This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
State Rep. Mike Winder, who got into hot water as West Valley City's mayor by using a fake name to write positive newspaper stories about the municipality, now is accused of using multiple user accounts to manipulate his Wikipedia profile to promote accomplishments, whitewash controversy and delete a conflict warning.
Winder may have used the online identities "Biddenden," "Wenjanglau" and "WikiPro24601" to write his Wikipedia profile, then later to try to erase negative information, and even attempt to remove a warning by editors that someone with a conflict of interest was changing the page all actions that can violate the online reference site's ethics policies.
Winder will not confirm nor deny that those other pen names are his although Wikipedia has blocked their use because it believes that is the case.
"Wikipedia guidelines discourage people using their real names and asks you to use a username," Winder wrote in an email. "So, whether it's mine or someone else's, I don't feel like it's ever appropriate or professional to disclose Wikipedia user names."
When asked a second time if those flattery-seeking pen names are his, Winder responded, "Whether they were me, someone close to me, or someone I know nothing about, it would be inappropriate for me to disclose any Wikipedia user names based on Wikipedia guidelines and editor ethics."
Wikipedia guidelines say editors are not required to identify themselves by their legal names, but they do not prohibit such identification. They go on to say that confidentiality is not guaranteed.
The cornerstone of Wikipedia's ethics policy states: "Do not edit Wikipedia in your own interests or in the interests of your external relationships."
This latest Winder controversy comes after a Salt Lake Tribune story over the weekend revealed that the lawmaker rigged a robocall to display a fake source number on caller ID. The number appearing was the personal cellphone for the leader of a conservative group that Winder was counter-attacking after it had sent a mailer targeting him. Winder apologized, and the conservative group withdrew its ethics complaint.
Justin Johnson of Salt Lake City said reading that story reminded him of rumors that Winder had created the "Biddenden" alter ego a decade ago to create his Wikipedia page and made friendly edits until 2010. He says he decided to update research, and found much more.
"Mike Winder has a long history of self-promotion on Wikipedia, beginning in March 2007, when he created the article about himself and continuing up to October 2016 [when he was running for the Legislature], when two accounts he created were banned by Wikipedia [administrators] for violating the conflict of interest policy," wrote Johnson, who says he edits Wikipedia articles about geographic information systems.
'Biddenden' • The Biddenden name was mentioned publicly in 2011 by Tribune columnist Paul Rolly.
He wrote then that when Winder acknowledged using the pen name Richard Burwash to write flattering "citizen journalism" articles for the Deseret News about West Valley City, the then-mayor said he picked Burwash because that was a town in England near where his ancestors once lived.
Rolly added, "Biddenden, too, is an English town where John R. Winder, an ancestor of the mayor, was born. Biddenden's contribution to the Winder's Wikipedia entry is quite complimentary to the mayor, pointing out books he has written and calling him a stand-out alum of Taylorsville High School."
Winder at that time would not take ownership of "Biddenden," telling Rolly that anyone could have used that name and added to the entry. Perhaps, he surmised, it was one of his many relatives.
'Wenjanglau,' 'Wikipro24601' • Johnson said the robocall story made him decide to do more research on recent additions to Winder's Wikipedia page and found Wikipedia had launched investigations into "Wenjanglau" and "WikiPro24601" and recently blocked them, figuring they are Winder or someone close to him.
Johnson said Wikipedia shows edits by people using both pen names in October just before the election that deleted unflattering information from Winder's page, including some of the explanation of the Burwash controversy.
A Wikipedia administrator restored that information, only to see someone using those Winder-friendly accounts remove it again.
So administrators posted a conflict-of-interest warning on the page. It remains there, cautioning readers: "A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia's content policies, particularly neutral point of view."
Johnson said what happened next was funny.
"The user WikiPro24601 [who is Winder] deletes the conflict of interest banner again, saying that he agrees with the user Wenjanglau, who is also actually Mike Winder. Apparently, he's using one of his user accounts to state his support for something that was done by another of his user accounts," Johnson said.
Johnson supplied links to pages showing the edits and conversations about them.
Probe, ban • An administrator also writes at that point, "Stop removing the tag. I already left a message at Wenjanglau's talk page. Again, it is very, very obvious that Winder or someone close is editing the page."
Wikipedia then performed an investigation into whether those user accounts were Winder or someone close to him.
An administrator writes, "It's very obvious that Wenjanglau is Michael Winder or somebody very close to him. Their top three pages that they have edited are Michael K. Winder, Winder (surname) and Friends of Traditional Banking (Winder's place of employment)."
It added, "The person who started Winder's page, Biddenden, was confirmed to be Winder. WikiPro24601, a SPA [single purpose account], recently showed up and is only trying to remove unflattering material." Wikipedia "confirmed" complaints a day later and blocked the two accounts.
Rules • Wikipedia rules strongly discourage editing or writing about oneself or those with close relations.
"It undermines public confidence and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals being promoted," the website says. "If COI [conflict of interest] editing causes disruption, an administrator may opt to place blocks on the involved accounts."
Winder took a swipe at Johnson for what he shared with The Tribune.
"Liberal social media operatives like Justin Johnson have taken a keen interest in my Wikipedia page for years," Winder said in an email. "It's too bad they haven't bothered to update my article so it at least includes last year's election win and my current office."
"I've never been called a 'social media operative.' I'll add that to my Twitter bio," Johnson said in response. "I don't have anything against Winder, personally. I happened to notice that he was using Wikipedia as a forum to promote himself and his interests, which is clearly in violation of several Wikipedia policies."