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Catching up with James Lawrie of WikiNative

Wikipedia’s new book, Wikipedia at 20, describes them as “miscreants” and “poster boys for bad behaviour”. However, in online public relations, professional Wikipedia editors are in higher demand than ever before. We tried to catch up with a paid Wikipedia editing agency, but they are elusive. Nevertheless, James Lawrie, a Wikipedia consultant from Shropshire, UK owner of the paid Wikipedia consultancy WikiNative, agreed to answer three questions.

How does the new code of conduct affect professional Wikipedia editors in the UK?

I think the new code of conduct will worry some paid Wikipedia editors and corrupt administrators. However, I welcome Wikipedia’s new code of conduct, and I believe it will level the playing field for smaller paid Wikipedia editing consultancies such as mine. In the past, a lot of anti-business trolls targeted paid Wikipedia editors because they knew they could get away with harassing them. I think the WikiMedia Foundation need to be a lot clearer about its editors off-Wikipedia conduct. There still appears to be a gang of over-zealous editors patrolling Upwork’s Wikipedia listings and sharing that data with Wikipedia’s paid editing task force. You can tell they stalked their prey off Wikipedia because they always use the term “off-wiki evidence” in their edit summaries.

The aggressive tactics Wikipedia’s anti-business trolls use are damaging the project. They often revert pages to draft on the grounds of notability without seeking a consensus through a proper deletion discussion which is a misuse of Wikipedia’s draft space. I think it’s only a matter of time before one of these sociopaths lands The WMF in a heap of trouble. I think the new code of conduct will affect those policing the paid Wikipedia editing industry more than it will affect those in the industry.

How do you feel about the term black-hat?

I think it’s completely uncalled for. While it’s true that I don’t comply with Wikipedia’s official paid editing guidelines, I don’t let my conflict of interest shape my client’s content.

I find in practice most senior Wikipedia editors know that paid editing goes on, but it’s only an issue when editors are blatant about it.

Most of the work that I do involves cleaning up after less scrupulous paid Wikipedia editors and shrinking Wikipedia’s mountain of advertorial business content, not adding to it. I prefer to think of myself as more of a grey hat. I use black-hat methods but in a way that doesn’t lead to lousy copy masquerading as encyclopaedic content or articles full of spam links.

Do you think Wikipedia’s current paid editing regulations work?

No, I do not. I don’t envy the job of white hat editors because they are targets for trolls and cyberbullies. I know this from experience, I tried to play by the COI rules a couple of summers ago, and I was chased off the site by a bunch of nutters calling themselves “the guerrilla sceptics of Wikipedia”. There’s no point in playing by Wikipedia’s rules if most Wikipedians either don’t recognise them or see the rules as an opportunity to harass members of the community who don’t support their anti-business agenda.

I read about the origins of the conflict of interest guidelines recently, and it turns out a paid editing firm from Washington, DC wrote the most of policies. It seems to me that’s a classic case of a conflict of interest right there. It’s a bit hypocritical of the anti-business brigade to enforce rules written for the benefit of one paid editing agency with a lot of lobbying clout.

That said, the current rules enable me to get a lot of work from the CIPR crowd. Because CIPR advise their members not to edit Wikipedia directly and their members can’t get any joy within the current regulations, they have no choice but to go to paid Wikipedia editing companies.

I share the view of most Wikipedians that paid editing is only a problem if it leads to dodgy encyclopaedia content.

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