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Wikipedia:Conflict of interest

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A Wikipedia conflict of interest (COI) is when an editor wants to do something which does not help Wikipedia's goal, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia.

Changing pages to promote your own interests or those of other people, companies, or groups, is a COI. Where outside goals are more important to a user than building Wikipedia, that person has a conflict of interest.

COI is not wanted in Wikipedia. When a user's changes harm the encyclopedia by breaking policies such as neutral point of view, what Wikipedia is not, and notability, the user's account may be blocked. COI editing can also make the person or group look bad outside of Wikipedia.[1]

It is best if users who have COIs say so, both on their user pages and on the talk page of any article they change. This is especially important if other users may disagree with the change that they make. Most Wikipedians will appreciate your honesty. Editors who try to hide their COIs are often exposed. This gives other users the feeling that they, and perhaps their employer, are secretly trying to change Wikipedia articles to support them.

If you think a user has a COI, you must be careful not to out them. Wikipedia's policy against harassment is more important than this guideline. COI situations are often discovered when the editor themselves says how they are linked to the subject of the article they are changing. In cases where the user does not say they have a COI, biased editing can be changed back to follow the neutral point of view policy.

What is a conflict of interest?[change source]

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a place where people can advertise a service, product or person. As such, it should contain only information that follows its policies, and Wikipedians must make sure that following Wikipedia policies are the most important thing when they are changing pages. Any user who changes pages while thinking that other things are more important than making Wikipedia a better encyclopedia has a conflict of interest.

There are no rules to decide whether a conflict of interest exists, but there are warning signs. If a user is adding material to an article that looks like it might be advertising the user, their family members, employer, or business or personal activities, this means they have a conflict of interest. When editors write to promote things they are linked with, their contributions often do not contain things which the general public would find useful or important. If you do write an article on an area which you are linked to, be sure to write in a neutral tone and cite reliable, third-party published sources, and be careful in case your changes accidentally make your point of view more important than the others. Neutral point of view is one of Wikipedia's five pillars.

If other users suggest that your changes are against Wikipedia's standards, take that advice seriously and think about talking about it with the other users.

Examples[change source]

Citing oneself[change source]

Making changes to a subject in which you are an expert does not have to mean a conflict of interest. Using sources you have helped write is allowed but only if they are truly important and fit with the Wikimedia Foundation mission and principles. Using your work as a source should not be done often. When in doubt, follow what the community thinks.

Financial[change source]

If one of the points underneath applies to you:

  1. you are being paid, in money or other rewards, to change Wikipedia for a company or group (whether you are working for the group, or for a company paid to advertise the group); or,
  2. you expect to gain money or other rewards from changing Wikipedia; for example, by being the owner or other stakeholder of a company or other organization about which you are writing;

then we very strongly encourage you to not make changes to Wikipedia in areas where there is a conflict of interest, because that would make your edits non-neutral (biased). Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy states that all articles must represent views fairly and without bias, and conflicts of interest do stop Wikipedia from being able to do this. If your changes would not be neutral, do not post them.

Legal antagonists[change source]

If you are involved in a court case, or close to one of the litigants, you would find it very hard to demonstrate that what you wrote about a party or a law firm associated with the case, or a related area of law, was entirely objective. Even a minor slip up in neutrality in a court-case article on Wikipedia for an active case-in-progress could potentially be noticed by the courts or their parties, and this could potentially cause real-world harm, not just harm to Wikipedia. Because of this, we strongly discourage editing when this type of conflict exists.

Autobiography[change source]

It is not recommended that you write an article about yourself. If you are notable, someone else will notice you and write the article. In some cases, Wikipedia users write articles about themselves when the more appropriate action would be to create a user page. In these cases, the article is normally moved into the user namespace rather than deleted. If you believe you may be notable enough, make your case on the appropriate talk pages, and seek consensus first, both with the notability and any proposed autobiography.

Self-promotion[change source]

Conflict of interest often presents itself in the form of self-promotion, including advertising links, personal website links, personal or semi-personal photos, or other material that appears to promote the private or commercial interests of the editor, or their associates.

