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Who in government is editing Wikipedia?

Wikipedia-logo-en-big

(I just re-read the title to this post. It’s sounds like I’ve been watching too many conspiracy movies. But I’m gonna stick with it. It seems to fit. Feel free to rewrite it after you’re done here. Just know that we’ll know that you rewrote it. Cause we have those kind of interweb skills.)

I’ve talked quite a bit about Wikipedia and how I think it’s a good option for kids and teachers.

Some argue that because different people can edit Wikipedia entries, that those entries can’t be trusted. I would argue just the opposite . . . that because so many people can edit entries and so many people monitor changes to the entries, that the entries become more trustworthy.

I called it open source history.

Do you really know who writes your textbook? What credentials do they have? What bias do they bring to the process? What sources do they use to write their books? Who fact checks them? How do you know what influence the Texas State Board of Education played in “editing” their “entries?”

When a single person and a single group becomes the one responsible for controlling information and knowledge, we should all be concerned.

Having said that, it is important that we monitor and fact check Wikipedia entries. And that happens constantly. The good news is that we now have the option of using social media tools to do some of that monitoring for us.

Every Wikipedia article, and any revisions to that article, is tracked and monitored. If a change in an entry is made, the IP address of the computer that made the change is tracked and recorded. And for most major articles, there are Wikipedia editors that constantly update and edit entries – working to make each article as accurate and error free as possible.

So even if a change is made anonymously, that change can be tracked back to the source and if needed, that edit can be corrected.

Okay. A lot of tech nerd talk but what’s the basic idea here?

It’s possible for software to be written to automatically track who edits Wikipedia articles and where those edits happen using information from the computer that makes the edit. And it’s now possible for those changes to be automatically posted to a Twitter account that anyone can follow.

Yeah. I know. Pretty cool, right?

I just found out about the Twitter posting abilities as I’ve been following the Malaysian MH17 tragedy. Gizmodo does a better job of explaining what happened:

(The tweetbot) just uncovered some pretty drastic edits to a Wikipedia article that mentions Flight MH17, originating from a Russian government IP address.

As The Telegraph reports, @RuGovEdits tweeted that a computer user from within the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VHTRK) edited the Russian-language version of the Wikipedia entry about the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet shot down over Ukraine yesterday.

The original version of the Wikipedia article listing civil aviation accidents stated that MH17 had been shot down “by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.” Emphasis added.

The edits originating from the government-owned computer changed the article to read “the plane [flight MH17] was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers“. Again, emphasis added.

@RuGovEdits alerted the public with a tweet that says (translated): “Wikipedia article List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation has been edited by RTR [another name for VGTRK]“.

Статья в Википедии Список авиационных катастроф в гражданской авиации была отредактирована ВГТРК http://t.co/peZ60q07Fj

— Госправки (@RuGovEdits) July 18, 2014

If @RuGovEdits is to be trusted (and considering the Wiki-twitterbot code is widely available on Github, it probably can be), it certainly seems like someone within the Russian government is working to hide the widely-held fact that Russian weapons were used to bring down MH17. But while Wikipedia might be malleable, it’s also transparent.

And it gets better. There are multiple versions of this Wikipedia monitoring Tweetbot for all sorts of groups, including one called #congressedits.  #congressedits monitors any changes made to the English version of Wikipedia from any US Government IP address.

Recent changes made from the US Senate and House of Representatives include edits to gender identity disorder discussion and descriptions of rifle ammunition. Mmm . . .

This type of tool seems like a perfect way for you to start and continue conversations about bias,  about sourcing information, about corroboration of data, about asking good questions, about all sorts of stuff that support the idea of historical thinking and the C4 Framework.

Perhaps more importantly, Tweetbots such #congressedits can lead to discussions about deeper issues such the role of the press in a democracy, about control of information, about open and free internet access and how it can be used to keep the electorate more informed.

And it’s not just the Russian and American governments that can be followed. What about oil companies? Yup. United Nations? Yup. Pentagon? Yup. CIA? NATO? Israel? European Union? Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup.

Find the complete list here.

 

 

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I saw this just the other day. It’s really telling that even governments that have a death grip on media cannot stop Wikipedia from being transparent.

    July 22, 2014
    • glennw #

      The thing some of us have been talking about is now that those in power are becoming more aware of how their online movements can be tracked that they will become more stealthy – using mobile data networks to post changes or web anousimizer tools to hide their tracks.

      (Maybe I am becoming a conspiracy nut!)

      Thanks for the comment!

      glennw

      July 22, 2014
  2. Jennifer #

    Great post, Glenn! The validity of Wikipedia is questioned often in our school. I saved some news articles during the World Cup centering on how the entry about the U.S. Secretary of Defense was briefly edited to say Tim Howard (goalie for US team) was the incumbent, instead of Chuck Hagel. I plan to use it as a segue with my 6th graders on how to corroborate data and ask good questions. Thanks for giving me some new hashtags to follow!

    July 23, 2014
    • glennw #

      Jennifer,

      Great idea to use the Tim Howard story. (I love the images that whipped around the internet after that game!) Perfect way to transition into the Wikipedia conversation.

      Thanks for the comment! Good luck with your 6th graders!

      glennw

      July 23, 2014

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