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Billionaire Aubrey McClendon’s Paid Wikipedia Articles

By Stanistani

(with help from other Wikipediocracy members)

Visionary and controversial oil billionaire Aubrey McClendon  passed away a few days ago under unusual circumstances.

Aubrey McClendon

Aubrey McClendon
Image Credit: McNeese Studios
License: CC BY 3.0

I began examining his Wikipedia biography to see how it had been handled by Wikipedia editors and administrators.
On the article home page I found this interesting chunk of confession from an editor at Wikipedia named 16912_Rhiannon:

Proposing new draft
Hi there! I’m looking to find some editors to help me make some changes to improve this article. I’m looking to discuss changes here rather than making the edits myself as I have a conflict of interest since I’ve written this article on behalf of Aubrey McClendon, as a paid consultant.

This was about eleven months ago, at a time when McClendon’s troubles with the law were percolating but hadn’t boiled over.

Soon enough, an experienced Wikipedian with the symbolic name came in and helped edit paid editor 16912_Rhiannon‘s new draft of the article to replace her previous version.

It’s interesting that Ɱ also edits for pay, as shown on his COI disclosure page.

I decided to dig a bit deeper…

16912_Rhiannon’s user page has this:

Hi there, I’m Rhiannon. I’ve dabbled in editing Wikipedia from my other account (User:Grisette) for a few years now. That’s my fun account where I’d like to keep on making contructive edits and maybe contributing some more articles on various things I’m interested in. I work at Beutler Ink with User:WWB Too and User:Heatherer (and previously worked with User:ChrisPond and User:Morzabeth), and like those accounts, I’ve set up this one only for making contributions to articles or topics where I may have a financial conflict of interest or vested interest.

Emphasis mine.

Her angel alter ego Grisette is interesting, if a bit vaporous. In her user space is a tiny stub of an article about a brand of perfume.

Grisette’s total edits in five years: 45

16912 Rhiannon is Rhiannon Ruff of Beutler Ink. She is identified in this Wikiconference submission and identifies herself in this image upload. Rhiannon also posts on the Beutler Ink blog and identifies her account as Grisette.

Rhiannon Ruff

Rhiannon Ruff: Image from LinkedIn

Beutler Ink, the major source of this billionaire bonanza bingo article creation, offers Wikipedia article creation and control as one of their services. Look under ‘Wiki Content’ on the page linked.

When contacted about this blog post, William Beutler of Beutler Ink replied, “… everything we did followed Wikipedia guidelines and best practices where financial conflicts of interest are concerned, we had multiple editors review the draft before they judged it worthy of inclusion, and we’re very proud of the work we did on behalf of the late Mr. McClendon.” On Wikipedia, William Beutler is User: WWB and his ‘paid editor account’ is User: WWB Too.

William Beutler

William Beutler Image Credit: Beutler Ink (screencap from 2014 video)

Previous polishing on the Aubrey Mclendon article and that of McClendon’s latter company Chesapeake Energy was performed by SPA (Single Purpose Account) Creativejuice. A grand total of 47 edits.

Creativejuice admits to being “an employee” of Chesapeake here: link

Chesapeake Energy (THL) was worked on by another employee of the company back in 2010.

From the article talk page:

Bauer editor

I’m concerned about the new editor (laurabauer, I believe). All edits by this user have been to the Chesapeake article, and the edits basically turned the page into a PR sheet for the company. I’m hesitant to reverse the edits because they do update some information, but there is also a lot of collateral damage in terms of turning the page into a Chesapeake promo. Chicken Wing (talk) 11:36 pm, 11 February 2010, Thursday (6 years, 21 days ago) (UTC−8)

