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4 Wikipedia PR disasters involving Jimmy Wales

Mar 312016

PR Disaster No.1

Russian massage parlours, expense fiddling allegations and bonking his lady friend’s brains out all night – the recent life and times of Jimmy Wales.

Age broadsheet reports that:
‘The scandal engulfing Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has spread, with a former executive claiming Wales improperly used the non-profit organisation’s funds for his own lavish recreation. (also reproduced in the Sydney Morning Herald)

Jimmy Wales's "gold-plated washing machine"

It's not the sex. It's the money. So contends Danny Wool, a former top administrator at the nonprofit which runs Wikipedia. To what extent has Wales mixed business and pleasure? Only (Florence) Devouard and the other staff at Wikimedia Foundation, the charity which runs Wikipedia, know for sure.

According to Wool, Wales frequently tried to expense lavish personal expenditures: “I wonder if the students who gave up their lunch money to donate to Wikipedia would have approved of that expense.”

Danny Wool said Wales had tried to claim the cost of items such as a visit to a massage parlour in Moscow and expensive bottles of wine. The claims come just as Wales’ messy break-up with a girlfriend he met via his free online encyclopedia plays out in the public domain. Wales was publicly humiliated by estranged girlfriend Rachel Marsden, 33, who released saucy instant message transcripts between the pair and auctioned off some of Wales’ clothes on eBay after he apparently broke up with her via a statement on Wikipedia.

And while Wales denies he broke Wikipedia’s conflict of interest rules by helping Marsden clean up her Wikipedia entry, the leaked transcripts, published by Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag, suggest otherwise.

They show Wales going through proposed changes to Marsden’s Wikipedia entry; “Let’s actually do this right now,” Wales allegedly wrote, “Because the last thing I want to do is take a break from f—ing your brains out all night to work on your wikipedia entry.”'

PR Disaster No.2

Jimmy Wales repeatedly alters his own biography

Jimmy Wales incited scrutiny in December 2005, when technology writer Rogers Cadenhead revealed that the Wikipedia head honcho had altered his own biography several times — a practice that is generally frowned upon. Cadenhead wrote on his blog, Workbench, that Wales had made changes to his bio 18 times, including deleting phrases describing former Wikipedia employee Larry Sanger as a co-founder of the site. Although the current

Wikipedia article describing how the site came about flat out says: “Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia,” there was a time that Wales felt inclined to downplay Sanger’s role in Wikipedia’s founding. Called out for his transgressions, Wales said that the changes were necessary to clarify and give a more nuanced description of the roles that each of the men played in creating the site. He contends that the changes had nothing to do with the earlier falling out between the two. In 2002, Sanger resigned from Wikipedia, after repeated disagreements with Wales about Sanger’s desire to rid the site of “trolls” and “anarchist types.”

PR Disaster No.3

Editor Found to be a Fraud

In March 2007 the jig was up for 24-year-old Kentucky man Ryan Jordan. For more than a year he had worked as an editor for Wikipedia, making changes and corrections on thousands of articles and serving as an arbitrator on disputes between authors. His Wikipedia profile described him as a professor of religion at a private university. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about his work; no red flags ever came up. But after one Wikipedia user read a 2006 New Yorker profile of Jordan — who only went by the pseudonym Essjay, which the magazine also used — the truth about Jordan’s identity began to unravel. Not only was he not a professor with expertise in theology and canon law, but he also never received a PhD, as he had claimed, and often used a book called Catholicism for Dummies as his editing resource. At first, co-founder Jimmy Wales defended Jordan’s right to protect himself, but as criticism against Jordan grew, Wales reevaluated his stance and asked Jordan to resign, saying “my past support of Essjay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.”

PR Disaster No.4

Wales traded Wiki edits for donation

Jeff Merkey, a former computer scientist at Novell, claims Wales told him in 2006 that in exchange for a substantial donation from Merkey, he would edit his uncomplimentary Wikipedia entry to make it more favourable.

Merkey made a $US5000 ($5455) donation in 2006 and the edit history for his Wikipedia entry showed that, around the same time, Wales personally made changes to the entry after wiping it out completely and ordering editors to start over.

Merkey's claims were published in a statement on a Wikipedia mailing list. On the same mailing list, Wales called the allegation "nonsense".


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