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Wales in "Wiki bribes" scandal

By Barry Collins

Posted on 12 Mar 2008 at 08:06

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has denied allegations that he favourably edited the online encylopaedia entry of one the site's donors.

Former Novell computer scientist, Jeff Merkey, claims that Wales agreed to give him "special protection" in exchange for "a susbtantial donation" to the Wikimedia Foundation.

The edit history of Merkey's entry reveals that Wales did indeed make edits in May 2006 - around the same time that Merkey made a $5,000 donation to the Foundation.

""According to Merkey, in 2006, Wales agreed that in exchange for a substantial donation and other financial support of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wales would use his influence to make Merkey's article adhere to Wikipedia's stated policies with regard to internet libel 'as a courtesty' and place Merkey under his 'special protection' as an editor," Merkey claims in a statement posted on a Wikipedia mailing list.

"Merkey later withdrew his financial support of the Wikipedia project after reviewing evidence of diversion and mismanagement of the charities funds by Wales and the Wikimedia Board of Trustees and was immediately banned from the Wikipedia site by the Arbitration Committee for frivilous and unsubstanciated [sic] claims after he terminated the payments of $5,000.00 per year to the Wikimedia Foundation."

Wales denial

Wales strenuously denies the allegations. "Of course I would never offer, nor accept any offer, whereby a donation would buy someone special editorial treatment in the encyclopaedia," he claims in a reply to Merkey's statement. "I do routinely assist people with WP:BLP [biography of living persons] issues, and I do courtesies for many people. Donations have no bearing on that at all."

Wales may indeed have had good reason to pay close attention to Merkey's entry. He was sued for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets by his former employers, Novell. He also filed a lawsuit for harassment in 2005 against the tech site Slashdot and numerous other defendants, which was later dropped.

However, the allegation is the second time in recent weeks that Wales has been accused of inappropriately editing Wikipedia profiles. Wales's ex-girlfriend, television presenter Rachel Marsden, claimed that Wales edited her entry whilst the couple were dating.

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