idiots who ask such questions or report them to higher authorities. This is exactly what Wifione seems to have done with your repetitive queries. You surely are not Arbcom for him/her to feel you should be given an answer. Ed, I don’t mean it wrongly but your article is nothing but a cut copy paste job of an earlier anon email floating on the net. And the diffs you claim you’ve not revealed are no great shakes either as all of these are in public domain already since Wifione’s RFA. It must be quite clear by now to the readers of this article how you’ve misrepresented facts deliberately and claimed financial conflicts without supporting evidence. My parting take, be responsible in your future reporting and inferences.

  • ed

    >>Ed if someone were to ask you repeatedly […]

    Hi there. This article was also exploring how Wikipedia reacts to conflicts of interests, and how administrators are protected from any kind of challenge.

    And not it wasn’t a copy and paste job. We went to considerable effort to interview some of those who you defamed, such as Mahesh Peri.

  • IMCoy

    Well, not surprised. India based schools or educational institutes absolutely need to have a solid job function in charge of media, communications and in particular Social Media.

    In these cases Wikipedia has become a part of the portfolio for the Communications Executives who previously only managed traditional media.

    As you can see from an example of a Communications Executive, a Creative thinker, Content developer and Communications planner there is an added role as Wikipedia content creator as well.

    This is integrating old media and new media, both aligned to business objectives. Is it to be called paid editing ? Or just the nature of the job ? The job could also be outsourced.

  • Juicer

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s been known in the UK for years.

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