By Gregory Kohs
|This blog post is one of a five-part series of investigative reports by Gregory Kohs, documenting conflicts of interest among individuals and organizations who have financial ties with the Wikimedia Foundation.
Last week, Wikipediocracy revealed an investigative project, where our researchers are finding that many of Wikipedia’s biggest financial backers appear to be writing and altering content on the encyclopedia that will benefit themselves or their businesses. The revelation struck a chord with many readers. Our blog generated 22 comments. A Slashdot news thread about the investigation garnered 125 comments. Reporters from three different mainstream media publications inquired for more information about our discoveries. This practice of “conflict of interest” or “paid advocacy” editing has been opposed by most of Wikipedia’s leadership, especially with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales applying pressure via his “Bright Line Rule” which prohibits paid or conflicted editors from ever directly editing their own Wikipedia articles.
Our first installment pulled back the curtain on just one such financial donor: the creators of the game, “Cards Against Humanity”, who as a marketing stunt donated $70,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation. Our research had shown that the #1 most-prolific editor of Wikipedia’s article about Cards Against Humanity was a creator of the game, and we expressed some suspicion that the #3 most-active editor was also closely aligned with the company. Through the magic of crowdsourcing, with all of the additional attention our blog brought to the Wikipedia article, it was not only confirmed more conclusively that the #3 editor was game co-creator Max Temkin, but we also learned that the IP address that was used by the #2 most-active editor (188.8.131.52) belonged to Cimarron Group, which employed game co-creator Ben Hantoot at the time of the editing. We also found that the next-most active IP editor* had dedicated over 75% of his Wikipedia edits to Cards Against Humanity, even including promotional text like this. Even Jimmy Wales had assisted Cards Against Humanity on Wikipedia, suggesting the removal of the only negative review of the game, while noting that Cards Against Humanity had just “donated a pile of money to the Wikimedia Foundation recently”.
Some of the comments on Slashdot and on Facebook asked Wikipediocracy, what’s the big deal? They reasoned that most people assume that there is self-interested and promotional text interspersed throughout Wikipedia. Indeed, even when our story was brought to the attention of Jimbo Wales himself, it didn’t seem like he could even be bothered by the allegation that a major donor to his foundation was also manipulating his charitable project’s content to serve their for-profit marketing needs: “I glanced over it but is there something *new* in all that which I should be aware of?” Other social media comments sniffed, was this the worst we could find?
No, it was not the worst we could find. We had hoped to lead off the discussion with a relatively moderate case of conflict of interest, so as not to sensationalize the story. But, since the digital masses have asked for more evidence, today’s installment will address an array of Wikimedia Foundation donors who appear to have gained an inside track when it came to promoting their content on Wikipedia.
With its donation of at least $100,000 to support Wikipedia, the Qatar Foundation is one of the Wikimedia Foundation’s top thirteen donors. A recent editor (September 2013) on the Qatar Foundation article is “Jmgrayling“, who has added thousands of bytes of content. There happens to be a James Mitchell who is Digital Director at PR firm Grayling in Qatar. (Get it? J. M. at Grayling.) Grayling took over the Qatar Foundation account from none other than Bell Pottinger, a PR firm that at just about the exact same time had been directly reprimanded by Jimmy Wales for editing Wikipedia in unethical ways. User Jmgrayling’s other topical subjects are John West Foods and ON24 — both happen to be Grayling PR clients. Additionally, considering the single-purpose activities of users “Nolberto75” and “Annikabenn” (Annika Benn is formerly employed by Bell Pottinger Middle East), it becomes fairly clear that Qatar Foundation was hiring public relations firms to modify Wikipedia articles for self-interested PR purposes. Keep in mind, paid PR editing of Wikipedia is such a grave danger to Wikipedia’s reputation of neutral point of view, that in January of this year, Wikimedia Foundation employee Sarah Stierch was terminated on grounds of her doing paid editing for clients without overtly disclosing her conflict of interest. Nonetheless, Wikipedia’s article about Qatar Foundation receives about 4,000 page views a month, and none of its leading editors who appear to have a conflict of interest have been reprimanded, beyond a mild rebuke of Annika Benn’s potential copyright infringement. The article is free of any “Conflict of Interest” or “Reference improve” flags that would alert the reader to the behind-the-scenes manipulation.
