Congressional astroturfing

U.S. congressional staffers' editing investigated

A number of Wikipedia editors began scrutinizing edits made from IP addresses associated with the United States Congress last week after staffers for Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan admitted having replaced Meehan's article with one they had written themselves.

Staff rewrite articles

The actions of Meehan's staff were first reported on Friday in his hometown newspaper, the Lowell Sun. As reported by the Sun, Meehan's staff decided to rewrite the article about their boss, which was done in a series of edits on 18 July 2005. In particular, news reports picked up on the fact that this removed references to Meehan's now-broken pledge when he first ran for office in 1992 to serve only four terms.

Meehan chief of staff Matt Vogel acknowledged the office's involvement, but defended it as having significantly expanded and improved the article. He said, "Let the outside world edit it. It seemed right to start with greater depth than a paragraph with incorrect data from the '80s." Implicitly, Vogel seemed to take the position that they didn't object to the term-limits pledge being discussed but felt no obligation to incorporate unflattering information in their own submission. Still, subsequent edits from the same IP address last month, on 27 December, severely trimmed the since-restored discussion of the pledge.

The resulting publicity apparently caused Meehan to regret this involvement, as he wrote a letter to the editor commenting, "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." A spokeswoman said that the office did not plan to change its rules about Internet use; general House policy reportedly allows "incidental" use by staffers.

The Associated Press also reported on Monday that the chief of staff for Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota admitted his staff had edited the article about Coleman. Chief of staff Erich Mische argued that the fact that anybody can edit Wikipedia serves to allow people to correct inaccurate information this way. However, some information about Coleman's voting record (that he voted with President Bush 98% of the time in 2003) was also removed. Mische conceded, "That probably should have stayed in there".

Checking for more cases

The incident prompted an investigation on the administrators' noticeboard to look for possible additional instances of Wikipedia editing by congressional staff. Rick Block searched the most recent 500 edits for articles about current members of Congress and turned up contributions from 28 IP addresses believed to be assigned either to the Senate or the House of Representatives. An analysis by Aaron indicated that about half of these made legitimate contributions, while the other half edited in bad faith (meaning involvement in major edit wars, severely biased editing, or outright vandalism). Most had made very few contributions, and the IP address that edited the Meehan article had by far the most. Its contributions went back before the Meehan edits to the creation, on 2 June 2005, of an article about the McEntire Joint National Guard Station in South Carolina. Many but certainly not all of the edits were to articles on political subjects.

The edits were almost certainly not all by the same person, either, as another contribution from this IP address showed. Someone identifying herself as the Communications Director for South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson posted his official biography to the talk page for the article, asking that it be considered for use in updating the article. Jimbo Wales confirmed that he had corresponded with her and suggested this particular course of action, commenting that this staffer's conduct was entirely proper: "Her actions were 100% perfect in every respect, treating us appropriately." Some more discussion took place in the context of a request for comment about the situation.

Although the Meehan article is apparently the first case where legislative staffers have openly admitted editing an article in which they have a professional stake, it is not the first time such efforts have come to light. The German Wikipedia had a similar incident last May in which some edits about the candidates in a regional election were traced to IP addresses for the Bundestag.

Still, involvement by political professionals need not be detrimental, as SimonP pointed out: "We've long been aware of edits coming from the Canadian House of Commons. Overall their edits were not much worse than any random group of anons." And Adam Carr, a long-time user and one of Wikipedia's most prolific editors, works for Michael Danby of the Australian House of Representatives.

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A few more details in this news report from The Transcript -- the reporter actually talked to several government folks.


  • 'Jon Brandt, a spokesman for the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the House computer network, confirmed House ownership of the address.'
  • 'Matt Vogel, chief of staff for Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, said he authorized an intern last year to replace existing Wikipedia content with a staff-written biography of the lawmaker. "It makes sense to me the biography we submit would be the biography we write," Vogel said.'

I think the IP range is currently blocked again because someone there just doesn't know when to stop being a dick - David Gerard 14:29, 3 February 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Washington Post

On the front page of Saturday's Washington Post:

--Aude (talk | contribs) 05:08, 4 February 2006 (UTC)[reply]


I am trying to NPOV this article (see [1]) only to be reverted without explantion. So I am inserting a NPOV tag. Cognition 00:46, 21 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Please describe the POV that you think needs fixing. It appears to me that you want to insert more POV, not less-Will Beback 01:32, 21 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

This is very POV: Still, involvement by political professionals need not be detrimental, as SimonP pointed out: "We've long been aware of edits coming from the Canadian House of Commons. Overall their edits were not much worse than any random group of anons." And Adam Carr, a long-time user and one of Wikipedia's most prolific editors, works for Michael Danby of the Australian House of Representatives. This implies that Adam Carr's edits to the Danby article are not detrimental-- something with which everyone might not agree. Cognition 01:45, 21 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Please do not engage in personal attacks on Adam Carr. -Will Beback 03:17, 21 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
First of all, the language is "need not be detrimental", which is not a conclusion that all of the edits are "not detrimental". This should be clear by the quote from SimonP, which is what the phrase is actually connected with, where he draws a comparison to a "random group of anons". That would obviously include both detrimental and non-detrimental edits, and even if you try to extend this to cover Adam Carr's work, it's a pretty low standard. Furthermore, the paragraph makes no actual value judgments about the value of his edits, and I trust nobody is going to dispute the factual, value-neutral description of him. Please take personal vendettas elsewhere, we do not appreciate having people try to conduct them via the pages of the Signpost. --Michael Snow 22:20, 26 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
The use of the word "and" in "And Adam Carr..." implies that the fact that Simon P pointed out that "involvement by political professionals need not be detrimental" has something to do with Adam Carr. Adam Carr is being used as an example of non-deterimental editing by "political professionals." Many people disagree that Adam Carr is such an example. See Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Adam Carr. BTW, you should read Wikipedia:Assume good faith and Wikipedia:No personal attacks before accusing me of "personal vendettas." My only personal mission on Wikipedia is promoting the Truth. Cognition 03:53, 28 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
Again, you have failed to grasp the distinction between a categorical claim that his edits are entirely non-detrimental, and the much milder assertion that they are not necessarily detrimental. I think everyone would have to concede that he's made a number of useful contributions, and while I'm sure you claim there are some counterexamples, that doesn't negate the point.
As for personal vendettas, it's pretty clear from your behavior that some of your editing is an extension of a longstanding beef with Carr over his efforts, beginning some two years ago now, on Lyndon LaRouche. That's an observation on your conduct, not a personal attack, and I don't feel obligated to continue assuming good faith when plenty of evidence suggesting bad faith has manifested itself.
This is now a months-old story, and should be left in the state from when it was published. Also, Signpost stories are bylined for a reason, and our policy is that the bylined author has final prerogative on what the story says. If you change it again in any fashion, it's effectively like altering someone's signed comment on a talk page, and I shall have you blocked for it. --Michael Snow 06:13, 28 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
So let me get this straight, you admit that Signpost articles cannot be modified if they disregard the spirt of the policy of Wikipedia:Neutral Point of View? I met Jimbo Wales at the St. Petersburg Wikipedia:Meetup. He seems to take that policy pretty seriously. Perhaps I should contact him and let him know that the Signpost is being dominated by the POV of a particular Wiki-clique, without reference to Mr. Wales' esteemed NPOV policy. Cognition 07:46, 30 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]


This article was cited in a paper by Marc Foglia and Chang Wa Huynh published by l'Encyclopédie de l'Agora (French language, site is based in Quebec). --Michael Snow 16:39, 14 June 2006 (UTC)[reply]


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