U.S. Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia

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Some edits to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia by staff of the United States Congress have created controversy, notably in early to mid-2006. Several such instances, such as those involving Marty Meehan, Norm Coleman, Conrad Burns,[1] and Joe Biden, received significant media attention.[2] Others, such as those involving Gil Gutknecht, were reported but received less widespread coverage.

Biographical information on various politicians was edited by their own staff to remove undesirable information (including pejorative statements quoted, or broken campaign promises), add favorable information or "glowing" tributes, add negative information to opponents' biographies, or replace the article in part or whole by staff-authored biographies.[2]

Background[edit]

On January 27, 2006, The Sun of Lowell, Massachusetts, published an article entitled "Rewriting history under the dome", which revealed the editing by Congressional staff members of Congressman Marty Meehan's Wikipedia entry.[2][3]

Matt Vogel, Meehan's chief of staff, said that he had authorized an intern in July to replace existing Wikipedia content with a staff-written biography of the lawmaker.

Further investigation by Wikipedia editors discovered well over a thousand edits by IP addresses allocated to the US House of Representatives and Senate. Most of the edits were considered to show good faith by Wikipedia editors. A minority of edits were considered improper. At least one of the addresses involved was blocked from further editing.[4]

Yesterday's story, "Rewriting history under the dome," accurately reported that in July of 2005 an intern in my office responsible for updating my biography also updated my online Wikipedia entry. I did not know that this change was being made at the time and was only made aware of it yesterday when informed that The Sun had inquired about it. Though the actual time spent on this issue amounted to 11 minutes, according to server logs, I do not consider it time well spent or approve of it in any way. ... It was a waste of energy and an error in judgment on the part of my staff to have allowed any time to be spent on updating my Wikipedia entry. I thank The Sun for bringing it to my attention.[3]


— Congressman Marty Meehan, Lowell Sun

Incidents[edit]

Norm Coleman[edit]

Later in January 2006, Senator Norm Coleman's chief of staff, Erich Mische, "confirmed that the senator's staff had done so...the editing was done to correct inaccuracies and delete information".[5]

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said, "It appears to be a major rewrite of the article to make it more favorable."[5]

Mische stated: "What's to stop someone from writing in that Norm Coleman was 7 feet 10 inches, with green hair and one eye smack dab in the middle of his head? That's about as silly as this gets ... When you put 'edia' in there, it makes it sound as if this is a benign, objective piece of information."[5]

Joe Biden[edit]

The Wikipedia investigation found that Biden staffers had removed and modified descriptions of incidents of alleged plagiarism and had recast discussion of a possible Biden 2008 presidential candidacy in a more favorable light.[6][7] In February 2006, The Washington Post quoted Biden spokesperson Norm Kurz as saying that the changes that were "made to Biden's site by this office were designed to make it more fair and accurate."[7]

Gil Gutknecht[edit]

On August 16, 2006, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the office of Representative Gil Gutknecht tried twice—on July 24 and August 14, 2006—to remove a 128-word section in the Wikipedia article on him, replacing it with a more flattering 315-word entry from his official congressional biography. Most of the removed text was about the 12-year term-limit Gutknecht imposed on himself in 1995 (Gutknecht ran for re-election in 2006, breaking his promise and was subsequently defeated, though not specifically as a result of this pledge). A spokesman for Gutknecht did not dispute that his office tried to change his Wikipedia entry, but questioned the reliability of the encyclopedia.[3][8][not in citation given]

Gutknecht's office used the account "Gutknecht01" for the first edits on July 24;[9] that account was then notified (via its talk page) of Wikipedia policies against self-editing. For the second set of edits on August 16, his office used an anonymous Congressional IP address.[10]

U.S. Rep. David Davis and Tennessee Rep. Matthew Hill[edit]

