Nearly 400 scam accounts have been blocked by Wikipedia for what it has called “black hat” editing – people being paid to create promotional articles without disclosing who they represent.
The accounts were reportedly run by one “co-ordinated group”.
Most of the articles were related to businesses, business people, or artists.
Some of the businesses alleged that they had been scammed by the rogue editors, Wikipedia said.
Volunteer editors on English Wikipedia announced the move after weeks of probing.
The investigation, called “Orangemoody” after the first rogue account identified, revealed that the suspect accounts were “sock puppets” – a term that refers to people creating fake online identities to promote a certain viewpoint, often while having a personal or paid interest.
In addition to blocking the 381 “sock puppet” accounts, the editors deleted 210 articles created by them.
The articles “often included biased or skewed information, unattributed material, and potential copyright violations,” Wikimedia Foundation members Ed Erhart and Juliet Barbara wrote in a blog post.
Article subjects may have suffered from “continued shakedowns by bad actors”, it added.
There were allegations of demands for payment, and complaints that articles were being deleted despite payments being made.
The list of businesses and artists that said they had been scammed included a former Britain’s Got Talent contestant, the Independent reported.
The edits made on all of the accounts were similar enough that investigators believed they were made by one co-ordinated group.
Not all paid editing is out of bounds on Wikipedia. Several prominent public relations companies have signed an agreement to abide by Wikipedia’s paid editing guidelines.
Museum and university employees around the world also edit by disclosing their official affiliations.
The last time hundreds of accounts were blocked on Wikipedia was in October 2013, when the website’s editors expressed “shock and dismay” at the discovery of more than 250 user accounts set up to make paid-for entries.