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on wiki-pr or how information & public relations become indistinguishable

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by roachboy, Oct 21, 2013.

  1. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    Is Wikipedia for Sale? | Motherboard

    this article is about wikipr, a delightful capitalist concern that does brand management by altering information in wikipedia and replacing it with infotainment symmetrical with the interests of the clients that hire them.

    here's the corporate website. if you read it as if this appeared in the onion, it's pretty funny. but it isn't in the onion:

    Wiki-PR: Wikipedia Writers For hire

    it seems to me that this is symptomatic of a much bigger problem--the blurring out of any meaningful distinction between information and public relations. versions of this tendency are obvious in media-spaces like fox news. but this is a wider issue. with wiki-pr, the message could be paraphrased: if you, corporate person, do not like the way reality is treating you, then change reality.

    in a sense, this is a logical extension of the viewpoints outlined in the 20s by edward bernays, the founder of public relations.

    what do you think of this specific example of a pr firm whose focus is to alter information in wikipedia in order to help with "brand management"? do you accept the characterization of wikipedia presented in the article? do you think the piece correct in its assessment?

    the broader questions of information and public relations becoming indistinguishable is disturbing, i think. the maintenance of a separation is fundamental to a democratic polity. what do you think its erasure says about the nature of democratic politics in the states?

    this seems to me to point toward a kind of creeping dreamworld, a capitalist version of socialist realism, one that enjoins people to live beautifully (as did socialist realism from a certian viewpoint) by living in a fantasy shaped by brand identities and their maintenance in the elimination of dissonant aspects of that pesky reality thing. there's something at the least creepy about it. what do you think?
     
  2. genuinemommy

    genuinemommy Moderator Staff Member

    I always assumed that this activity was going on. There are PR firms that will create heaps of positive reviews for terrible hotels, so why wouldn't there be PR firms that muck with wikipedia as well? What I'm not sure about is whether or not Wikipedia has any incentive to discourage such tweaking.
    An uninformed public cannot take part in a democracy. Unfortunately people don't realize how uninformed they truly have become.
     
  3. mixedmedia

    mixedmedia ...

    Location:
    Florida
    I watched a documentary about Deep Throat in the wee hours of this morning and in it was Gore Vidal and he said this:

    We lie about human sexuality because we're taught to lie about everything. When you have a nation that totally lies, then you have no reality.

    It gave me a start. And, yeah, I think our continued 'fluffing' (yes, in that sense) of the truth makes us as a society pathologically insecure and unstable because we can never live up to the lies that we so fervently believe about ourselves. Like genuinegirly, I am not so surprised that this is going on because it has been going on in one way or another - textbooks, novels, tv shows, movies, etc. - for a very long time. We are already in it.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    Location:
    Baltimore/DC
    This is actually why Wikipedia setup a more formal policy of edit reviews, than the more open policy they had before.
    Not just due to vandalism, but because entities and VIPs were getting PR groups to edit their threads.

    If it is caught, the groups in question are locked out...
    and the thread might even be locked down.

    However, I don't know how absolute this is...so it depends on the awareness of the mods and the diligence of the groups over time.

    In the end, it's like Reagan said...trust, but verify.
    Or it will be like PT Barnum said, "there's a sucker born every minute" (or more likely said by David Hannum, citation needed ;))
     
  5. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Location:
    Foggy Bottom
    The first casualty of war the Internet is truth....where bloggers are self-proclaimed journalists and popular "independent news" sites have no integrity or code of ethics.
    --- merged: Oct 22, 2013 at 12:48 AM ---

    Not to compare Wikipedia to Fox News' invasion of the sock puppets

    Fox News Unleashes Horde of Sock Puppets on an Unsuspecting Blogosphere | Mother Jones
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 29, 2013
  6. snowy

    snowy so kawaii Staff Member

    This is one of the things that concerns me, but my older students allay my fears on that front on a daily basis. We regularly discuss how to sort through information in a critical fashion. I'll have to bring this to their attention. They'll be interested.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  7. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    Location:
    Baltimore/DC
    This is why I value fact-finding sites...like Politifact
    And why the news sites are starting to get into it more.

    People want a trusted source to validate what they find.
    At least more people are starting to question everything.

    What scares me are those that take things at face-value.
    But you've always had to worry about this.

    This is why the Founding Fathers didn't trust the masses.
    A certain volume of people can be duped...and be reactionary.
    Unfortunately, even more so than the current Congress. :rolleyes:

    Just the facts, mam.
    It's always been an ongoing battle.
     
  8. roachboy

    roachboy Very Tilted

    i don't see the connection between 18th century arguments against democracy and the effects of a pervasive public relations industry.

    there is a kind of interesting question, though: if there is little distinction between pr and information---it's all the same once you group both together as "content" yes?----how does one go about separating one from the other? what would verification mean? shifting from one level of brand-identity to another?

    take for example a self-enclosed media environment. because i am, rather against expectations, tinkering with a chapter in the interminable cook project at the moment, i am thinking about the french communist party...but one could also think about any number of other self-enclosed, self-referential media spaces (tunnels, if you like).

    any given media space is dense with infotainment. what makes it a discrete space is a function of political affiliation, which would mean consistency of line or perspective.

    infotainment circulates within such spaces in part to inform and in part to reinforce an underlying worldview. the worldview at play would be shared by writers and readers, so it's not a matter of some puppeteer who stands outside and cynically places consistencies as a means to an end. it's a circular relation based on shared dispositions.

    a worldview cannot be static if it is to be functional---it has to be amenable to motion in a sense---so the reinforcement of a worldview is a matter of consistency in emphasis and de-emphasis (of shaping salience, what is foreground and what background) and interpretation (explanations for salience)...

