Well, no doubt: ConHome is owned by Lord Ashcroft, and whatever Tim’s private feelings about this kind of Internet marketing as the manager of a blog who works hard to see it filled with interesting and original content, he really isn’t in a position to respond to the Tory Chairman’s use of “scraping and spinning” to generate content for profit.
Instead, Tim Montgomerie focusses exclusively on the anonymous self-editing of Wikipedia, where Shapps defenders are on slightly less shaky ground.
I’m not in a position to respond to every allegation that’s been made against the new Conservative Chairman but at the root of the controversy has been a long-standing attempt by (1) his political opponents to use Wikipedia to smear him and then (2) those same opponents then attack his attempts to counter those smears.
In principle Wikipedia as a collective takes very seriously the ethos that its biographies of living persons should contain only accurate, well-sourced material. The majority of the English-Wikipedia collective are Americans, with no particular axe to grind in British politics. Of course the system, once understod, can be most thoroughly abused – such as by Johann Hari using “David Rose” to inflate his own Wikipedia page – but the fact is, anyone can understand why, if you were famous enough to have a Wikipedia page, you’d want the information on it to be accurate, and not to include untrue stories however well sourced.
On 18th April 1989, if Wikipedia had existed then, there would have been (as FleetStreetFox points out) not only The Sun but The Express, The Sheffield Star, Daily Star, and Liverpool Post all running stories reporting claims by Tory MP Irvine Patnick (knighted, five years later) and “an unnamed police source” that Liverpool fans picked the pockets of the dead, urinated on police and attacked rescue workers. Eyewitnesses to the event – in the stands or who watched it on Grandstand – would find their testimony unacceptable to Wikipedians. A multitude of sources publishing lying smears would not have added to their truth. As Natalie Haynes notes today in another context:
This clearly reveals a flaw in their system: two or more bad sources are not as good as one authoritative source. The world is full of half-truths and lies – finding two of them in agreement is not the same as finding a fact.
Philip Roth outlines one of the hazards of the Wikipedian method in his Dear Wikipedia letter:
I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.
Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”
However, anonymously editing it and pretending you are just one of the horde, is not considered good practice on Wikipedia or indeed anywhere. And while anyone can understand why Shapps would not want this form of his biography published
In 1990 he founded his own printing company, PrintHouse Corporation, suspiciously Shapps has the company under an alternative name so not to confuse people when googling him. It has grown into a successful commercial design, print and web development company which enabled him to print for his own campaign and the costs to remain hidden.
Shapps did not merely ensure that this slanted biography was edited into a more neutral form, he also eliminated – or tried to –
“It was revealed in May 2008 that Grant Shapps, along with other shadow ministers, had taken large donations from companies related to his frontbench portfolio … The revelations were potentially damaging for Shapps given the extent of the donations he had received – tens of thousands of pounds from two online mortgage brokers, an estate agent, a commercial property developer and a firm of solicitors specialising in conveyancing and remortgaging – and the suggestion that these might be influencing Conservative policies.”
The section referred to a letter Shapps sent to the parliamentary commissioner in 2008 admitting that industry donations were used to run the private office of the holder of his Tory housing brief, although many were said to have been recruited during the tenure of Shapps’s predecessor, Michael Gove.
The problem with Shapps wanting this information out of Wikipedia is that it’s both true and verifiable. The source is a report published by the Parliamentary commissioner in May 2008:
They were two online mortgage brokers, Charcol and Edeus Creators; Douglas & Gordon, a west London estate agent; the Sapcote Group, a commercial property developer; and Goldsmith Williams, a firm of solicitors that specialises in conveyancing and remortgaging.
Grant Shapps, then Shadow Housing Minister, is not merely one of the crowd of Tory MPs including Andrew Lansley, who as Shadow Minister for Health was taking large donations from the health companies who are now profiting by Lansley’s privatisation of the NHS in England: Shapps is named as an “extreme case” of this kind of behaviour, and David Hencke writes in commentary:
Whatever the Tories claim, this does not look good. Today’s political figures not only have to be squeaky clean. They have to be seen to be squeaky clean. David Cameron has acknowledged this by promising to be transparent and reveal everything. What this arrangement shows is that he hasn’t.