Arthur J. Gallagher & Company
Listed by the Wikimedia Foundation as a donor of between $5,000 and $24,999, Gallagher is a large insurance brokerage and risk management services firm, headquartered in Itasca, Illinois (near Chicago). One of the earliest editors of the Wikipedia article about Gallagher used the IP address 184.108.40.206, which geo-locates to the company’s Chicago area, and it edited no other Wikipedia articles. In July 2008, User “Kgroba” added a bit of info about Gallagher Healthcare, a malpractice insurance firm owned by Arthur J. Gallagher; and coincidentally Kevin Groba is a Marketing VP at Gallagher Healthcare. In June 2009, someone using another Chicago-area IP address (220.127.116.11) added a back-link to another Gallagher spin-off firm. In July 2009, a editor using a Toronto-area IP (18.104.22.168) added info about Gallagher’s Toronto office. In December 2012, an India-based IP editor (22.214.171.124) added information about the Indian IT company handling technology operations for a Gallagher division. In March 2013, another India IP editor added extensive unsourced content about the Gallagher company’s history, and this content has never been challenged. Now interestingly, according to the Wikimedia Foundation logs of visitors to their office in San Francisco, in December 2012 and January 2013, three employees of Arthur J. Gallagher visited the Wikimedia Foundation headquarters, with one of them, Cindy Hawley, returning again in October 2013, then again in December 2013. While one could argue that it is not suspicious that a major corporate donor to the Wikimedia Foundation would stop by to visit (and see how the money is being spent), it does seem odd that it would require four different visits, by multiple employees of Gallagher. Perhaps Gallagher is pitching the Wikimedia Foundation on organizational insurance coverage, and Gallagher feels that by dint of their having made a donation, they have an inside sales track. We cannot know for sure, because the Wikimedia Foundation will not respond to requests for information from the Wikipediocracy research team.
The Brightwater Fund, Gloria Jarecki
The Wikimedia Foundation indicates that Gloria Jarecki’s Brightwater Fund also donated between $5,000 and $24,999 to support Wikipedia. This nonprofit sits on over $20 million in assets, distributing about 10% of it per year to various causes like Alliance for Global Justice, Amnesty International, and the Bradley Manning Support Network. Gloria Jarecki is its President, and AnnChristine Gormley works 25 hours per week as its only paid employee, earning $53,000 per year. Gloria Jarecki does not have a Wikipedia article, but her husband Henry Jarecki does. Together, they own Guana Island, British Virgin Islands, which you can read about on Wikipedia. It’s a private “ecotourism” destination purchased in 1975, with Gormley serving as a sales representative for the island.
Henry Jarecki is a doctor who made his vast fortune in metals and commodities trading, and biotechnology and telecommunications investments — most notably, he was Chairman and lead investor of Moviefone, whose Wikipedia article was repeatedly manipulated toward a promotional tone by User “Jangle6”. Henry’s Wikipedia biography was first created sometime in or before November 2007. It was quickly deleted. It was then recreated sometime in or before October 2008 by User “Kellykaems”, who also extensively expanded Wikipedia’s article about Guana Island. Kaems was accused of sockpuppetry about the Guana Island edits and notified that Jarecki’s article was being deleted — Kaems’ only two topics of interest at Wikipedia. Henry’s biography would be deleted two more times in late 2008 before it finally “stuck” in January 2010, when it was re-started by User “Ukpub123”, who was exclusively fixated on the subject of Henry Jarecki and probably also used IP address 126.96.36.199, based on analysis of that particular IP’s Wikipedia edits.
Three of the Jareckis’ four children have Wikipedia articles of their own: Andrew Jarecki, Eugene Jarecki, and Nicholas Jarecki. (What are the chances of having such a notable family?) Two of those biographies were started on the same day in June 2005 by User “Jamesmorrison”, who frankly doesn’t appear to have a conflict of interest. The third biography was created in August 2007 by a single-purpose account, User “Grtk”. Interestingly, Andrew Jarecki made a 2003 film documentary, ”Capturing the Friedmans”, which featured Arnold and Jesse Friedman — a father and son convicted of child molestation. Andrew Jarecki doubts their guilt in the film, and he has since campaigned for Jesse’s conviction to be overturned. Child abuse experts, however, contend that Jarecki intentionally omitted from the film significant damning evidence against the Friedmans. (Note that Wikipedia has been repeatedly criticized in the media for its apparent attraction to and tolerance of pedophile editors and exposure of children to pornography.) Meanwhile, it’s possible that Eugene Jarecki has been editing his own content from IP 188.8.131.52. It is very likely that Nicholas Jarecki was editing Wikipedia about himself from 2009 to 2012 as User “Njarecki”, after which he seems to have continued in late 2012 through 2013 with User “Andthentheysaid”.