I agree, she is Chesapeake’s Supervisor of Publications: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/laura-bauer/a/83b/713 She has made recent edits and deleted citations based on facts and sound references. Only reason she appears to have made the edits is because they put Chesapeake in negatively light, even though true. She is claiming a recent report by SAIC as being independent, yet Louis A. Simpson is a Director for both Chesapeake and SAIC. He accepted the position with Chesapeake in January 2011, although he may not have actually come aboard until June 2011[1]. The report and study was still being conducted through June-July 2011, while he was a Director for both companies. He is still a Director for both companies as of today, I also cited a direct e-mail from Jim Gipson, Chesapeake’s Director of Media Relations, with full header and whois information showing it came from Chesapeake and his e-mail address. This e-mail stated the report was not independent and never characterized as such, yet it is being marketed as such throughout their Web site and by their PR people like Laura Bauer. She removed this content stating it was not properly sourced because she apparently does not understand how e-mail and the Internet works. How is an exact quote from Chesapeake’s very own Director of Media Relations considered not properly sourced? (talk) 11:49 am, 19 October 2011, Wednesday (4 years, 4 months, 16 days ago) (UTC−7)

Yes, I am a Chesapeake representative, something I obviously have not attempted to hide. I am checking into the statements you’ve made to determine their validity. My objective is to ensure statements made about the company are true and verifiable. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:07 pm, 19 October 2011, Wednesday (4 years, 4 months, 15 days ago) (UTC−7)

An interesting editor: Humorglazer with only 168 edits over a year, including a few in the last few days (on Chesapeake Energy). A near SPA, very interested in the oil industry.

Top articles edited:
8 Baker Hughes (THL) one of the world’s largest oil field services companies…
7 GeoQuest Systems (THL) was a company offering geology software, systems integration, and information-management services and software to the oil and gas industry.
5 Schlumberger SEED (THL) is a global non-profit educational outreach organization within Schlumberger Limited, the global oilfield services company.
5 Ernest Henry Nickel (THL) was a mineralogist from Canada…
4 Technip (THL) a company that carries out project management, engineering and construction for the energy industry.
4 List of oilfield service companies (THL)
4 Otto Schlicht (THL) was a German-American manufacturer of concertinas in Chicago.
3 International Logging (THL) provided the world’s oil & gas industry with products and services…
3 Thomas Allan (THL) …he is remembered today for his contributions to mineral science.
3 Well cementing (THL) is the process of introducing cement to the annular space between the well-bore and casing or to the annular space between two successive casing strings.
2 Grup Servicii Petroliere (THL) is a Romanian company providing offshore integrated services for oil and gas industry.
2 Chemlink (THL) global power equipment company, transitioning to equipment communications links.
2 Georges Calas (THL) is Professor of Mineralogy at the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University and a Senior member of University Institute of France.
2 Ekhard Salje (THL) is Professor of Mineralogy and Petrology and former Head of the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University.
2 List of oil exploration and production companies (THL)

(I’m using usually the first sentence in each article for a description.)

I’d say this editor is a professional in the industry, perhaps a geologist who worked for petroleum companies.

My favorite edit of theirs: link

Marked as a minor edit (which typically are punctuation changes that don’t change the meaning), it minimized a $233 million fine levied against Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, for violating sanctions against trading with Iran and Sudan.

This was deceptive, and designed to fly under the radar.

Aubrey McClendon founded another energy company, American Energy Partners, LP (THL). The corresponding Wikipedia article was created only six months ago, also by 16912 Rhiannon (TCL).

Article creator affiliation

The creator of this article 16912 Rhiannon has declared that the article was created on behalf of the company and is a paid consultant to the company via PR agency. ♔ MONARCH Talk to me 4:15 pm, 17 September 2015, Thursday (5 months, 15 days ago) (UTC−7)

I’ve submitted this draft on behalf of American Energy Partners, LP, and wanted to flag my financial conflict of interest since I am working as a paid consultant to the company via PR agency, Saxum. In preparing the draft, I have received feedback directly from the company but I’ve been careful to follow Wikipedia’s guidelines, especially regarding neutrality. Can editors please review the content carefully for neutral tone and promotional language? As I follow the “bright line” and don’t edit live articles, if there are any issues that might result in a tag when the article is live, I’d be grateful if you can let me know here so I can help resolve them before it gets moved. Thanks! 16912 Rhiannon (Talk · COI) 11:05 am, 4 September 2015, Friday (5 months, 29 days ago) (UTC−7)

But hey, everything is A-OK, kosher, and halal.