    the question, i suppose (if i am formulating this in a coherent way...not sure) is what would count as verification within such an environment. it would seem to me a matter of moving from one level to another within a relatively homogenous infotainment climate (environment, space, climate...are these interchangeable?)...

    it'd be easy enough, then, to have procedures that'd give the impression of checking facts that would amount to little more than movement across levels of the same. in such a situation, basic interpretive moves would be filtered out, i would think. the process of verification would provide you no impetus to move beyond that information environment. so in a sense, you wouldn't verify anything, really. you'd just move around.

    i suppose this kind of situation would be set up/enabled by a substitution of aesthetic criteria for other possible criteria that can motivate one's judgment. information is "true" if it can be "verified" by shuffling about various registers of information...if the space within which these registers operate is as i outline above, then that's all it is, shuffling about---but the sense of "being-true" is as much a matter of symmetry with one's prior dispositions as anything else. it seems to me that this is a relation that would follow from treating information---and politics---as something that is consumed.

    maybe i digress.
     
  9. mixedmedia

    mixedmedia ...

    Location:
    Florida
    I don't know that it is possible. To verify something that happened in the past. Things that are written down, filmed, recorded - they don't necessarily represent facts. It's like looking at a drop of seawater under a microscope. You can't understand what you're looking at without context. And that's where our imaginations come in to play because context is an ocean of information that is lost to us. At least, that's what I've come up with. Right now. Feels accurate.
     
  10. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    Location:
    Toronto
    Well, there are a few distinctions that should be stated, whether they're obvious or not, even if just for clarity's sake:

    1) Information is merely phenomena that can be interpreted as messages.
    2) A message is the meaning derived via a form of communication.
    3) Communication is the "carrier" of information.
    4) Information that is not indisputable or cannot be verified is not a fact.

    Wikipedia is a tool of communication. Its power and influence is driven by its being free, widely available, and collaboratively edited.

    That last bit is the key to this Wiki-PR issue. The Wikipedia "validation" process is viewed as one of integrity above that of many other sources based on the idea that collaboration keeps bias in check. It being free is another factor that contributes to this view.

    So a balanced collaborative process that isn't influenced by monied interests gives Wikipedia a reputation of being a reputable source of valid information.

    The problem, of course, is vandalization and this PR practice we're discussing here. While the former is a nuisance, I think the later is dangerous. Wikipedia is widely the go-to place to find a source of information, and even facts, even if it's just as a starting point. The effect of such things as this PR "pruning" or "brand/image management" is that facts themselves will get watered down or changed, or will be "downgraded" to mere information, or will disappear altogether.

    I can only assume that this kind of assault on Wikipedia's integrity must result in a practice that reduces a potentially fact-based source to that of mere information, making Wikipedia a collaborative receptacle of messages about one thing or another and perhaps little more. Now, I don't think this is an issue for entire swaths of Wikipedia. Few will likely try to reduce the factual integrity of pages on scientific or mathematical subjects, for example (and for the most part). But, as we now know with this Wiki-PR issue, trying to find out more about certain companies, organizations, products, industries, etc., will require a healthy dose of skepticism (and cynicism). I, for one, am more concerned about what's not there than about what is.

    McLuhan's claim that the medium is the message is as relevant today as it was back in his day.

    Because if it's on Wikipedia, it's most likely true, right?
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013
  11. Spiritsoar

    Spiritsoar Slightly Tilted

    Location:
    New York
    I don't know if I'm unusual for doing this, but a lot of the time when I'm looking something up in Wikipedia, especially if it's a controversial idea or person, I'll read into the talk page of the article. Reading the discussions, edits, and rationalizations that have gone into making an article can give an interesting perspective into biases that come into edits, and the admirable effort a lot of editors put into ensuring that articles maintain a neutral point of view.
     
  12. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    Location:
    Baltimore/DC
    Quite frankly, I believe I can tell when something has been "PR'd" and the types of threads that are most likely.

    Entertainment info threads, I don't usually worry, because they are simply for background info on a particular movie, book or such...and done by fans.
    Science threads, I also don't worry about, because there are so many uber-geeks out there, they correct it all the time. It's their thing.

    But if it's about a particular celebrity, person or entity or product...then that's when I take what they say with a bit of skepticism.
    Why?
    Because it's these that have the most to lose by bad press.
    A current singer.
    A politician.
    A company.
    A product, like a particular drug or such.

    So I keep in mind if there is a potential agenda...then just read it for an overview...then check otherwise.

    In truth, if you're doing anything serious anyway, you should always be looking for multiple sources and validating them anyway.
     
  13. martian

    martian Server Monkey Staff Member

    Location:
    Mars
    Personally I find it neither interesting or surprising that an organization like Wiki-PR exists. Create a casual source for authoritative information, make it free and open, and make it popular; attempts to subvert that resource for marketing purposes are inevitable. Wikipedia does already incorporate safeguards for precisely this sort of thing. No protection will be perfect and thus the information contained within such a resource is inevitably going to be steered by various agendas. It's the cost of running a free and open system.

    No, what's really fascinating to me here is the scope. Wiki-PR's own marketing materials claim 45 employees, and the folks performing the investigation have discovered several hundred sock puppet accounts to date. Wiki-PR also claims that in addition to run-of-the-mill editors they have admins on their payroll. Wikipedia admins, much like in communities like ours, are entrusted with greater powers than your average users and editors. If Wiki-PR really does have admins under their control, then it's fair to say that they've got much greater capability to subvert Wikipedia to their clients' advantage. Of course, given that they clearly have no particular objection to intentionally misleading and/or lying to clients, this could just be a bit of marketing creativity on their behalf.