Conflict of interest

Edit warrior traced back to airline

A minor edit war last week sparked coverage in regional media when a reverse DNS lookup found that one of the editors was apparently working from an internet connection belonging to a corporation with a stake in the issue.

The edits in question were made to Wright Amendment, the article about a US federal law that affects competition between American Airlines and Southwest Airlines in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Southwest is currently campaigning to have the law repealed. On 11 October, someone edited the article twice (without logging in) to add editorial comments critical of Southwest. The edits were quickly reverted; meanwhile, the editor's IP address was traced back to American Airlines.

As reported by Margaret Allen in the Dallas Business Journal, an American Airlines spokesman acknowledged that the edits apparently came through its computer system, but said the company would not ask its employees to do such a thing. The spokesman said he had "had no success" tracking down the individual responsible. An Associated Press report on the incident Monday indicated, "American doesn't have an employee or contractor by the name of the person who sent the changes" (a rather odd formulation, since no name was ever identified). A Southwest spokesman called the incident "disappointing" and said the company had been monitoring the article. Tfine80 highlighted this point, saying it was "the most interesting statement" in the incident.

This is not the first time slanted editing has been traced in this way to an institutional source that might have an agenda to push in the article. In May, shortly before regional elections in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, IP addresses editing the German Wikipedia articles on the candidates were traced to the Bundestag, causing one politician to publicly deny involvement (see archived story).

The Wright Amendment article has a fairly short history, having only been created on 20 July. Even including the brief revert war, which the Dallas Business Journal characterized as "numerous edits in recent days", it had only 17 edits before the media coverage prompted additional attention. Cleared as filed, the editor who had been reverting these edits, commented, "I do think it's kind of bizarre that the Dallas Business Journal would be giving a play-by-play of the edits on Wikipedia".

The coverage seems to have prompted some expansion of the article to discuss Southwest's repeal efforts. Cleared as filed called these edits "a good start to talking about this issue."

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