The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a repository for, among other things, information about notable businesses. With anybody being able to edit it, one of the most important ways that Wikipedia ensures that its information is accurate is through the application of a verifiability standard. Any information that is likely to be challenged by another edit must include a source citation, and those sources should be known for fact-checking. The most controversial edits can be seen in articles where the information is rapidly changing, such as biographies of living people, news stories, and established businesses; the sources in these situations are held up to high scrutiny. Understanding how business information is verified on Wikipedia can be helpful when addressing inaccuracies and unfavorable information.
Information Must Be Verifiable
According to Wikipedia’s verifiability policy, “Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source.” Information which is common knowledge does not require citations. Reliability and published are terms which bear further explanation.
- Reliable sources are known for being correct. The most reliable sources are peer-reviewed academic journals, mainstream newspapers, and other sources which have a process of editorial oversight that includes fact-checking. One or more individuals other than the writer have reviewed the work to ensure that events occurred as reported, research methods were applied consistently, and quotations are rendered accurately.
- Published sources can include electronic media, but generally never include self-published work. Books printed by a vanity or on-demand publishing house are self-published, as are web sites including blogs (notwithstanding the occasional blog on a newspaper’s web site which receives third-party editorial review; this would not be considered self-published).
Information can be cited from so-called “questionable sources” (including self-published information and sources which have a reputation for factual errors) for a limited extent on an article about the source itself. For example, it may be appropriate to include a reference from Microsoft.com in the Microsoft entry on Wikipedia. However, the source must not make claims about third parties (such as a review of a Google service) and should not be the primary source for the article.
Wikipedia cannot be used as a source for its own entries, because Wikipedia is unreliable due to its self-published nature. In addition, to permit this would create a circular reference with no academic credibility.
Truth vs. Verifiability
Wikipedia’s neutrality policy maintains that all mainstream viewpoints on a subject should be represented in about the same proportion as they are covered in reliable sources. This means that negative information about a business will not be removed if a reliable source can be found for it. Simply removing accurate information will not have a lasting effect, and repeatedly doing so will be viewed as vandalism. How to word a challenge to the information depends on how many sources are available for it.
- Is the information widespread? If the Wikipedia article accurately reflects what is being reported, review it to see if undue is given the information. Heavy coverage of a current news event can easily distort a Wikipedia page, and suggesting the information be more balanced is appropriate.
- Do only a handful of sources have this information? Look carefully at the reliability of each source to see if it’s possible to make an argument for its removal as unreliable. Fewer sources mean that fewer sentences should be devoted to the information in the Wikipedia article.
- Are there only one or two sources? Again, presenting a case of unreliability may lead to a source being removed. If the only source is an article in a reliable source such as the New York Times, a reasonable argument may still be made for there not being enough coverage to warrant its inclusion. Remember, Wikipedia does not wish to grant undue weight to trivial subjects.
Avoiding Conflict of Interest Issues
An employee of a company is considered too close to a business to be able to edit its entry without bias. With the exception of blatantly false and disparaging information, such employees should disclose their interest and discuss proposed changes on the talk page, the discussion area for editors of the article. Being honest about the relationship makes other editors more receptive to suggestions, such as arguments questioning the reliability and verifiability of sources.