Wikinews:Conflict of interest

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Green check.png This page is an official policy on the English Wikinews. It has wide acceptance among editors and is considered a standard that all users should follow. When editing this page, please ensure that your revision reflects consensus. When in doubt, discuss first on the talk page.

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Etiquette

A Wikinews conflict of interest (COI) is an incompatibility, or appearance of impropriety, between the aim of Wikinews to produce a neutral article, and the aims, affiliations, or political views of an individual editor or group of editors.

COI editing involves contributing to Wikinews in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. Where an editor must forego advancing the aims of Wikinews in order to advance outside interests, he stands in a conflict of interest.

COI edits are strongly discouraged. When they cause disruption to the project in the opinion of an uninvolved administrator, they may lead to accounts being blocked and embarrassment for the individuals and groups who were being promoted. Editing in the interests of public relations is particularly frowned upon. This includes, but is not limited to, edits made by public relations departments of corporations; or of other public or private for-profit or not-for-profit organizations; or by professional editors paid to edit a Wikinews article with the sole intent of improving that organization's image.


What is a conflict of interest?

Wikinews is an online news source, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion, or a vanity press. As such, it should contain only material that complies with its content policies, and Wikinewsies must place the interests of the project first. Any editor who gives priority to outside interests may be subject to a conflict of interest.

If other editors suggest that your editing violates Wikinews' standards, take that advice seriously and consider stepping back, reassessing your edits, and discussing your intentions with the community.

Examples

Financial

If you fit either of these descriptions:

  1. you are receiving monetary or other benefits or considerations to edit Wikinews as a representative of an organization (whether directly as an employee or contractor of that organization, or indirectly as an employee or contractor of a firm hired by that organization for public relations purposes); or,
  2. you expect to derive monetary or other benefits or considerations from editing Wikinews; for example, by being the owner, officer or other stakeholder of a company or other organisation about which you are writing;

then we very strongly encourage you to avoid editing Wikinews in areas where there is a conflict of interest that would make your edits non-neutral (biased). Wikinews' neutral point of view policy states that all articles must represent views fairly and without bias, and conflicts of interest do significantly and negatively affect Wikinews' ability to fulfill this requirement. If your financially-motivated edits would be non-neutral, do not post them.

Legal antagonists

If you are involved in a court case, or close to one of the litigants, you would find it very hard to demonstrate that what you wrote about a party or a law firm associated with the case, or a related area of law, was entirely objective. Even a minor slip up in neutrality in a court-case article on Wikinews for an active case-in-progress could potentially be noticed by the courts or their parties, and this could potentially cause real-world harm, not just harm to Wikinews. Because of this, we strongly discourage editing when this type of conflict exists.

Self-promotion

Conflict of interest often presents itself in the form of self-promotion, including advertising links, personal website links, personal or semi-personal photos, or other material that appears to promote the private or commercial interests of the editor, or their associates.

Examples of these types of material include:

  1. Links that appear to promote products by pointing to obscure or not particularly relevant commercial sites (commercial links).
  2. Links that appear to promote otherwise obscure individuals by pointing to their personal pages.
  3. Biographical material that does not significantly add to the clarity or quality of the article.
Close relationships

Closeness to a subject does not mean you're incapable of being neutral, but it may incline you towards some bias. Be guided by the advice of other editors. If editors on a talk page suggest in good faith that you may have a conflict of interest, try to identify and minimize your biases, and consider withdrawing from editing the article. As a rule of thumb, the more involvement you have with a topic in real life, the more careful you should be with our core content policies — Wikinews:Neutral point of view and Citing sources — when editing in that area.

The definition of "too close" in this context is governed by common sense.

Campaigning

Activities regarded by insiders as simply "getting the word out" may appear promotional or propagandistic to the outside world. If you edit articles while involved with organizations that engage in advocacy in that area, you may have a conflict of interest.

Promotional article production on behalf of clients

Producing promotional articles for Wikinews on behalf of clients is strictly prohibited.

How to avoid COI edits

Wikinews can be edited by anyone, but if you have a conflict of interest avoid, or exercise great caution when:

  1. Editing articles related to you, your organization, or its competitors, as well as projects and products they are involved with,
  2. Participating in deletion discussions about articles related to your organization or its competitors,
  3. Linking to the Wikipedia article or website of your organization in other articles (see Wikipedia:Spam);
    and you must always:
  4. Avoid breaching relevant policies and guidelines, especially neutral point of view, and Citing sources.
Action
Those who feel the need to make controversial edits, in spite of a real or perceived conflict of interest, are strongly encouraged to submit proposed edits for review on the article's talk page.

