Updated, 2:27 p.m.: Comments from BP in response to the accusation have been included below.
Wikipedia editors have accused BP of editing its own page entry to whitewash its environmental impact in the public record. As CNET reported Thursday, “angry Wikipedia editors estimate that BP has rewritten 44 percent of the page about itself, especially about its environmental performance.” Via CNET:
BP is not directly editing its page, but instead has apparently inserted a BP representative into the editing community who provides Wikipedia editors with text.
The text is then copied “as is” onto the page by Wikipedia editors, while readers are none the wiser that the sections pretending to be unbiased information are, in fact, vetted by higher-ups at BP before hitting the page.
… BP’s image cleanup cleverly skirts Wikipedia’s editorial rules, wherein Wikipedia editors are using text that BP posts on Wikipedia itself as the source (although the text is not published on BP’s Web site).
This way, the significant involvement of BP in its own entry is completely hidden from Wikipedia readers — while Wikipedia editors, as usual, argue and attack each other over editorial policy while BP’s favorable PR editing continues.
CNET writer Violet Blue commented that the oil giant editing its own page in a favorable light “foreshadow[s] the future of Wikipedia, and the accuracy of its content … And what better way to illustrate this than with a petroleum megacorporation writing its own Wikipedia entry?”
A BP spokesperson emailed Salon in response to the accusations. A spokesperson commented:
BP operates within Wikipedia’s guidelines for how company representatives should interact with the site’s editors. For nearly a year now, we have been fully transparent, never directly editing any copy and always disclosing that any suggestions we offer to Wikipedia’s editors have come from a BP representative.
We have also acted objectively, often proposing language that contains negative information about the company. Our participation in the editorial process undoubtedly has resulted in greater accuracy, which after all should be the primary concern of everyone who relies on this resource for information.
BP’s spokesperson also noted that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales had pushed back against the accusations from editors, noting “I think that accusing [BP employee] Arturo of ‘skirting’ Wikipedia’s rules in this case is fairly ludicrous – unless ‘skirting’ means ‘going above and beyond what is required in order to be very clearly in compliance with best practice.’ So, I would consider that a blatant factual misrepresentation.”
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.