With the Jareckis, it would seem that mom is the Wikimedia Foundation donor, but the conflict of interest editing is a family affair.
De Ramel Foundation
Another $5,000+ Wikimedia Foundation donor, this Riverside, Rhode Island-based foundation sits on an $11 million asset base, which is managed by the foundation’s sole trustee, Guillaume de Ramel. At the time of our research, De Ramel’s Wikipedia biography was an “orphan”, meaning no other Wikipedia articles link to it. The biography was introduced in May 2013 by a new user account “Rhodyland”, via the “Articles for Creation” process in entirely completed form. Wikipedia user “Bonkers The Clown” declined the article in early July 2013, saying it was written “too much like an advertisement”. (Bonkers would later get himself blocked in November 2013 for abusing multiple accounts.**) Rhodyland would respond by cleaning up the biography a bit, then resubmitting it for consideration; but to no avail, as it would get declined again by “Prabash.A”, saying “subject appears to be a non-notable person“. So, Rhodyland did still more touch-up work on the biography, submitted it again, only to have it declined a third time, by “APerson” who cited the fact that the “submission is unsourced or contains only unreliable sources“. Rhodyland’s tactic was to simply go quiet for two weeks, then publish the biography to Wikipedia himself, regardless of three straight declined attempts at Articles for Creation. Within 48 hours, Wikimedia Foundation employee Steven Walling tended to the new biography to help it look better. One hundred percent of Rhodyland’s activity on Wikipedia centered on Guillaume de Ramel. Wikipedia says De Ramel is the great-great-great-grandson of two-term mayor of Boston, Frederick O. Prince, whose Wikipedia article was launched in May 2006 by none other than a user going by “Gderamel”.
Another $5,000+ donor to the Wikimedia Foundation, Disruptor was co-founded in 2009 by Professor Clayton M. Christensen and Craig Hatkoff (both have Wikipedia biographies) to “encourage the advancement of disruptive innovation theory“. Its 2011 fiscal contributions totaled only $18,000, with most coming from Hatkoff’s own Turtle Pond Publications. Clayton Christensen, a Mormon born in Utah, is the founder of Innosight (also with its own Wikipedia article). Christensen’s Wikipedia biography has been edited by users named “Mqchristensen”, “ChristensenCM”, and “ChristensenMJ” as recently as May 2013. ChristensenMJ is highly active (February 2014) in articles related to the Mormon faith, sometimes deleting massive chunks of content. Clayton Christensen’s biography was also edited in June 2013 by user “Innovatewiki”. Innovatewiki drafted Wikipedia’s article about Innosight (May 2012), which was then moved from the Articles for Creation space into Wikipedia’s main article space in May 2013 by Wikimedia Foundation employee, Sarah Stierch (who would later be fired for authoring Wikipedia articles for payment, without fully disclosing her activity). Stierch also briefly edited the Innosight article, only one day after a single-purpose account “FionaGirl9” edited it. All of this, despite clear evidence that Innosight was operating multiple sockpuppet or meatpuppet accounts, associated with employees Kevin Bolen and Kristen Elizabeth Blake. Innovatewiki also created (and extensively edited) Wikipedia’s article about Scott D. Anthony, who is a managing partner of Innosight. The user also engaged from October 2012 to September 2013 in an attempt to create a Wikipedia article about Innosight co-founder, Mark W. Johnson.
Hatkoff, on the other hand, was one of the three founders of the Tribeca Film Festival. His Wikipedia biography is adorned with two photos taken by the Wikimedia movement’s most illustrious photographer, David Shankbone. An extensive contributor (2006-2011) to Craig Hatkoff’s biography and to another Wikipedia article about Hatkoff’s book is user “Chatkoff”. Chatkoff also created a Wikipedia article about Hatkoff’s friend Robert Taubman, which was deleted; and he created an article about Galileo Chronicles, Hatkoff’s blog, which was deleted for being “Non-notable, unreferenced advert”. Chatkoff was warned in August 2009: “please do not add promotional material to articles or other Wikipedia pages. Advertising and using Wikipedia as a ‘soapbox’ is strongly discouraged.” Two years later, he would ignore the warning and promote another Hatkoff book in Wikipedia. Beth Janson is the executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute, and user “Bjanson6” created the Wikipedia page for the Institute, as well as edited the biography of Jane Rosenthal, who is Hatkoff’s wife and one of the other founders of the Tribeca Film Festival.