How to handle conflicts of interest

Conflict of interest often raises questions as to whether material should be included in the project or not. It also can be a cause, or contributing factor, in disputes over whether editors have an agenda that undermines the mission of Wikinews. Suspected conflict of interest incidents may be reported on the Admin Alert page.

Dealing with suspected conflicted editors

The first approach should be direct discussion of the issue with the editor, referring to this guideline. If persuasion fails, consider whether you are involved in a content dispute. Editors and admins may act in conflict of interest situations as in any case of point of view pushing. However, using COI allegations to gain the upper hand in a content dispute is frowned upon.

Primacy of basic content policies

All text created in the Wikinews main namespace is subject to rules covering criteria for articles (what Wikinews is not); editorial approach (neutral point of view); as well as the Wikinews copyright policy. All editors are expected to stick closely to these policies when creating and evaluating material, and to respect the good faith actions of others who edit content to ensure it complies with these policies.

Who has written the material should be irrelevant so long as these policies are closely adhered to. The imputation of conflict of interest is not by itself a good reason to remove sound material from articles. However, an apparent conflict of interest is a good reason for close review by the community to identify any subtle bias.

Importance of civility

During debates in articles' talk pages and at articles for deletion, disparaging comments may fly about the subject of the article/author and the author's motives. These may border on personal attacks, and may discourage the article's creator from making future valuable contributions.

Avoid using the word "vanity" or similar judgmental terms — this is accusatory and discouraging. It is not helpful, nor reason to delete an article. Assuming good faith, start from the idea that the contributor was genuinely trying to help increase Wikinews' coverage.

Conflict of interest in point of view disputes

Another case is within disputes relating to non-neutral points of view, where underlying conflicts of interest may aggravate editorial disagreements. In this scenario, it may be easy to make claims about conflict of interest. Do not use conflict of interest as an excuse to gain the upper hand in a content dispute. When conflicts exist, invite the conflicted editor to contribute to the article talk page, and give their views fair consideration.

How not to handle COI

There is a little drama that is enacted more often than it should be.

  • Act One: Someone writes a hatchet job about a company with a less than stellar reputation.
  • Act Two: The company arrives, and is (justifiably) horrified and angered by the hatchet job. They respond without experience, clumsily, by trying to force a change to a whitewash.
  • Act Three: A self-righteous Wikinewsie responds in anger against the attempt to "censor" or "whitewash" by yelling at the company and forcing the article back to a hatchet-job status.
  • Act Four: The company comes crying to otrs and the office.
  • Act Five: In the happy version of the ending, otrs/the office comes in and reminds everyone to act with love and neutrality to write a good article which is acceptable to both reasonable critics and reasonable supporters of the company. Reliance on solid sources, neutral language, etc. carries the day.

In reality, Act Five often ends up cycling back through Acts One through Four. This is a Bad Thing.

Remember: an editor with a self-evident conflict of interest turning up on the talk page is an indication that they are playing it straight. Even if the changes they advocate are hopelessly biased, treat them with respect and courtesy, refer to policy and sources, and above all be fair.

Editors who may have a conflict of interest

This section of the guideline is aimed at editors who may have a conflict of interest. In keeping with Wikinews' neutral point of view policy, edits in mainspace where there is a clear conflict of interest, or where such a conflict can be reasonably assumed, are strongly discouraged. Significantly biased edits in mainspace are forbidden.

Declaring an interest

Some editors declare an interest in a particular topic area. They do this in various ways. Many Wikinewsies show their allegiances and affiliations on their user pages. You may choose to reveal something about yourself in a talk page discussion. Disclaimer: Wikinews gives no advice about whether or how to use its pages to post personal details. This guideline only raises some pros and cons.

Advantages:

  • By declaring an interest, you pre-empt anyone outing you or questioning your good faith.
  • Most editors will appreciate your honesty.
  • You lay the basis for requesting help from others to post material for you, or to review material you wish to post yourself.

