[The following are excerpts from an article published yesterday on the website of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:]
The extent of Bell Pottinger’s internet manipulation to alter its clients’ reputation online can be revealed by the Bureau.
Evidence seen by the Bureau shows the company made hundreds of alterations to Wikipedia entries about its clients in the last year.
Some of the changes added favourable comments while others removed negative content.
It is the first direct evidence that secretly recorded boasts by the company’s senior executives that it uses ‘dark arts’ to manipulate content on the internet were true.
Among the changes made in the last year by a user – traced to a Bell Pottinger computer – who made the alterations under the pseudonym ‘Biggleswiki’ were: (...)
Editing of the entries for prostate cancer expert Professor Roger Kirby and his firm, The Prostate Centre. Both are clients of Bell Pottinger. The user added Mr Kirby into a separate page on ‘prostatectomy’ as a notable expert, and edited the entry on Lockerbie bomber Abdulbasset al-Megrahi to include comments made by Kirby about Megrahi’s cancer.
[An article in today's edition of The Independent contains the following:]
Several Wikipedia accounts have been suspended pending an investigation by the co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, who last night expressed his dismay at Bell Pottinger's "ethical blindness". (...)
James Thomlinson, head of digital at Bell Pottinger, admitted last night to The Independent: "Biggleswiki is one of a number of accounts that the digital team have used to edit Wikipedia articles. I would like to point out that while we have worked for a number of clients like The Prostate Centre, we have never done anything illegal. We have never added something that is a lie or hasn't been published elsewhere and we have never tried to 'astroturf', ie create fake positive reviews to sell a product. If we have been asked to include things about clients that are untrue we have always said no and pointed to Wikipedia's strict guidelines.
"We have also ensured that for every change that we have made we have sought the approval of the wider Wikipedia community first."
Last night, Mr Wales told The Independent: "I am astonished at the ethical blindness of Bell Pottinger's reaction. That their strongest true response is they didn't break the law tells a lot about their view of the world, I'm afraid.
"The company committed the cardinal sin of a PR and lobbying company of having their own bad behaviour bring bad headlines to their clients, [and] did so in a fashion that brought no corresponding benefits.
He added: "There are ethical PR companies out there."
[A news item on this story can be read here on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm.]