Wikinews, the collaborative online journalism project spawned from Wikipedia, has been digging up more dirt on the Wikipedia edits made by Capitol Hill staffers.
Last week, the scandal broke about how staff using computers connected to the US senate’s network had been airbrushing out unflattering facts about their bosses while adding unsavoury titbits about political foes in over 1,000 changes to related Wikipedia articles.
Amongst the spinning and doctoring was the removal of a campaign promise by Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., that he would serve only four terms, as was the detailed description of a bill introduced by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., designed to make it more difficult for gay parents to visit their children in hospitals.
Naturally, dirty tricks, slurs and insults loomed large, with the entry for the Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. saying that he had been voted “the most annoying senator by his peers.”
Hot on their trail, the meticulous volunteers at Wikinews collected every Senate IP which had ever been edited on Wikipedia (up to February 3) and examined where the IPs came, what was edited and what the edits comprised of.
Someone (presumably Wikinews contributors) then sent emails to specific Senators’ offices and noted down the IP addresses that were included in the headers of the autoresponder emails.
Armed with this information, the Wikinews sleuths were then able to look back at Wikipedia edit histories and figure out which office was responsible for each edit.
The full name’n’shame article detailing who edited what can be seen here: Wikinews
(Unfortunately, edits coming from the US House of Representatives were harder to uniquely trace as they came through a proxy server, with one IP address covering all offices.)
Open, collaborative information projects like Wikipedia and Wikinews have been welcomed by Internet activists keen to make unbiased information freely available, but the very nature of the project makes it wide open to abuse (as one pundit commented, “The information on your screen may be only as good as the most recent users’ motives.”)
But in this case, the attempts by Capital Hill staff to fiddle about on the Web and rewrite political history backfired dramatically and only made things worse for them.
And we rather like that.