Examples of these types of material include:

  1. Links that appear to promote products by pointing to obscure or not particularly relevant commercial sites (commercial links).
  2. Links that appear to promote otherwise obscure individuals by pointing to their personal pages.
  3. Biographical material that does not significantly add to the clarity or quality of the article.

Promotional article production on behalf of clients[change source]

Editors should not create articles which serve solely to promote their subject. All Wikipedia articles should contain useful information written as if from a neutral point of view. The writing of 'puff pieces' and advertisements on Wikipedia is strictly prohibited. If you contribute to Wikipedia on behalf of clients, you owe it to both them and the encyclopedia to make very sure you understand the standards for content here, and do not insert promotional material.

Campaigning[change source]

Activities regarded by insiders as simply "getting the word out" may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with organizations that engage in advocacy in that area, you may have a conflict of interest.

Close relationships[change source]

Friedrich Engels would have had difficulty editing the Karl Marx article, because he was a close friend, follower and collaborator of Marx.[2] Any situation where strong relationships can develop may trigger a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest can be personal, religious, political, academic, financial, and legal. It is not determined by area, but is created by relationships that involve a high level of personal commitment to, involvement with, or dependence upon, a person, subject, idea, tradition, or organization.

Closeness to a subject does not mean you're incapable of being neutral, but it may incline you towards some bias. Be guided by the advice of other editors. If editors on a talk page suggest in good faith that you may have a conflict of interest, try to identify and minimize your biases, and consider withdrawing from editing the article. As a rule of thumb, the more involvement you have with a topic in real life, the more careful you should be with our core content policies — Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, Wikipedia:No original research, and Wikipedia:Verifiability — when editing in that area.

The definition of "too close" in this context is governed by common sense. An article about a little-known band should preferably not be written by a band member or the manager. However, an expert on climate change is welcome to contribute to articles on that subject, even if that editor is deeply committed to the subject.

How to avoid WCOI edits[change source]

Wikipedia is "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit," but if you have a conflict of interest avoid, or exercise great caution when:

  1. Editing articles related to you, your organization, or its competitors, as well as projects and products they are involved with,
  2. Participating in deletion discussions about articles related to your organization or its competitors,
  3. Linking to the Wikipedia article or website of your organization in other articles (see Wikipedia:Spam);
    and you must always:
  4. Avoid breaching relevant policies and guidelines, especially neutral point of view, verifiability, and autobiography.
Those who feel the need to make controversial edits, in spite of a real or perceived conflict of interest, are strongly encouraged to submit proposed edits for review on the article's talk page along with a {{Request edit}} tag to attract users to review the edit, or to file a request for comment.

User subspace to publish short autobiographies[change source]

Contributing signed-in users may use their user subspace to publish short autobiographies within the bounds of good taste and compatible with the purpose of working on the encyclopedia. If you wish to write about yourself without working on the encyclopedia, consider starting a website or a blog instead. Wikipedia is not a free webhost.

How to handle conflicts of interest[change source]

Conflict of interest often raises questions as to whether material should be included in the encyclopedia or not. It also can be a cause, or contributing factor, in disputes over whether editors have an agenda that undermines the mission of Wikipedia. Suspected conflict of interest incidents may be reported on the conflict of interest noticeboard, and users may be warned with the {{uw-coi}} user warning template. Conflict of interest is not a reason to delete an article although other problems with the article arising from a conflict of interest may be valid criteria for deletion.

Dealing with suspected conflicted editors

The first approach should be direct discussion of the issue with the editor, referring to this guideline. If persuasion fails, consider whether you are involved in a content dispute. If so, an early recourse to dispute resolution may help. Another option is to initiate discussion at WP:COIN, where experienced editors may be able to help you resolve the matter without recourse to publishing assertions and accusations on Wikipedia. Using COI allegations to harass an editor or to gain the upper hand in a content dispute is prohibited, and can result in a block or ban.

Wikipedia places importance on both the neutrality of articles and the ability of editors to edit pseudonymously. Do not out an editor's real life identity in order to prove a conflict of interest. Wikipedia's policy against harassment takes precedence over this guideline. WCOI situations are usually revealed when the editor themselves discloses a relationship to the subject that they are editing. In case the editor does not identify themselves or their affiliation, reference to the neutral point of view policy may help counteract biased editing.