In August 2007, U.S. Rep. David Davis's press secretary Timothy Hill at first denied and later acknowledged during a second press interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel that he had in June 2007 used a congressional office computer and resources to delete blocks of information (termed as "blanking vandalism") about his employer and his brother Tennessee Representative Matthew Hill from biographies on Wikipedia.[11] "Part of the information he tried to remove concerned political contributions to both his brother and Davis by former King Pharmaceuticals CEO John Gregory, as well as other ties to the Gregory family."[12]

U.S. Rep Mike Pence[edit]

In August 2011, a Huffington Post article brought to light that Indiana Congressman Mike Pence had been editing his own Wikipedia page to make the Congressman look more flattering. Pence's office declined to comment on the matter.[13]

Edward Snowden[edit]

On August 2, 2013, an editor linked to the US senate with the IP 156.33.241.5 edited the Wikipedia page of whistleblower Edward Snowden to change his description from "dissident" to "traitor".[14]

CongressEdits[edit]

Main article: CongressEdits

CongressEdits (or @congressedits) is an automated Twitter account created in 2014 that tweets changes to Wikipedia articles that originate from IP addresses belonging to the United States Congress. The changes are presumed to be made by the staffs of US elected representatives and senators. Previous to this, the best information about what congressional staffers were editing was found in the articles U.S. Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia and Wikipedia:Congressional staffer edits, which are manually updated.

Proponents[edit]

In August 2014, the Cato Institute suggested that Congressional staffers should spend spare time editing Wikipedia. A panel hosted by the institute endorsed the idea so that congressional staffers could use their time to write neutral and informative articles about proposed legislation to better educate the public. Experts on the panel considered the two main obstacles to doing this as being skepticism towards Wikipedia and the history of biased editing from Congressional staffers. The Cato Institute suggested one way to overcome these issues would be for the staffers to create user accounts and userpages disclosing their connections with Congress.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Williams, Walt (2007-01-01). "Burns' office may have tampered with Wikipedia entry". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  2. ^ a b c Nate Anderson (January 30, 2006). "Congressional staffers edit boss's bio on Wikipedia". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2008-04-28.  The activities documented included:
    • rewriting Norm Coleman's article to make more favorable, claimed to be "correcting errors"
    • removing from Conrad Burns' article quoted pejorative statements he had made, and replacing them with "glowing tributes" such as "the voice of the farmer"
    • removal of unfavorable information from Joe Biden's article
  3. ^ a b c Evan Lehmann (January 27, 2006). "Rewriting history under the dome". The Lowell Sun (MediaNews Group). 
  4. ^ Wikipedia editors made a fairly extensive survey of edits from Congressional IP ranges: "Wikipedia:Congressional Staffer Edits". Wikipedia. Retrieved 22 June 2006. 
  5. ^ a b c "Web site's entry on Coleman revised Aide confirms his staff edited biography, questions Wikipedia's accuracy". St. Paul Pioneer Press (Associated Press). 
  6. ^ Blakely, Rhys (February 9, 2006). "Washington's politicians edit Wikipedia". The Times (London). 
  7. ^ a b Noguchi, Yuki (February 9, 2006). "Wikipedia's Help From the Hill". The Washington Post. 
  8. ^ "Gutknecht joins Wikipedia tweakers", Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, August 16, 2006, accessed August 17, 2006
  9. ^ Gutknecht01
  10. ^ Gutknecht01
  11. ^ Knoxnews article Entries on Wikipedia edited by Davis aide published August 11, 2007.
  12. ^ knoxnews article Lawmaker's office awaits panel's verdict on aide's act published August 15, 2007.
  13. ^ Carter, Zach (August 18, 2011). "Did Mike Pence's Office Edit His Wikipedia Page To Make It More Flattering?". Huffington Post. 
  14. ^ Ryan Gorman (August 3, 2013). "Someone within the US Senate edited Edward Snowden's Wikipedia page to change his description from 'dissident' to 'traitor'". Daily Mail. Retrieved October 5, 2013. 
  15. ^ Schwab, Nikki (August 18, 2014). "Cato Institute Experts Call on Staffers to Edit Wikipedia". US News & World Report. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 

External links[edit]