This Guy Gets Paid to Help Edit the Wikipedia Pages of Thin-Skinned Journalists [UPDATED]
Update: This post previously stated that Sussman edits Wikipedia articles. Instead, he suggests edits on his client’s pages, consistent with Wikipedia’s policies, and adoption of those suggested edits is within the discretion of Wikipedia’s editors.
According to an extensive report from Ashley Feinberg at the Huffington Post, several media companies have at some point over the last few years hired a lawyer and part-time journalist who specializes in suggesting edits to Wikipedia pages to remove the kinds of things people might not want to see on their Wikipedia pages, such as information about roles in scandals, unseemly conflicts of interest, and other PR embarrassments. Feinberg spoke to the man, Ed Sussman, who has been paid to suggest edits to entries for journalists from Axios, NBC, and Facebook’s PR firm in order to whitewash scandals or play up the more flattering biographical history.
The benefit of hiring Sussman, aside from insulating talking heads from the humiliation of being found to have edited their own pages, is that he applies the exacting and annoying vigor of an attorney to Wikipedia’s stringent editing rules. Further, because his opponents in these arguments are not opposing lawyers but instead Wikipedia’s unpaid editors, he’s really effective. From HuffPost:
Sussman’s main strategy for convincing editors to make the changes his clients want is to cite as many tangentially related rules as possible (he is, after all, a lawyer). When that doesn’t work, though, his refusal to ever back down usually will.
He often replies to nearly every single bit of pushback with walls of text arguing his case. Trying to get through even a fraction of it is exhausting, and because Wikipedia editors are unpaid, there’s little motivation to continue dealing with Sussman’s arguments. So he usually gets his way.
The work Sussman did for Facebook’s PR firm included tweaking Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s page and successfully petitioning Wikipedia to create a page for global head of PR, Caryn Marooney, despite what HuffPost described as “being repeatedly turned down over her lack of notability.” His edits for NBC generally include whitewashing executives’ connections to things like losing Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein scoop or the sexual misconduct allegations against Matt Lauer.
NBC and Axios confirmed that they hired Sussman, and an Axios spokesperson told HuffPost that the site “hired him to correct factual inaccuracies.” The spokesperson added “pretty sure lots of people do this,” which may or may not be true.
Check out the rest of HuffPost’s findings here.