Primacy of basic content policies

All text created in the Wikipedia main namespace is subject to rules covering criteria for articles (what Wikipedia is not); encyclopedic quality (verifiability and original research); editorial approach (neutral point of view); as well as the Wikipedia copyright policy. All editors are expected to stick closely to these policies when creating and evaluating material, and to respect the good faith actions of others who edit content to ensure it complies with these policies.

Who has written the material should be irrelevant so long as these policies are closely adhered to. The imputation of conflict of interest is not by itself a good reason to remove sound material from articles. However, an apparent conflict of interest is a good reason for close review by the community to identify any subtle bias.

For an article about something obviously important, but which was written with too much COI to easily edit, it is often possible to reduce an article to the basic identifying information and then neutral editors can help the article to be improved.

Importance of civility

During debates in articles' talk pages and at articles for deletion, disparaging comments may fly about the subject of the article/author and the author's motives. These may border on personal attacks, and may discourage the article's creator from making future valuable contributions.

Avoid using the word "vanity" or similar judgmental terms — this is accusatory and discouraging. It is not helpful, nor reason to delete an article. Assuming good faith, start from the idea that the contributor was genuinely trying to help increase Wikipedia's coverage.

Conflict of interest in point of view disputes

Another case is within disputes relating to non-neutral points of view, where underlying conflicts of interest may aggravate editorial disagreements. In this scenario, it may be easy to make claims about conflict of interest. Do not use conflict of interest as an excuse to gain the upper hand in a content dispute. When conflicts exist, invite the conflicted editor to contribute to the article talk page, and give their views fair consideration.

How not to handle WCOI[change source]

There is a little drama that is enacted more often than it should be.

  • Act One: Someone writes a hatchet job about a company with a less than stellar reputation.
  • Act Two: The company arrives, is (justifiably) horrified and angered by the hatchet job. They respond without experience, clumsily, by trying to force a change to a whitewash.
  • Act Three: Self-righteous Wikipedian responds in anger against the attempt to "censor" or "whitewash" by yelling at the company and forcing the article back to a hatchet job status.
  • Act Four: Company comes crying to otrs and the office.
  • Act Five: In the happy version of the ending, otrs/the office comes in and reminds everyone to act with love and neutrality to write a good article which is acceptable to both reasonable critics and reasonable supporters of the company... reliance on solid sources, neutral language, etc. carries the day.

In reality, Act Five often ends up cycling back through Acts One through Four. This is a Bad Thing.

Remember: an editor with a self-evident interest in the matter turning up on the talk page is an indication that they are playing it straight. Even if the changes they advocate are hopelessly biased, treat them with respect and courtesy, refer to policy and sources, and be fair.

Editors who may have a conflict of interest[change source]

This section of the guideline is aimed at editors who may have a conflict of interest. In keeping with Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy, edits in mainspace where there is a clear conflict of interest, or where such a conflict can be reasonably assumed, are strongly discouraged. Significantly biased edits in mainspace are forbidden.

Non-controversial edits[change source]

Editors who may have a conflict of interest are allowed to make certain kinds of non-controversial edits, such as:

  1. Removing spam and reverting vandalism.
  2. Deleting content that violates Wikipedia's biography of living persons policy.
  3. Fixing spelling and grammar errors.
  4. Reverting or removing their own COI edits. Cleaning up your own mess is allowed and encouraged.
  5. Making edits that have been agreed to on the talk page.

To determine what is controversial, use common sense. If another good faith editor objects, then it's controversial.

Declaring an interest[change source]

Some editors declare an interest in a particular topic area. They do this in various ways. Many Wikipedians show their allegiances and affiliations on their user pages. You may choose to reveal something about yourself in a talk page discussion.

Reasons to declare an interest
  • You will benefit from the assumption of good faith.
  • Most editors will appreciate your honesty and try to help you.
  • You lay the basis for requesting help from others to post material for you, or to review material you wish to post yourself.
Disadvantages of COI editing on the sly
  • If your edits violate neutral point of view, they can be reverted.
  • Although other editors are not allowed to reveal your identity, they may come to understand who you are, and may realize that you are gaming the system.
  • People outside Wikipedia, such as reporters, may uncover your COI editing, and may generate negative publicity for you or your company. Wikipedia cannot prevent outsiders from discovering and revealing your identity.
Example of a disclosure

This disclosure note shows how a user who wishes to edit on behalf of a topic where they are closely connected can request help from other editors.

