Dr. Marcia DiStaso of the Penn State University has found that sixty percent of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors.
The findings, published today in the Public Relations Journal, will help establish a baseline of understanding for how public relations professionals work with Wikipedia editors to achieve accuracy in their clients’ entries.
The researcher surveyed 1,284 public relations professionals to assess their working relationship with Wikipedia.
“It does not surprise me that so many Wikipedia entries contain factual errors,” said Dr. 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.”
The results indicate a gap exists between public relations professionals and Wikipedia concerning the proper protocol for editing entries.
When respondents attempted to engage editors through Wikipedia’s “Talk” pages to request factual corrections to entries, 40 percent said it took “days” to receive a response, 12 percent indicated “weeks,” while 24 percent never received any type of response. According to Wikipedia, the standard response time to requests for corrections is between two and five days.
Only 35 percent of respondents were able to engage with Wikipedia, either by using its “Talk” pages to converse with editors or through direct editing of a client’s entry. Respondents indicated this figure is low partly because some fear media backlash over making edits to clients’ entries. Respondents also expressed a certain level of uncertainty regarding how to properly edit Wikipedia entries.
Of those who were familiar with the process of editing Wikipedia entries, 23 percent said making changes was “near impossible.” Twenty-nine percent said their interactions with Wikipedia editors were “never productive.”
The results also indicate that public relations professionals have only a rudimentary understanding of Wikipedia’s rules for editing and the protocol for contacting editors to secure factual changes.
“The editing of Wikipedia by public relations and corporate communications professionals is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed by everyone,” Dr. DiStaso explained. “The status quo can’t continue. A high amount of factual errors doesn’t work for anyone, especially the public, which relies on Wikipedia for accurate, balanced information.”