Change to Wikipedia may affect you.

WikipediaIn 2010, this blog posted:
Have you searched for your product category on Wikipedia? Does the page exist? If so, is your product properly represented? Remember that anyone can edit Wikipedia, so add your information if it's not there. Play fair, though. Wikipedia's community of editors will zap you if you don't, and the backlash can be worse for your reputation than missing information would have been.
What's new?
Wikipedia's parent organization, Wikimedia, has proposed an amendment to its terms of use that puts a control on the "anyone can edit" principle. The amendment states: 
you must disclose your employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any contribution to any Wikimedia projects for which you receive, or expect to receive, compensation. (emphasis added) You must make that disclosure in at least one of the following ways:
  • a statement on your user page,
  • a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or
  • a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.
As I will explain below, this change may impose difficulties and risks on your company that would make Wikipedia less attractive as a social media platform.

The introduction to the amendment explains:
Contributing to the Wikimedia Projects to serve the interests of a paying client while concealing the paid affiliation has led to situations that the community considers problematic. Many believe that users with a potential conflict of interest should engage in transparent collaboration, requiring honest disclosure of paid contributions. Making contributions to the Wikimedia Projects without disclosing payment or employment may also lead to legal ramifications. Our Terms of Use already prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. To ensure compliance with these provisions, this amendment provides specific minimum disclosure requirements for paid contributions on the Wikimedia projects.
What does this mean to you?

Wikipedia depends on the willingness of users to share what they know. Since many building product companies have a great deal of expertise in-house or on retainer, it serves the community spirit of Wikipedia to have your experts contribute information to the online, community-sourced encyclopedia. Under the proposed guidelines however, your employee or consultant would have to disclose that he or she has a financial relationship with your company.

I have three concerns:

1. Will disclosure of your expert's relationship hurt or improve the public's acceptance of the expert's edits. Some people will assume that the pecuniary relationship makes the information biased and untrustworthy. I posit that disclosure of the expert's qualifications could also make the information more credible by establishing it as originating from a source that can be vetted.

2. The new rule may make many real experts want to avoid Wikipedia. As it is now, your expert can make edits with a certain amount of anonymity. Others can (and usually will) change what your expert contributes, but there is no repercussion on the individual.  By disclosing the individual's relationship with an employer or client, the expert loses anonymity, and may be expose to harassment or other tribulations. 

3. Of most consequence, your employee's or consultant's statements may be interpreted as a warranty issued by your company. (A warranty is any claim you make about your product's performance, not just the things covered in your company's warranty form.) As it is now, edits are made by individuals acting as individuals, not acting on their employer's behalf. The proposed change, therefore, could impose a new legal liability and risk.

Take a look at the proposed changes, discuss this with your PR person and attorney, and let me know what you think about this.