Disadvantages:

  • Your declaration may be invoked against you at some point.
  • Your edits to the area in question may attract extra attention.
  • Your declaration will give you no special rights as an advocate. You may even be cautioned or, in extreme cases, told to stay away from certain topics.[1]

In the case of commercial editing (editing on behalf of a company):

  1. a disclosure enables you to ask openly for help in getting material posted and edited, but
  2. once your position is known, you will have to adhere stringently to neutral edits of affected articles, or no edits at all. Note that if you only correct bias against your company and its interests, and not bias in its favour, your editing will be different from that of a regular Wikinewsie, who would be expected to do both.

  1. Wikinews:What Wikinews is not makes it clear that Wikinews articles are not propaganda or advocacy. If you want to be an advocate for better topic coverage in an area, the conventional route is to join a related WikiProject, or start a fresh one. If you want to spread your own opinions, you are in the wrong place for that.

Defending interests

In a few cases, outside interests coincide with Wikinews' interests. An important example is that unsupported defamatory material appearing in articles may be removed at once. Anyone may do this, and should do this, and this guideline applies widely to any unsourced or poorly sourced, potentially libellous postings. In this case it is unproblematic to defend the interest of the person or institution involved. An entire article that presents as an attack piece or hostile journalism can be nominated for speedy deletion and will be removed promptly from the site. Those who post here in this fashion will also be subject to administrative sanction.

On the other hand, the removal of reliably sourced critical material is not permitted. Accounts of public controversies, if backed by reliable sources, form an integral part of Wikinews' coverage. Slanting the balance of articles as a form of defence of some figure, group, institution, or product is bad for the project.

Suggesting changes to articles, or requesting a new article

An editor with a conflict of interest who wishes to suggest substantive changes to an article should use that article's talk page (The collaboration tab at the top). When making a request please consider disclosing your conflict of interest to avoid misunderstanding.

Non-controversial edits

Editors who may have a conflict of interest are allowed to make certain kinds of non-controversial edits, such as:

  1. Removing spam and reverting vandalism.
  2. Fixing spelling and grammar errors.
  3. Reverting or removing their own COI edits. Cleaning up your own mess is allowed and encouraged.
  4. Making edits that have been agreed to on the talk page.

To determine what is controversial, use common sense. If another good faith editor objects, then it's controversial.

Photographs and media files

Wikimedia Commons encourages even parties with potential conflicts of interest to upload digital media files, such as photographs, illustrations, audio files and video clips, so long as the media is of good quality, is in a format we use and the copyright holder is willing do so under one of the free licenses we accept.

While Commons prefers full resolution media, reduced resolution images are acceptable when the copyright owner is unwilling to freely license a full quality image. See Commons:Welcome for detailed requirements.

Once media files are uploaded to Commons, they can then be incorporated into Wikinews articles where appropriate. The best approach is to mention the availability of the image or media files on the article's talk page. But it is usually acceptable to edit the article directly to add one or two images that illustrate the existing article content, e.g. adding a publicity mug shot to an article on a performing artist.

Consequences of ignoring this guideline

If you write in Wikinews about yourself, your group, your company, or your pet idea, once the article is created, you have no right to control its content, and no right to delete it outside our normal channels. Content is not deleted just because somebody doesn't like it. Any editor may add material to or remove material from the article within the terms of our content policies. If there is anything publicly available on a topic that you would not want included in an article, it will probably find its way there eventually. More than one user has created an article only to find himself presented in a poor light long-term by other editors.

In addition, if your article is found not to be worthy of inclusion in the first place, it will be deleted, as per our deletion guidelines, and if you edit war to try and obtain a version of your choosing you may have your editing access removed, perhaps permanently.

Therefore, don't create promotional or other articles lightly, especially on subjects you care about.

Blocks

Accounts that appear, based on their edit history, to exist for the sole or primary purpose of promoting a person, company, product, service, or organization in apparent violation of this guideline should be warned and made aware of this guideline. If the same pattern of editing continues after the warning, the account may be blocked.

"Outing" and embarrassment

An undisclosed conflict of interest, if discovered, can be a public relations nightmare. On Wikipedia, edits made by congressional staff, FOX News employees and a person who was paid by Microsoft in attempts to improve the appearance of articles on related subjects have backfired, and generated ill-will towards those involved. Any editor who thinks they may have a conflict of interest should ask themselves the question "If I didn't disclose my connection with the subject, and someone else discovered it, could it go against me?" when considering whether to declare the possible conflict.