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1 August, 2005

Defining spam

Most unsolicited spam advertising is extremely blatant, but just occasionally, the boundary of legitimacy can become blurred, and cause problems.

Wikipedia has been spammed by a major clothes retailer, which has created an entry about a new subsidiary brand. It's written as if a standard encyclopedia entry covering a topic of information or historical record, rather than an overt advert, but it's perfectly plain that really it's the latter. It seems just as plain that it should be removed immediately (I won't link to it, presuming that it will be removed, leaving a dead link), but it's going to be interesting to see how, or even if, the Wikipedia moderators formulate a policy to justify that.

Where should the line be drawn? Should any entry about a commercial company be banned? I'd hope not, as some have genuine cultural significance, and entries about them seem valid. Harrods, for example, is a world-famous department store, and ought to be at least mentioned in Wikipedia. Marks & Spencer is literally fundamental to British culture, providing most of us with underwear. So long as an entry doesn't merely promote the company's latest style of pants, I think it should be allowed.

How about Gap? No – it's just a retailer, one of many, and of negligible wider significance (other than as a symbol of American neo-colonialism; I suppose it'd be worth mentioning in that context). A Wikipedia entry specifically about Gap would be a mere advert. However, would the company's executives, and their lawyers, agree? If it came to legal action, how would Wikipedia justify any exclusion?
[Bad example! Having written the foregoing paragraph, I checked, and found that there is an entry for Gap, and it's meaningful. Well, the principle applies, if not to this specific case!]

Common sense and good faith ought to be sufficient in deciding which Wikipedia entries are reasonable, but those 'virtues' aren't always compatible with business.

[Via Snark Hunting]

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