John Templeton Foundation
This Wikimedia Foundation donor organization is headquartered in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania (formerly in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania, from 1987 through about 2008). It is a philanthropy devoted to bringing science and religion together, such as a famous “prayer as medicine” study. Templeton and his wife have donated at least $1 million to conservative political causes that would block gay marriage rights, which has led predictably to edit warring on Templeton’s own Wikipedia biography, about whether or not to include that information. Two Wikipedia articles are of relevance here: John Templeton, Jr. and the John Templeton Foundation. A 2012 photo of Mr. Templeton adorns both articles, and it was uploaded along with other article modifications in December 2013 by “Mary Mark Ockerbloom”, who is one of these ”Wikipedian in Residence” folks you may have heard about. She is embedded with the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and Templeton provided opening remarks at a Chemical Heritage symposium in October 2012. The article about John Templeton Foundation (JTF) was created in August 2005 by an IP address 184.108.40.206 based in Princeton, New Jersey. That same year, the Foundation had issued an $800,000 grant to Princeton University to study prayer. Nonetheless, the Princeton-generated start article is even-handed in describing the JTF. Later in September 2006, a paid employee of the JTF, a user “Geoff.scholl” (later renamed “Lireksta01”) began to interact heavily with the JTF Wikipedia article, largely to remove mentions that the JTF and its key participants are politically conservative (and as it turns out, there is a Geoffrey Scholl, who served as “Intern, Web Development at John Templeton Foundation”.) Where Scholl left off, an editor using the IP address 220.127.116.11 (which is assigned to Templeton.org and geo-locates to Conshohocken) picked up again on modifying the JTF article. In June 2007, two new single-purpose editors, “Dacre” and “5santa” continued the push to expand the JTF article. One long-time Wikipedian remarked that the “changes read like a Templeton Foundation PR brochure”. An October 2007 single-purpose editor, “Specdec”, came to the article to “[Insert] balance to ‘criticisms'” they found in the article. In January 2009, another single-purpose account, “Honestyrules”, attempted to remove mention of the JTF’s financial support of anti-gay marriage initiatives. In March 2011, a single-purpose editor using Philadelphia-area IP address 18.104.22.168 tended to the article, adding extensive conciliatory text. To be sure, throughout this period and beyond, there were numerous single-purpose accounts appearing to criticize the JTF, then similarly disappearing from Wikipedia after their tactical edits were complete, just like the pro-JTF accounts.
Who’s to blame?
One can hardly blame some editors with a conflict of interest for their desire to edit Wikipedia. After all, it is “the encyclopedia anyone can edit”. But Jimmy Wales has made clear that it should always be to the conflicted and financially-motivated editor’s advantage to “use only the Talk pages” of articles to discuss the changes you want to make, then let someone else make them. None of these donors, though, seemed interested in following Wales’ Bright Line Rule, just as Jimbo is not interested in returning their donations, now that they’re tainted. As he so whimsically put it, if he were ever faced with a paid advocacy editor who gave a large donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wales said, “I think we should accept their donation and ban them from editing.”
We await the banning of several of the various editors outlined above, but it is not likely to happen. Sarah Stierch lost her job for such editing, but donors to the Wikimedia Foundation would appear to get a free pass on paid conflict of interest editing.
Coming next week: can you guess which Fortune 30 company contributed a dollar-for-dollar match of its employees’ donations to the Wikimedia Foundation, all while one employee editor has worked for over seven years to execute more edits to their Wikipedia article than the next 14 most-active editors combined?
*Editor’s note: for the benefit of those readers who are not dyed-in-the-wool Wikipediots, or otherwise imbued with Web 2.0 culture, an “IP editor” is someone who edits without a Wikipedia account, so that his IP address is visible instead of a screen name. Such editors are often called “anonymous” by Wikipediots, despite the fact that an IP number often reveals more about the identity of the editor than does a zany screen name.
**Since battles over article content at Wikipedia are decided by “consensus”, which often in practice means “majority rule”, many combatants set up multiple accounts in order to vote more than once.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons