In “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” Johndan Johnson-Eilola says, “Collection is a social and political act; there are not mere disembodied facts, but choices” (212). I think this statement delves into the beating heart of one of the largest debates in electronic communication. Who can we trust to provide readers with verifiable information in online environments if all writing is biased and even political in nature? Many Wiki sites like those discussed by Christian Kohl and his colleagues in “History Now: Media Development and Textual Genesis of Wikipedia” are almost without boundaries in terms of writing and editing privileges. They write, “Publicly accessible Wikis hardly have any barriers—in principle all users have the same right to write and read” (169). I think there is a tendency for users to believe that the implications of equal user access mean that everyone can share their knowledge with others, and this is a possibility. However, the choices discussed by Johnson-Eilola also play a role, and that role can sometimes be influenced by monetary gains.
A company known as Wiki-PR provides an excellent example of how monetary gains can be achieved by utilizing the equal access provided on Wiki sites. In this case, the site in question is Wikipedia. Wiki-PR creates, edits, and monitors Wikipedia pages for paying clients. They claim that they respect Wikipedia policies and include only accurate information on client pages while preventing malicious or uninformed writers and editors from tarnishing client reputations. The debate centered upon Wiki-PR’s activities is motivated by questions about whether or not businesses like Wiki-PR destroy the integrity of Wikis or are contributing members of their online communities.
Many have responded with outrage upon learning about Wiki-PR’s activities, and Wikipedia itself is part of the angry horde. In fact, Wikipedia has begun to disable a large number of accounts connected to what they view as suspicious writing and editing activities. Some claim that what Wiki-PR does is little more than paid advocacy while others disagree. Opponents to writing and editing Wikipedia for clients seem to be claiming that the rights for everyone to write and edit on Wikis do not extend to people who are paid to maintain clients’ images. It would seem such opponents think the inevitably biased work of writers and editors described by Johnson-Eilola in his discussion of collection choices goes too far when money enters a situation as a motivating factor.
However, others seem to think that Wiki-PR may not just be a corrupt company hoping to obtain economic benefits. I think the most compelling arguments from supporters are those that provide examples of public relations workers maintaining standards of accuracy while working on Wikis like Wikipedia. After all, these workers have access to the most accurate data and are strategically placed to test information which could be incorrect in order to eliminate errors. It seems counterintuitive to stop workers from improving site information just because of their affiliations.
I do not know what to think of businesses like Wiki-PR making and maintaining Wikipedia articles. Johnson-Eilola describes how “meaning is constructed contingently, from pieces of other meanings and social forces that tend to prioritize one meaning over another” (202). I think that Wiki-PR provides an example of how a company can seek to construct meaning from accurate information while prioritizing the interests of clients. At the same time, Wiki-PR is still often providing good information and correcting misleading errors of other writers and editors. In truth, are other writers and editors who work on Wiki sites doing things much differently than Wiki-PR? If all writing is biased and subject to motivations, than every writer’s work is biased and should be subject to suspicion. All because no monetary gain is achieved does not mean users are not writing and editing information for ideological or moral gains. Who can readers of Wiki sites trust, and what is the value of a site that is subject to the biases of the general populace?