What’s behind Sol Trujillo’s oh-so-kind Wikipedia entry

Trujillo is one of Australia’s most prominent businessmen and had a long-running career overseas (which he appears to be keen to maintain if he leaves the Telstra job. However as of this afternoon the main body of his entry on Wikipedia runs to under 150 utterly bland and uncontroversial words — surprising for probably the country’s most controversial company chief.

Even more astonishingly the article has had only three minor textual edits in six months. People can find time to make adjustments to articles on death metal Pokemon and their university college but Trujillo has proved a riskier prospect despite a wealth of sourced material on his career.

Since mid-July 2008 the entry on Trujillo has been semi-protected meaning that it can only be edited by users registered and logged into Wikipedia. Most Wikipedia entries can be edited anonymously (save for an IP address) by anyone but semi-protection is used for articles which are the subject of consistent vandalism. (The article was briefly unprotected in August 2008 but its protected status was quickly restored.)

The incentive for semi-protection in this case was a series of libellous comments about Trujillo by anonymous editors which resulted in complaints from Trujillo’s lawyers. “Mr. Trujillo’s attorneys made a serious of justified complaints about an IP number inserting vicious libel against him complaints which we dealt with appropriately and effectively” Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales explained on the article’s talk page. Such comments violate Wikipedia’s “biographies of living persons” policy designed to protect the encyclopedia from libel charges and ensure that articles on individuals are neutral and balanced.

You can read the actual complaint letter Trujillo’s lawyers sent Wikipedia at the Chilling Effects website which chronicles legal threats made against websites.

According to Wales Trujillo was not seeking to change the focus of the article. “There has been absolutely no effort by those attorneys to remove legitimate criticism; indeed nothing of the sort was even discussed” he wrote. However the lack of changes since that time and the failure to restore material from earlier longer versions of the article suggests that registered editors would rather put their efforts into articles which are less troublesome.

The “hands off Sol” approach is also evident in other parts of Wikipedia. For instance the entry on Telstra itself contains references to company controversies (broadly speaking corporations don’t receive the same level of protection as individuals). However Trujillo is mentioned just once with no discussion whatsoever of his role at the company beyond the bare statement that he is CEO.

Whatever you think of Trujillo’s approach to running Telstra Wikipedia is undoubtedly the poorer for not having an overview of his career and decisions made while running the company. Some of the blame for that can be laid on over-zealous anonymous editors ignoring Wikipedia guidelines but that hasn’t stopped articles on more controversial figures such as George W Bush from running for more than 150 words. The relative dearth of local editors might also be an issue but with Trujillo having been active in multiple countries that shouldn’t necessarily be an issue either.

“This article should be a good article” Wales wrote in his comment. “It should detail Mr. Trujillo’s career in a neutral and responsible fashion. It should contain both accomplishments and appropriate mention of legitimate criticism.” At the current rate of change that doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon.