The internet just gets weirder and weirder.
On January 24, TechCrunch reported on the now famous scandal in which Microsoft paid a Wikipedian to post favorable material about Microsoft. In this article, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington expressed sympathy towards Microsoft and took issue with the over-protective cliques that can form among Wikipedia editors (See footnote at bottom).
However, a Microsoft employee named Dare Obasanjo took issue with Arrington’s post, altered the TechCrunch article on Wikipedia, and posting about it on his personal blog. Obasanjo’s aim was to post accusations against TechCrunch on Wikipedia without presenting TechCrunch’s side of the story. According to his blog, this was his political statement demonstrating the Wikipedia community’s unfairness towards Microsoft.
Michael Arrington was furious. In his blog he writes:
I have a suggestion to companies: Request your employees to refrain from attacking journalists who write about you. Respectful disagreement is one thing. This is something completely different.
Later, in response to reader comments, he adds…
No “Roy”, I don’t think I over reacted and I don’t think I’m being a drama queen. I think a representative of Microsoft just vandalized the techcrunch wikipedia page in response to an article I wrote about them and I’m pissed off.
There are now 100 comments posted to this thread. Amazingly, the majority seem to feel Arrington is overreacting. I was stunned to see Arrington on the defensive on his own blog. Personally, I perceive the issue to be pretty black and white in Arrington’s favor. Arrington responds again in this comment post:
Ok so just to summarize: I write a post that is largely pro-Microsoft but contains one or two criticisms of them. A Microsoft employee responds by adding accusations of improper behavior on the TechCrunch Wikipedia entry. And everyone is cool with that?
Does anyone see this as a way to potentially chill free speech? Hello?
This is a very odd and disturbing conflict. I have a lot of friends who are employees of major companies. They are not allowed to communicate with the press in any manner, as stated in their employment contracts. I’m constantly cajoling friends to write content on their company’s ValueWiki stock page and many are simply not allowed.
In my opinion, what Dare Obasanjo did is grounds for dismisal. It is true that everyone is allowed to edit Wikipedia. But this should be perceived as a direct retaliation against a journalist who published an article mildly critical of Microsoft. To view the contents of Obasanjo’s Tech Crunch smear campaign, read the TechCrunch Wikipedia article under “Criticisms”. It’s a fairly personal attack.
Michael Arrington responded on the Wikipedia TechCrunch Article Talkpage, claiming the bulk of Obasanjo’s criticisms are untrue and non-encyclopedic. I am inclined to believe him.
I would like to point out that the entire “criticism” section, which has now expanded, was added by a microsoft [Employee] to make a point that Wikipedia is flawed. His point seems to be accurate given what’s happened since. The “criticims” are true only in that people wrote them. I do not believe it is accurate to point to unverified blog posts that say we take money for posts, nor do I think it is accurate to point to a ONA link that I have flat out said was an innacurate statement of what occured and which was written by a paid consultant to big media. Finally, the term “franchise” has legal meaning and is inaccurate. Lastly, if I have violated some wikipedia rules of conduct by writing on this discussion page, I apologize. Frankly, I’m not even sure I’m allowed to read a page that is written about my company, let alone participate in the discussion. – Mike, TechCrunch
Microsoft appears to have even more egg on their face than usual, and apologies to both TechCrunch and the Wikipedia community are warranted. Very, very odd affair.
Footnote: A reader (below) takes issue with my statements that Microsoft actually paid Rick Jeliffe, and that Rick Jeliffe was a Wikipedian. To clarify, Rick Jeliffe was a Wikipedia editor who contributed using IP addresses such as this one. According to his own Wikipedia entry, Jeliffe accepted payment for three days from Microsoft, even after the scandal broke. After accepting Microsoft’s offer (full text of Microsoft’s offer here) he published this open request for Microsoft inaccuracies that he should begin correcting on Wikipedia. Jelliffe maintained his intention to write for Microsoft even after the Dare Obasanjo blog post, (writing, ”Dare’s blog is always a fun read…“) and after the story had been heavily slashdotted. And on January 26, two days after the slashdot, Jelliffe writes that he is accepting payment. He has since made 47 edits to Wikipedia, mostly discussing Microsoft Office XML and the Microsoft section of Open Document Software on those article talk pages. In Jelliffe’s defense, I would say Jelliffe has operated above the board and with full disclosure.