Your online presence can be a make-or-break factor for your personal brand, especially when you are involved in politics. Having a polished image in the digital world is now more important than ever.
It is important that people keep up with their personal brand and ensure the accuracy of everything said about them online. But when it comes to editing your own Wikipedia page, how far is too far?
Enter Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur and biotech investor whose recent actions have ignited heated discussions around the ethics of self-promotion. With him recently declaring his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, it makes sense that he would want his online image to be as clean as possible.
Ramaswamy and Wikipedia
Ramaswamy recently made headlines for paying someone to edit his Wikipedia page. It was originally reported by Mediate before numerous other media outlets picked up on the story.
The one change to his Wikipedia page that may be considered controversial include him being a recipient of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
Why scrub this from Wikipedia?
The fellowship is named after the brother and sister-in-law of George Soros, a Democrat super donor and controversial figure to the Republican Party. As Ramaswamy is running as a Republican, being associated with anyone named Soros could raise questions during the campaign.
The overall goal was obviously to create a more favorable and polished image for himself. This revelation, however, set the stage for a discussion on the ethics and transparency of such actions.
The Wall Street Journal sums it up perfectly by saying, “While it’s not against the rules to pay someone to edit your Wikipedia page, it does bring to light the potential pitfalls of self-promotion in the age of information.”
An article in Forbes seemed to support the edits by stating, “In today’s hyper-competitive landscape, taking control of one’s digital footprint is essential. Ramaswamy’s actions may be controversial, but they also highlight the importance of managing one’s online presence.”
It’s Not Wrong to Pay for Wikipedia Edits
Wikipedia frowns upon paid editing. However, it also allows it under certain policies and guidelines.
If someone has a conflict of interest, especially if they are being paid to edit Wikipedia, they must disclose such. Wikipedia is clear about the disclosure requirement.
“Editors who are or expect to be compensated for their contributions must disclose their employer, client, and affiliation with respect to any paid contributions.” – Wikipedia disclosure policy on paid contributions.
In this case, there was a disclosure made. The freelancer who was hired on Upwork declared that they were being paid by Ramaswamy to make edits to the page.
So, if the proper disclosure was made, why are the edits considered controversial?
It is Wrong to Whitewash Wikipedia
This is not the first time a person or company paid to have someone edit Wikipedia on their behalf. It was reported in 2019 that Facebook, Axios, and NBC did the same. And that is just one of many examples you can find online.
The issue with paying is that many times someone wants their Wikipedia page “whitewashed.” This is likely what has sparked the conversation around Ramaswamy. Was he paying to whitewash his Wikipedia page?
According to Wikipedia, “whitewashing is the act of glossing over or covering up vices, crimes or scandals or exonerating by means of a perfunctory investigation or biased presentation of data with the intention to improve one’s reputation.”
And yes, it is against Wikipedia’s core values of being an unbiased encyclopedia. So, while it is okay to pay someone to edit on your behalf, it is not okay that an attempt is made to rewrite history to make someone look better.
Who’s To Blame
One thing not being discussed here is the specific edits he may have requested. Did he actually request to have the fellowship removed? If he did, was he told that it could not be done?
“It comes down to the person hired to do the edits,” says Mike Wood, a professional Wikipedia editor and founder of Legalmorning.com. “In this case it appears the contractor either attempted edits contrary to guidelines; or didn’t know the guidelines which is actually worse because the client was not properly consulted.”
Wood added that it is a competency issue. Ramaswamy should have been told that certain edits such as removing the fellowship ran contrary to Wikipedia guidelines. And, if he was told, the edits should never have been attempted, regardless of how much he may have pressed to have them done.
Of course, we don’t know the answer to these questions at this point. We just know that he paid to have edits made, the contractor made the required disclosure, and edits were made to the page by the contractor.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s decision to pay for edits to his Wikipedia page has sparked a heated debate on the ethics and boundaries of personal branding. While some view his actions as deceptive and misleading, others argue that it’s an acceptable practice in today’s competitive world.
While paid editing is not against any guideline on Wikipedia, it does raise concerns as to the motivation. Of course, this is something for the public at large and political community to debate at this point.
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