The Bright Line Rule handed down on glittery stone tablets by Moses Jimmy Wales is being followed to the letter, according to Rhiannon:

I follow the “bright line” (per Jimbo Wales’ proposal that paid editors stick to Talk page requests only) and prefer not to edit live articles, even if the edit is straightforward.

May Jimbo rock us to sleep tonight.

I am not criticizing the admins and editors of Wikipedia for helping the paid editors — they are following policy — nor am I criticizing the paid editors for making money — it is instead the ins and outs of how these articles are manipulated because of a failure to set a coherent policy that becomes a blanket of fog over the supposedly transparent workings of Wikipedia.

Despite all the chaotic arguing over paid editors, and Jimmy Wales’s ‘Bright line Rule’ one thing is clear — if you have lots of money, your version of ‘the truth’ is the version Wikipedia will show its readers.

Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit — but if you are a billionaire, your employee’s edits will persevere.

6 comments to Billionaire Aubrey McClendon’s Paid Wikipedia Articles

  • As the founder of MyWikiBiz, the first and longest-running paid editing service focused on Wikipedia, it was always a “sideline” enterprise for me. I often wonder what I could have built, had I devoted 100% of my time and resources to it. William Beutler astounds me in a good way when I look at the vast employment empire that he’s built up at Beutler Ink: http://tinyurl.com/beutler-ink

  • Hersch

    Revelations of this sort are sobering. However, I think that the really pernicious nature of Wikipedia comes not from the paid PR operatives who edit there, typically on an occasional basis and often with some semblance of transparency. It comes from the hard core “insiders” who edit not for a paycheck, but because Wikipedia offers them a unique soapbox for their respective ideologies. They are willing to spend jaw-dropping amounts of time learning to game the system, watching their “owned” articles from minute to minute, and developing a support network of allies that enable them to flout Wikipedia policies and “spin” controversial articles to their liking. This is where the real damage to the info-seeking public originates.

  • Umma

    Did you forget that Wikipedia has tons of fact checkers? Just because someone has money doesn’t mean their edit stands, the fact checkers see to that. I guess you’re still butt-hurt from being banned from Wikipedia, huh ?

  • Umma, You failed to fact-check your own comment. I have never been banned from Wikipedia, and I am an editor in good standing there. I even made a quixotic run for ARBCOM once.

    As far as Wikipedia having ‘tons of fact checkers’ — no, it has just a few people who question things, and not enough of them, and money talks at Wikipedia, as it does anywhere else.

    Wikipedia needs a coherent policy on paid editing. It does not have one. Better even that one day it has an editorial staff.

  • Eagle

    How many people are experts in the United States oil and gas industry? How many of those experts have every tried to edit Wikipedia? Of that small subset, how many of the experts have been driven away by the toxic editing culture or have been banned by POV-pushing edit warriors? Where do the “tons of fact checkers” focus their energy — on computer-related articles or Pokemon characters?

    Before the Bernie Madoff scandal broke, Madoff had been investigated several times by the SEC, and his critics had been quite public about how his investment results were impossible to achieve. His Wikipedia article was started only after his arrest. Hypothetically, if his critics had written a Wikipedia biography years before his arrest, would Beutler Ink make itself available to sanitize it?

    As for the “tons of fact checkers” look at the Gary Weiss – overstock.com controversy of 2008.

  • Eagle

    A valuable feature of the current default skin is that it provides black text on a white background. (I wish it would use a serif font, but it is still readable without eye-strain.) User Ɱ does have his COI disclosure on his User Page, but he is getting a bit cute by disclosing it with grey on blue text. (color:#555 type on background: #FCFCF) Perhaps the WMF needs to change its COI disclosure rules to mandate disclosure in black and white, so that it will be plain for all to see.