Allegations that a British Petroleum (BP) employee originally wrote parts of the oil giant's official Wikipedia entry, including sections about the company's environmental record, have called into question the ethics of both Wikipedia and BP.
For the past year, Arturo Silva, a full-time employee at BP's Corporate Communications department in Houston, Texas, has evidently been writing draft articles about BP and asking Wikipedia editors to upload his content to BP's official Wikipedia page.
Silva, whose Wikipedia moniker is "Arturo at BP," is the head of BP's Wikipedia engagement team, which interacts with Wikipedia editors to improve BP's Wikipedia page, according to a statement provided to The Huffington Post by Scott Dean, a BP spokesman.
Silva's Wikipedia user page clearly labels him as a BP employee, and he appears to have stayed within Wikipedia's guidelines by not directly editing the BP article himself. However, at least two Wikipedia editors posted his content to Wikipedia's BP article and did not indicate that they had obtained the information from a BP employee.
A comparison of Silva's draft articles to BP's official Wikipedia page shows that some of the official BP article had been copied and pasted from Silva's drafts, including sections on sensitive environmental topics and the controversial practice of drilling in the Canadian oil sands. Other sections appear to have been paraphrased from Silva's content.
Wikipedia editor SlimVirgin estimates that "around 44 percent" of BP's Wikipedia entry "has been written by BP."
The London-based BP is currently facing up to $21.1 billion in fines after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and released over 200 million gallons of oil, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Silva wrote about the Deepwater disaster in his Wikipedia drafts, but his references to the spill do not appear to have been posted to the BP Wikipedia article.
Dean told HuffPost that Silva always disclosed to the site's editors that he worked for BP.
Dean also said BP had "acted objectively," and that Silva's work on Wikipedia had "resulted in greater accuracy" of the site's official BP article. Indeed, Silva's user page shows that he was awarded a special badge by a Wikipedia editor for making "constructive contributions to Wikipedia" while "respecting conflict of interest guidelines."
Jay Walsh, a spokesman for Wikipedia, told HuffPost that Wikipedia is aware of the matter but that the ultimate resolution is "probably still unfolding." Walsh said that, in some cases, conflict of interest matters "may be escalated within Wikipedia."
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has also weighed in, writing in a discussion forum on the site that Wikipedia would analyze Silva's work to see if it qualified as biased and would also examine whether the Wikipedia editors' copying and pasting of Silva's content was "inappropriate."
Still, Wales said that it's possible no whitewashing took place on BP's part because there is evidence that the article covers the Deepwater oil spill in a "quite direct and clear way." But, Wales said, that issue needs to be discussed further.
(Hat tip, CNET)