If You’re a Wikipedia Contributor, Owning Cryptocurrency May Be a Conflict of Interest
The web’s favorite crowdsourced encyclopedia has just edited its own behavioral guidelines. Wikipedia’s “Conflict of interest” (COI) page outlining etiquette for its 140,000 active editors now includes a reference to cryptocurrency. If you’re editing pages about crypto, the mere act of owning cryptocurrency may preclude you from doing so.
Wikipedia Is Conflicted on Cryptocurrency
According to Wikipedia, any external relationship its contributors hold – including a relationship with cryptocurrency – could present a conflict of interest. Its COI page states:
Any external relationship—personal, religious, political, academic, legal, or financial (including holding a cryptocurrency)—can trigger a COI. How close the relationship needs to be before it becomes a concern on Wikipedia is governed by common sense. For example, an article about a band should not be written by the band’s manager, and a biography should not be an autobiography or written by the subject’s spouse.
On the one hand, these guidelines make a lot of sense, but on the other, they create a paradox as the people most knowledgeable about a particular Wikipedia page are those with a strong personal interest in its subject matter. It’s hard to see how owning bitcoin, for example, should bar an editor from being able to update the Bitcoin page. With smaller, more controversial cryptos however (think IOTA or Verge), there’s greater potential for a COI to emerge. It’s easy to envisage a scenario, for instance, in which a passionate editor may decide to censor or exclude negative news about their favorite cryptocurrency.
Partisanship Is a Persistent Threat on Wikipedia
Certain Wikipedia pages attract an abnormally high number of edits, often because the subject is controversial or prone to attracting mischief-makers. In extreme cases, this can lead to a page becoming fully or partially locked to prevent anonymous editors from distorting the truth or inserting their own agenda. Wikipedia is notorious for its edit wars in which opposing camps attempt to control the narrative. One such page to have fallen prey to this is Bitcoin Cash. Its talk page notes that “There have been attempts to recruit editors of specific viewpoints to this article” to address this.
Anyone can create a Wikipedia account and become an editor. To date over 33 million ‘Wikipedians’ have done so, of whom almost 140,000 are active. This army of volunteers performs an essential job, updating, proofing, and fact-checking millions of entries. Given the complexity of verifying the legitimacy of Wikipedia’s 5.6 million English articles, verifying that all its editors don’t have a conflict of interest is impractical. As the Bitcoin Cash page demonstrates, even when an editor doesn’t own a particular cryptocurrency, it doesn’t always prevent them from being tempted to tamper.