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UK COI edits

British politicians accused of WP cover-ups

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By Wackywace
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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I read the first sentence of the opening paragraph and laughed out loud; evil politicians! Rock drum Ba-dumCrash 17:01, 12 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Not to defend those who remove sourced information, but WP:UNDUE also applies here. For example, that a group had a protest on the top of one's house, even though covered by the press, is of questionable importance; I think a good argument could be made that including it [and I'm speaking here without researching the matter] would be a violation of Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy. In summary, the matter is more nuanced than the newspaper article makes it seem. And that's assuming that everything that was removed really was appropriately sourced, a heroic assumption, I'd guess. -- John Broughton (♫♫) 22:31, 13 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

This looks like an example of what I have long predicted - the use and abuse of BLP hysteria to whitewash the encyclopedia. Even where BLP is not directly invoked, its chilling effect enables the removal of negative-but-true information with ease...and it's only going to get worse. BLP must be repealed as soon as possible, and the fanatical faction of BLP hysterics that Wales has allowed to dictate policy on Wikipedia - due to his own increasing identification with the celebrity class - should be examined closely. Their commitment to a free and open encyclopedia is in doubt. Shameful. Mr. IP Defender of Open Editing 23:25, 13 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

I agree with John Broughton (as usual). Obviously sourced, balanced, encyclopedic information should be put back in, but the WP:COI rules permit a politician or her staff to remove criticism that is not supported by WP:reliable sources or that gives WP:UNDUE importance to trivial events. -- Ssilvers (talk) 14:41, 14 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Ssilvers said it best and most succinctly here. Anyone is entitled to remove information from Wikipedia for any reason, but if it's relevant, well-sourced information, it will almost certainly be reinserted. In such cases, policitians and their staff should refrain from the ineffective strategy of directing editing the articles and instead voice any concerns they have on the discussion page. Dcoetzee 19:47, 14 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

"The Houses of Parliament have no rules prohibiting staff from changing Wikipedia entries on politicians." I wouldn't let this line stand in an article! What is it saying? That the Houses should have such a rule? That anyone would even think that they should? Parliamentary librarians, for example, would be ideal contributors. And certain MPs are constitutional experts, and have written widely about politics and politicians. People widely edit their own articles, or those of people they know, sometimes unwisely, but mainly without the types of problems indicated in the news reports - for which we should be, as ever, vigilant. Rich Farmbrough, 03:46, 15 July 2010 (UTC).[reply]

You may want to complain to the Telegraph, too, as their article contains a similar statement, from which this one was adapted.
There are of course differing views about when or if editing the Wikipedia article about oneself is acceptable, perhaps correlated to how strong one's concerns about issues like corruption or astroturfing are in general. (Outside of Wikipedia, conflict of interest rules have existed for centuries in many contexts and countries.) But in any case I would say that rules prohibiting staff of companies or institutions from editing Wikipedia entries are quite frequent nowadays, which could justify the Telegraph noting the absence of such rules in this case.
Regards, HaeB (talk) 13:56, 16 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

There's something pathetic about this story, because Wikipedia is only spanking the most wretched amateurs who edit using a real name account or a traceable IP. The ones who have the wit to hire a PR advocate or company who can deliver edits from a range of preexisting accounts, will face no penalty. Whether they are politicians or fans, far more effective censors are encountered every day by those who try to sneak in a fair word against American "conservatives" (reactionaries). For example, I wanted to add to Modern liberalism in the United States the following, "According to the ASA, IQ data from the "Add Health" survey averaged 106 for adolescents identifying as "very liberal", versus 95 for those calling themselves "very conservative".[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] An unrelated study in 2009 found that among students applying to U.S. universities, conservatism correlated negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores.[8]". (The reference list lengthened with each try, but no number is ever enough) What I got were editors who told me things like "even if it's true it's way too POV for wikipedia" and that I was "trying to add controversial content for which you clearly have no consensus", who reverted every attempt within a few minutes, any time of day or night. Of course, Wikipedia policy calls for much more stringent redactions in articles about living persons... Wnt (talk) 11:34, 16 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Then try adding it with an additional reference to Geoffrey Miller's insights into IQ, personality traits and political views. See Note 3 in the article on him. Tony (talk) 12:13, 16 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Moved here from article page:

Trying to rewrite history, is like running behind a waggon loaded with manure. Somehow, some day, some wikipedians will virtually unload the waggon. --IdaShaw (talk) 12:03, 16 July 2010 (UTC)[reply]
End of moved part
  1. ^ "Intelligent People Have "Unnatural" Preferences and Values That Are Novel in Human Evolutionary History". American Sociological Association press release. 2010-02-23.
  2. ^ Satoshi Kanazawa (2010). "Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent". Social Psychology Quarterly. doi:10.1177/0190272510361602.
  3. ^ "Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds". ScienceDaily. 2010-02-24.
  4. ^ Elizabeth Landau (2010-02-26). "Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ". CNN.
  5. ^ John Cloud (2010-02-26). "Study: Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?". Time Magazine.
  6. ^ "Higher IQ linked to liberalism, atheism". UPI. 2010-03-02.
  7. ^ Nicole Baute (2010-03-01). "Are liberals and atheists smarter? Psychologist links teen IQ levels with adult views on religion, politics and family". Toronto Star.
  8. ^ Larry Stankov (2009). "Conservatism and cognitive ability". Intelligence. 37 (3): 294–304. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2008.12.007.


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