Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Five steps for navigating your school's Wikipedia entry

Have you checked your institution's Wikipedia entry lately?

It's no secret that Wikipedia entries are one of the highest-ranking items for any search engine, and since they are edited by an independent party, many outside your institution may consider the information more credible than what's published on your college or university website.

Last fall, many law school Wikipedia entries were edited by a crowd-sourced effort to highlight employment and cost information as interpreted by an advocacy group. One individual replaced my institution's actual tuition/fees with a "debt-financed cost" that projected the largest possible expense for a student financing the maximum student budget (including all living expenses) compounded with long-term student loan interest and inflation. This cost information was also moved to the top of our Wikipedia entry.

Even though Wikipedia's conflict of interest (COI) rules restrict PR and marketing professionals from editing their organization's entries, there are systems in place that can help you quickly correct biased or inaccurate information. Here are five steps for handling issues on your school's Wikipedia page:
  1. Know thy Wikipedia entry. At the top of every Wikipedia entry are tabs for "Article" and "Talk" on the left, and "Read," "Edit," and "View history" tabs on the right. The "talk" tab allows you and other Wikipedia users and editors to talk about the content of the entry outside of the article, and the history tab to see who has been editing your page, with links to their editing history on Wikipedia. To receive email notifications of changes to your institution's Wikipedia article, I recommend using a service like
  2. Pick your battles. Since you should work through another editor, it's good to have a measured response in choosing which changes to request. As a general rule, I only address changes for accuracy or for something that's biased against my organization.
  3. Cite your sources, preferably independent ones. Wikipedia editors already have a distrust for paid advocates of organizations working on their own entries, so it's very important to attribute your submitted changes. When you can cite an objective third party (such as an accrediting organization or ranking website), your recommendations will be given more credibility.
  4. DO NOT directly edit the live article. Whether you submit your changes anonymously (which will appear with your IP address) or as a registered Wikipedia user, respect the COI rules and submit your recommendations via the Talk page. To highlight your edit request, add the code "{{request edit|A}}" at the top of your recommendations. You can also explain the reasoning behind your changes on this page, which is useful if you're dealing with a potentially controversial subject.
  5. Find a fair-minded Wikipedia editor to consider your recommendations. To find another editor, you can check out the "View history" section of your page to find others who have made helpful changes to your site in the past. If they're not still actively editing Wikipedia content, you can visit the Wikiproject Universities community to find participants interested in higher education entries. Since Wikipedia submissions are trackable, it's easy to see how active and fair an editor has been when making editorial judgments on other pages. 
By following the steps listed above, my law school's Wikipedia entry was fairly corrected within 48 hours of the biased editing.

(Edited to add Wikipedia "request edit" code in bullet 4.)