It’s come up three or four times at workshops I’ve conducted in the past few weeks: people who work for organizations with an entry in Wikipedia, wondering whether and how they can edit it – if, for instance, misinformation creeps in. (I’m assuming you’re not trying to sanitize your entry. Which is not a good idea.)

At first glance, Wikipedia’s guidelines make it seem like your only option is to sit back and hope someone corrects it for you:

A Wikipedia conflict of interest (COI) is an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor. COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. Where advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.

COI editing is strongly discouraged. When editing causes disruption to the encyclopedia through violation of policies such as neutral point of view, what Wikipedia is not, and copyright compliance, accounts may be blocked. COI editing also risks causing public embarrassment for the individuals and groups being promoted.

The temptation, of course, is to ask a friend of your organization to do it for you, which is the advice I’ve heard from others. But that doesn’t really let you off the hook; all you’ve done is delegate your conflict of interest.

So is all hope lost? Fortunately, no: Wikipedia has an answer. A few answers, actually.

First, there actually are circumstances where they don’t mind you editing your own entry:

It is generally considered okay for you to edit your own article in certain circumstances:

  • If the article is clearly derogatory in tone and was written based on questionable sources or no sources.
  • If it contains private information you strongly don’t want shared, particularly if you are not famous. (This might include, for example, your e-mail address, date of birth, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.)
  • If you believe it is libelous.

Wikipedia’s also cool with you doing minor cleanup and spam removal yourself – but they’d like you to log your change on the article’s discussion page.

Second, you can appeal to the Wikipedia community to make the change for you, making your case in the article’s discussion area. (You can find it by clicking on the “discussion” tab at the top of the article.)

Example of a discussion tab on a Wikipedia article

And third, if you can’t cajole the people reading that discussion to make the change, you can contact Wikipedia directly with your suggested changes.

There’s more information in this essay on avoiding conflict of interest issues. It’s not always a clear-cut question; whether you’re editing with nefarious intentions or good ones is often a matter of opinion or perspective. And there aren’t too many edits you could make that would be worth having to weather the accusation that you’ve tried to manipulate “the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet“. When you aren’t completely certain of your ground, it’s a good idea to leave the actual editing to others, and opt for the discussion page or direct contact with Wikipedia.