To Shapps, it seems, being “seen to be squeaky clean” meant cleaning up his Wikipedia entry.
But if we are to suppose that Shapps cares very much that inaccurate and damaging information about himself is not abounding on the Internet – what are we to make of the information that Grant Shapps has apparently made no effort to remove about his alter ego, Michael Green?
Believe it or not, Michael Green is a member of the UK Parliament, is a CEO of How To Corporation and is a successful online marketer.
Take note that despite his relative newness in the field of internet marketing, he has been touted as a guru when he began his first internet venture. Before his online endeavor, Michael Green already owns a successful printing company offline.
His wealth is such that he actually flies his very own personal plane and also lives in a fabulous mansion. Some find it hard to believe that regardless of Michael Green’s internet success, this online marketing guru only allots a day per week to work on his internet ventures. The other days of the week are reportedly spent by him on his offline businesses as well as to fulfill his functions as a member of the British parliament.
When Google blacklisted the sites run by Michael Green, Grant Shapps declared that Michael Green was no longer his Internet handle: his wife had taken over both the company and the pen name.
So this article should refer to his wife. But Belinda is not an MP, is she?
A member of the British Parliament, Michael Green is one of the leading Internet marketers we have today. Unlike many other webmasters, Michael did not begin his online journey when he was totally broke. Before getting on board with affiliate marketing, he was the CEO of How to Corporation. So, it was relatively easy for him to strengthen his feet in this industry. And, just after few days of getting onto it, he started making money.
He also owns a very successful offline printing company which brings him hundreds and thousands of pounds on a regular basis. This seasoned businessman and a full-time politician these days creates products on the Internet teaching affiliates about how to create money on the web. Wondering how he manages everything? Well, that’s something Michael is pretty good at – time management. And, he is among those who make the most of their network and business relationships to get things done.
Michael Green MP also appears on PickAGuru:
As a member of British Parliament, Michael Green knows a little about the power of persuasive speech. And as an Internet Marketer, he knows how to translate that skill into good marketing communication.
Most of the sites on which Michael Green is identified as a Member of the British Parliament date from 2005, and are presumably Grant Shapps’ own marketing of himself as a Internet marketeer. Or – which would be ironic, somewhat – these are sites which were created by spinning and scraping content from other marketing sites, possibly even using the same tool Michael Green sells/recommends.
Sources close to Shapps emphasised that the four usernames – 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52, Historyset and Hackneymarsh – could only be linked to “computers in the constituency office of the Tory chairman”.
A Conservative party spokesman said: “Contributors to Wikipedia are encouraged to remove immediately any contentious material about a living person that is unsourced or poorly sourced.
“Individuals are also free to monitor the information that is available about them online – particularly when this information is purposefully vandalised by others.
How this all brings back Johann Hari and David Rose and makes me wonder about the doubtless perfectly innocent Tonbon, who joined Wikipedia on 16th October 2006 and has made 172 edits to 6 articles between then and 7th June 2009: mostly about Welwyn Garden City and Welwyn Hatfield (to which on 26th September 2007 Tonbon added a reference from a letter from Grant Shapps to Ruth Kelly) plus Tim Birkin, Bentley 4½ Litre, and Brooklands. Tonbon is not a social editor – all of their edits have been to articles, never to Talk pages, even when an edit is disputed. The same applies to three out of four Wikipedia accounts which have been identified as editing the Grant Shapps page from his own constituency office: the fourth had only engaged on a Talk page once.
The letter referenced by Tonbon was removed from the Wikipedia article by another editor in January 2012, noting “remove conjecture, plus no sign of where this letter is published”.
Meantime, Grant Shapps is busy on the plan to reduce the number of MPs, even though – providing Nick Clegg holds to his withdrawal of LibDem support – it’s never going to happen:
“Constituencies of equal size are a matter of basic democratic fairness and anything else is an abuse of the electoral system,” he said yesterday.
“The coalition agreement commits us to voting on the new boundaries, but that vote won’t take place for another year.
“In the meantime I’m absolutely determined to ensure that we get first-class candidates out and about, working for their communities and becoming known for their drive and passion.”
Can’t wait to see what we’ll find on Wikipedia about that.
Tonbon is a village in Banmauk Township, Katha District, in the Sagaing Region of northern-central Burma.