Being Attacked on Wikipedia? Here’s the Wikipedia Policy You Should Know. 

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Balanced viewpoints is an important Wikipedia policy. When a page is only telling one part of the story, it can be fixed.

Anybody can edit Wikipedia and sometimes it shows. We often see Wikipedia pages that relentlessly attack organizations or people, only to find out that what’s being represented on Wikipedia is actually only a minority viewpoint.

The problem in these cases is not with Wikipedia policy but how the page is being edited in contradiction to the policy. Before discussing how to handle these situations, here’s some background on two of the relevant policies in these cases: “Due and Undue” and “Balance”, both of which are sub-policies of “Neutral Point of View.” 

What is the Neutral Point of View of Policy?

At first glance, Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View (NPOV) policy seems easy to follow. 

It states: “All encyclopedic content on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), which means representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic.”

But the policy then goes on for several thousand words to explain what it means in different circumstances. And it’s hardly common sense – some newcomers just guess at what this elaborate policy means by applying a plain English-language definition to the words “neutral” and “point of view.” That doesn’t work, though. NPOV is just the short-hand name of a policy, not a self-contained explanation of it. 

According to the “Balance” sub-policy of NPOV, Wikipedia articles should represent all significant viewpoints. Wikipedia prohibits cherry-picking a particular viewpoint to cast the subject of the article exclusively in an unfavorable (or favorable) light when there are valid contrary viewpoints. However, a minority viewpoint that is not represented in credible secondary sources is not entitled to representation on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia policy goal is to fairly represent what’s been reported in the press – not to provide a forum for debate or allegations that have not been reported by an independent secondary source. 

We see this all the time when there have been accusations of wrongdoing against a person or organization. Users will come on to a Wikipedia page and only represent the accusations. We’ve even seen cases where the accusations have only appeared on social media, without ever having even been reported by the press. This is a blatant  violation of Wikipedia policy – in a case like this, the allegation should be removed entirely.

More commonly, we’ll see an allegation represented at length on a Wikipedia page, with no attempt to represent how the press reports the accused person’s side of the story. This is a recurring Wikipedia problem – one or more users with an agenda trying to prevent a page from contradicting accusations. We have explained in another blog post how to handle conflicts with bad faith editors in a procedural way, so let’s focus just on the policy here. It isn’t enough under Wikipedia policy that the accusations are verified by reliable sources. According to the Due and Undue Weight policy, articles should represent viewpoints in proportion to their prominence in reliable sources. This means that the representation of different perspectives should reflect their relative prominence in the press. The selective use of certain sources, or certain viewpoints within a source, is not allowed and is something that can be rectified, even if agenda editors are trying to block it. 

Can you get a bias issue fixed when the Wikipedia page is about you? 

Following the correct Wikipedia process for correcting a biased point of view on Wikipedia is especially critical for the subjects of articles and their paid or unpaid representatives.  The subject of an article who wishes to participate on Wikipedia is required by Wikipedia Terms of Use to publicly declare a Conflict of Interest (COI) on the Talk page for a an article, and their personal user page, and to submit proposals to edit pages for prior review by volunteer editors rather than directly editing the page.  This rule is fanatically enforced by Wikipedia’s volunteer editors. It’s designed to prevent people with a favorable bias towards a subject from interfering  with the rigorous application of Wikipedia’s many dozens of policies, guidelines, and practices, which span hundreds of thousands of words. 

Trying to dodge this requirement can badly backfire. It’s almost automatically assumed that a user trying to oppose or balance negative content on a page about a living person or company has a conflict of interest. Editors can become more disturbed by users they think have undeclared conflict of interest than by content that is not fairly balanced with competing viewpoints. This can lead to losing an argument to correct a page even when the subject of the article is correct on the merits. Undisclosed COI participation is viewed as a more serious problem than violations of policy about content. Declaring a conflict of interest might antagonize hostile editors with an agenda, but they’re going to oppose you anyway.

Experienced Wikipedia editors without an agenda will almost always eventually prevail when there’s a dispute among other editors. It’s this group that you don’t want to provoke by hiding a conflict of interest. 

We operate strictly within Wikipedia COI disclosure policy and over the past decade we have found that we can consistently get pages corrected where opposing viewpoints are not fairly represented.  

How Can WhiteHatWiki Help?

We are an agency that specializes in “white hat” consulting in COI situations. WHW can work with qualified clients to create a draft or proposal that adheres to NPOV along with the rest of Wikipedia’s highly complex policies. 


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