Public Relations

Wikipedia’s Many Errors Frustrate PR People

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Here’s another reason not to rely on Wikipedia as a trusted source of knowledge for anything.

A new study published in the Public Relations Journal shows that a stunning 60 percent of articles about specific companies contained factual errors.

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The research was conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee and an assistant professor of public relations at Penn State University. She surveyed 1,284 PR professionals to find out how they use Wikipedia or correct errors they find there.

“It does not surprise me that so many Wikipedia entries contain factual errors,” said DiStaso. “What is surprising, however, is that 25 percent of survey respondents indicated they are not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients. At some point most, if not all, companies will determine they need to change something in their Wikipedia entries. Without clear, consistent rules from Wikipedia regarding how factual corrections can be made this will be a very difficult learning process for public relations professionals.”

Wikipedia’s editing process is so cumbersome, that some people just don’t bother. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, told the Associated Press last fall that Wikipedia is losing the crowd that keeps it updated. The typical profile of a contributor is “a 26-year-old geeky male” who moves on to other ventures and leaves the website.

Administrators are working to simplify the way users can contribute and edit materials. Finally.

If you’re in PR, or you do your own publicity, do you use Wikipedia? Do you find it difficult to use? Do you regularly monitor it? Have you tried to submit a Wikipedia entry for your client but it got rejected? Share your story in the Comments section below.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 2

  • Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Read the original paper: .

    In it, the relevant paragraph is this: 
    “When asked if there are currently factual errors on their company or client’s Wikipedia articles, 32% said that there were (n=406), 25% said that they don’t know (n=310), 22% said no (n=273), and 22% said that their company or client does not have a Wikipedia article (n=271). In other words, 60% of the Wikipedia articles for respondents who were familiar with their company or recent client’s article contained factual errors.”

    This is abuse of statistics. First of all, it measures *whether PR people say there’s an error*, not the actual error rate—it begs the question of the reliability of that proxy. Second, only the people who say they’re not sure about their article are left out of that ridiculous 60% statistic. A more reasonable interpretation of the same results is that *about 30% of those whose employers have an article alleged an error*. That’s still too high, but it’s an entirely different statistic.

    This error is magnified by the nature of the sample: this research was done by *online survey*. Since presumably only those interested in answering answered, there’s a possibility that the sample is biased to begin with towards those with an interest in Wikipedia—say, because they’re aware of an error in their article.

    On another note, the journal that the study is run by the Public Relations Society of America—and they have recently been advocating for relaxed rules on Wikipedia with regard to PR professionals. The timing of this study is thus rather convenient, wouldn’t you say?

  • Leave it to “Nihiltres” to come crawling out (of his mom’s basement?) to pontificate on how wonderful Wikipedia is. Nihiltres, like most loyal Wikipedians, is very careful not to put his real name behind his words. Something about not caring to be accountable, wouldn’t you say?

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