Defending interests[change source]

In a few cases, outside interests coincide with Wikipedia’s interests. An important example is that unsupported defamatory material appearing in articles may be removed at once. Anyone may do this, and should do this, and this guideline applies widely to any unsourced or poorly sourced, potentially libelous postings. In this case it is unproblematic to defend the interest of the person or institution involved. An entire article that presents as an attack piece or hostile journalism can be nominated for speedy deletion and will be removed promptly from the site. Those who post here in this fashion will also be subject to administrative sanction. Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons gives details on how biographical articles on living persons should be written.

On the other hand, the removal of reliably sourced critical material is not permitted. Accounts of public controversies, if backed by reliable sources, form an integral part of Wikipedia's coverage. Slanting the balance of articles as a form of defence of some figure, group, institution, or product is bad for the encyclopedia. This is also the case if you find an article overwhelmed with correctly referenced, but exclusively negative information. This may present a case of undue weight, for example, when 90% of an article about a particular company discusses a lawsuit one client once brought against it. In such a case, such material should be condensed by a neutral editor, and the other sections expanded. One of the best ways to go about this is to request this on the talk page.

The intermediate territory will naturally contain some grey areas. In many articles, criticism tends to collect in a separate section. There you may find properly referenced reports of well-publicised debates next to vague assertions that "Some people say X, while others think Y." Treat everything on its merits. Ask for reliable sources. Before removing a whole criticism section or article and distributing its parts over other sections of the article, which may be the best way ahead, consult other editors on the Talk page. Use crisp, informative edit summaries to detail what you have done, an excellent way to establish your reputation as a diligent editor. Raise any less obvious reasoning as a note on the talk page, with any additional links that support your edits.

Suggesting changes to articles, or requesting a new article[change source]

An editor with a conflict of interest who wishes to suggest substantive changes to an article should use that article's talk page. When making a request please consider disclosing your conflict of interest to avoid misunderstanding.

To request a new article, you can present your idea on the talk page of a relevant article or WikiProject.

Consequences of ignoring this guideline[change source]

Wikipedia's Law of Unintended Consequences

If you write in Wikipedia about yourself, your group, your company, or your pet idea, once the article is created, you have no right to control its content, and no right to delete it outside our normal channels. Content is not deleted just because somebody doesn't like it. Any editor may add material to or remove material from the article within the terms of our content policies. If there is anything publicly available on a topic that you would not want included in an article, it will probably find its way there eventually. More than one user has created an article only to find himself presented in a poor light long-term by other editors. If you engage in an edit war in an attempt to obtain a version of your liking you may have your editing access removed, perhaps permanently.

In addition, if your article is found not to be worthy of inclusion in the first place, it will be deleted, as per our deletion policies. Therefore, don't create promotional or other articles lightly, especially on subjects you care about.

Blocks[change source]

People who might have a conflict of interest should read this part. Administrators should not use this part as a reason to block somebody. If you read somebody's edit history and all their edits are making a person, company, product, service, or group look good, and it seems like they are breaking this guideline, you should warn them and show them this guideline. If they do the same thing again, they may be blocked.

Related pages[change source]

  1. Making changes because of public relations is especially bad. This includes, but is not limited to, edits made by public relations departments of corporations or governmental entities; or of other public or private for-profit or not-for-profit organizations; or by professional editors paid to edit a Wikipedia article with the sole intent of improving that organization's image. Wikipedia is a very public forum, and news of what occurs here is frequently reported in the media. "Anything you say here and anything you do here can have real world consequences." See: Wikipedia is in the real world
  2. Isaiah Berlin:
    In his own lifetime Engels desired no better fate than to live in the light of Marx's teaching, perceiving in him a spring of original genius which gave life and scope to his own peculiar gifts; with him he identified himself and his work, to be rewarded by sharing in his master's immortality.
    From Berlin's Karl Marx, 4th edition, p. 75. This description covers several aspects of what it might be to stand too close to a subject.