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Less than Model Behavior: The Repercussions of Digital Dishonesty

The following post is by Summer Intern: Samantha Blumberg

wiki “Wikipedia is the first place I go when I’m looking for knowledge…or when I want to create some,” joked television comedian Stephen Colbert.

Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek remark highlights Wikipedia’s prominence as a collaborative online reference library. Central to the site’s success are its regularly revised “terms of use,” which ensure that content remains accurate and unbiased.

Last week PR firm Sunshine Sachs sparked controversy when Wikipedia administrators discovered that the NewCampbell York-headquartered agency had hired staff to surreptitiously rid Wikipedia pages of negative content about client supermodel and singer Naomi Campbell’s failed 1994 R&B recording “Babywoman.” In the process the agency violated one of the website’s disclosure requirements — that hired 3rd party site editors reveal their sources of compensation.

The New York Times reported the incident, and within the week Sunshine Sachs’ attempt to covertly bolster its client’s public image had become a notorious PR snafu that the agency ultimately took responsibility for. Former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardiner went so far as to decry Sunshine Sachs’ tactics as a violation of “the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.”

At CommCore, we provide our clients with counsel and training applicable to circumstances they might face in the volatile world of public relations and communications. Sunshine Sachs’ misguided Wikipedia caper is a powerful reminder that no amount of guidance and preparation can replace honest disclosure and transparency, especially in today’s open source and social media world.