In mid-June, Dayramir Gonzalez was contacted by a self-described “Wikipedian with high privileges” who noticed that previous drafts of his Wikipedia page had been declined on account of lacking citations, and offered to “do online research and rewrite the content in encyclopedic tone to get it approved on Wikipedia.” Dayramir, an award-winning Cuban pianist and composer, who had been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Ejazznews, and Europa Press, was interested in having his Wikipedia page reflect these accomplishments. He was later quoted at $200.
What he didn’t know was he was a victim of a now famous scam, initiated by one of the almost 400 people banned by Wikipedia this week.
In early July, Gonzalez’s entry was re-posted with payment details that Dayramir's wife Tatiana described as “looking kind of shady.”
“We thought that we would see some added content or other information and strong citations, but as I review the published page, I feel that $200 is too much for the results,” she wrote back.
After the supposed Wikipedian asked what links needed to be added, the niceties were over and further correspondence was reduced to demands for payment, bargaining, and threats to take the page down.
Gonzalez, it turns out, was the victim of scammers posing as Wikipedia administrators, who’ve found a new way to extort money from artists, dentists, writers, and pretty much anyone who recognizes the power of Wikipedia to add value of their online presences.
Wikipedia made some high-profile busts this week—suspending 381 editors accused of accepting money to “promote external interests.”
It’s called “blackhat editing” and, so far, hundreds of people have been targeted. Basically, a scammer approaches the subject of a Wikipedia article with some promise to do (or not do) certain things in exchange for money.
If the process sounds fishy to you, it should. The Wikimedia Foundation describes such undisclosed paid advocacy as “violating the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people.”
According to the documenting Wikipedia Project page, the “overwhelming majority” of these newly created black-hat articles qualified for deletion because they did not meet Wikipedia’s standards for notability. To protect the article subjects from continued shakedowns, all of the articles were deleted.
Gonzalez’s story is special among most of other targets because he meets Wikipedia’s standards for notability.
Thankfully, this was the last that Dayramir and Tatiana had to deal with this. Other victims of this scam have been locked into monthly payments against threats to take the page down or else “protect the page from vandalism.”
In the rush to purge paid-for posts, Dayramir’s page was taken down by Wikipedia this week in error, since the editing account was identified as part of a larger scale of long-term abuse. Many entries will remain deleted until Wikipedia can conduct a complete investigation.
According to documentation on the project page, “Some articles were identified by the reviewing team to possibly be noteworthy subjects suitable for a Wikipedia article. Experienced article creation editors are encouraged to consider writing these articles.”
Until The Daily Beast reached out for an interview, Gonzalez wasn’t informed of the scale of the scam or the circumstances of his article’s deletion. He had only read the following notification on his page:
“Speedy deletion per Wikipedia:Long-term abuse/Orangemoody/Articles without prejudice to recreation.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article wrongly reported that Dayramir had been involved in the editing of his page, which would have been a violation of Wikipedia policy. The article has been edited to reflect the actual passage of events.