“Member of Parliament caught white-washing own Wikipedia entry” isn’t the sort of publicity the MP you work for wants you to generate. In fact, it can be the stuff of nightmares; causing the so-called “Streisand effect“, whereby a minor issue suddenly becomes a front-page headline due to ham-fisted attempts by an interested party to hide it.
For all that Wikipedia implores editor to “ignore all rules” (ignore them, that is, if they impede the making of improvements to the encyclopedia), it also has a number of policies and, of lesser weight, guidelines. Though these can at times appear complex, even contradictory, they can also help editors to understand what is good, and bad practice.
Although some Wikipedia editors will insist that the conflict of interest policy decrees that you must not edit an article about yourself or someone you work for, that’s not true — though you should proceed with caution.
But there’s a corollary: the Wikipedia community wants its articles about politicians — indeed, about all living people — to be not only accurate, but fair. The biographies of living persons policy exists to ensure this is so.
This guide, written by a very experienced Wikipedian, should help you find your way.
The Wikimedia community
Wikipedians (who make Wikipedia) and Wikimedians
(Wikipedians, plus others, who work on the other WMF projects) are everywhere. There will be some in every constituency. Get to know them and encourage MPs to do likewise. Look out for their local social activities, or editing events (editathons) and other working parties. Ask them questions about how Wikipedia works (not just about editing an MP’s biography!) and understand their concerns about open access to research, copyright reform, orphan works, freedom of panorama and other issues that can affect their mission of creating “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. And remember: once you’ve edited Wikipedia, you are part of that community. Welcome aboard!
Andy Mabbett, FRSA, (ORCID: 0000-0001-5882-6823) is a consultant who specialises in advising organisations about Wikipedia and its sister projects, and training people to edit Wikipedia. He has worked as a “Wikimedian in Residence” for a number of museums, art galleries and learned societies.