UK COI edits
British politicians accused of WP cover-ups
The Houses of Parliament
in London, the source of alterations to sensitive information in WP articles on UK politicians
The Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend on "suggestions that some [British politicians] have tried to rewrite history by deleting mentions of their career low-points from Wikipedia." The newspaper looked at edits to Wikipedia articles on UK Members of Parliament:
An investigation has uncovered dozens of cases where MPs' biographical pages on Wikipedia were altered to remove details of past humiliations which had been added by members of the public. Embarrassments which have been deleted include an MP who employed a male escort, an MP who lost his front bench job in a row over racist language, and a female MP whose ex-husband was arrested and deported. On every occasion, the change was made either by someone working within the parliamentary estate or by a user who appeared to have links to the MP.
One editor named in the report is suggested to be User:jamesthomas101, who had removed the controversies section from the article on Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East. A man named James Thomas is said to be Mr Betts' partner and parliamentary assistant.
The article mentions a controversy regarding User:Tonybaldry, who reportedly changed the article on Tony Baldry three times in March 2010. According to the article, "information was removed about alleged lobbying by Mr Baldry on behalf of Milestone Trading, a diamond mining company from which a company in which he was a one-third shareholder had reportedly received payments." The article reports that the same editor deleted information about an honours controversy over which Mr Baldry had been forced to apologise in the House of Commons.
Mr Baldry responded in the report that Wikipedia's rules "are self-serving rules of engagement. It's impracticable to sue Wikipedia so the only thing you can do is to hope that the entries are accurate. It seems wholly unreasonable that people can go onto the website and simply write stuff that is inaccurate or libellous about public figures. I'm not sure who one can rely on unless oneself to correct the information. I was simply trying to ensure that it wasn't libellous and that it wasn't seriously misleading."
The article lists numerous other occasions where articles on members of parliament have been altered from inside the building, including instances where entries regarding Speaker John Bercow and former Cabinet minister Caroline Flint had been changed using parliamentary computers. The newspaper reported that:
"The Wikipedia entry for Harriet Harman, the acting Labour leader, was changed in July 2008 by a parliamentary user to delete a reference to a protest on the roof of her London house by Fathers 4 Justice campaigners which had taken place the previous month. The section has since been reinserted, although it has been substantially rewritten."
Also noteworthy was that in January last year the entry for former Conservative minister Nigel Waterson, who lost his seat in the May 2010 general election, "was edited from parliament to delete a reference to reports that he had been arrested for allegedly assaulting his two teenage children, before being released without charge. It was subsequently reinserted."
The Houses of Parliament have no rules prohibiting staff from changing Wikipedia entries on politicians.
The report resonates with many earlier incidents involving self-interested edits by politicians or their staff: In 2007, aides working for the Australian prime minister made many edits to articles about his government, including removing an alleged nickname of the then Australian deputy prime minister from Wikipedia's article on him. In 2006 similar editing behaviour emanating from Congressional IP addresses in Washington in 2006 received media attention (see Wikinews report and Signpost coverage). In 2005, articles about candidates in a German regional election were edited from IP addresses of the German federal parliament (see Signpost coverage).
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