Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Congressional Vandalism on Wikipedia

Considering the great concern politicians have with their "Place in History," it should probaby not surprise us that they are doing their level best to rewrite the history that they can to show themselves in a more favorable light. Wikipedia, the useful, albeit left-leaning, online, anonymous-user-editted encyclopedia has turned out to be a magnet for this kind of behavior.

First, the Lowell (Mass.) Sun broke the story of how staffers of Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) had removed some unflattering, but accurate, information about Meehan from the Wikipedia biography, replacing it with positive information written by his staff. But, wait, there's more:
This alone makes for a pretty interesting story, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Further investigation by the newspaper and by Wikipedia staff found that more than 1,000 edits had been made to Wikipedia entries by House staffers over the last six months alone. Because all changes emanating from the House come from a single IP address (a proxy), it's hard to trace specific edits back to individuals, who can plausibly deny making them. Not all of these were malicious (though someone from the House did write that Rep. Eric Cantor "smells of cow dung"), nor were they all white-washes. But enough of them were problematic that Wikipedia launched a full investigation and found that Senate staffers were tempted in equal measure.

The following is a partial list of U.S. Senator biographies on the english-language Wikipedia edited by Senate employees.
  • Senator Conrad Burns' page was edited to remove negative comments as positive comments were added
  • Senator Norm Coleman's page was also edited to remove negative comments while positive comments were added
  • Senator Robert Byrd's page was vandalized
  • Senator Tom Harkin's criticism section was deleted, a major section on Israel & military removed and later vandalized by a different IP
  • Senator Joe Biden's page had a major edit removing significant criticism
  • Sen Tom Coburn's page was vandalized more than once
And Sen. John Kerry's military records were completely erased. No, wait, he never released them, but it has now been a year since he promised to do so.

In true Wikipedia fashion, there's now a Wikipedia article about the Congressional edits to other Wikipedia articles. Clearly this has been a bipartisan practice. Some of the examples described in this article actually illustrate the left-bias of Wikipedia itself, e.g. objection to calling MoveOn.org "left-wing" rather than "liberal," and to "saying there was a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq." Those changes can hardly be called inaccurate.

Similarly, if you doubt Wikipedia's lean to the left, check out the "controversial" edit by a now-(or soon-to-be-)banned Congressional IP address to this glowing tribute to "radical activist" Angela Davis. The "controversial" edit merely states that Davis came out as a lesbian, which is true, without adding any value judgments. That has been removed in the current version.

Here's a good article about the accuracy of Wikipedia articles in general and the pros and cons of this approach to information.

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