The Signpost

Special report

Twitter bots catalogue government edits to Wikipedia

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Gamaliel

Slate reports that Tom Scott, co-creator of the emoji social network Emojli, created a Twitter bot called Parliament WikiEdits to automatically tweet a link to any Wikipedia edits made from an IP address belonging to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Scott's bot initially did not tweet any links to edits made from Parliament and, according to Scott, an "insider" reports that their IP addresses changed. Despite this, Scott's Twitter bot has inspired similar creations for Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, The Netherlands, North Carolina, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United States, and other jurisdictions.

A Choco Taco, one of the subjects of an edit from the US Congress

Ars Technica reported on the bot devoted to the United States Congress, congress-edits, created by Ed Summers, an Information Technology Specialist at the Library of Congress. Summers also created the tool Wikistream (see previous Signpost coverage). On his blog, Summers wrote about why he created the Twitter bot. The Washington Post reported on some amusing edits tweeted by Summers' bot, including additions of President Obama's encounter with a man in a horse head mask and Heritage Foundation fellow Brian Darling's alleged interest in "breeding rare long-haired cats". Yahoo! News wrote about edits to the Choco Taco article in a tongue-in-cheek story. io9 joked that "Congress Basically Admits They Are Reptilians".

After an initial spate of reporting on humorous edits from the US Congress, coverage turned serious when one particular IP address assigned to the US House of Representatives, User:, was blocked. Mediaite reported that the address was used to make a series of edits regarding conspiracy theories, including articles about Bohemian Grove, David Icke, and Lyndon LaRouche. Mediaite speculated that the "conspiracy nut" was "an intern who has questionable judgment". The same address was also used make a number of edits that have been the subject of media coverage, to the Choco Taco article (see above) and the Abby Martin article (see below), and its block log features a series of blocks for disruptive editing and vandalism dating back to 2008. (Ironically, the IP address also created the Wikipedia article on the congress-edits bot on July 15.) Following Mediaite's story, the IP address edited the Mediaite article to label the organization "sexist" and "transphobic". The IP address was blocked by User:Tom Morris for ten days for disruptive editing.

Mediaite reported accurately that only a single IP address was blocked, but many media reports had misleading headlines or inaccurate reporting that gave the impression that multiple IP addresses or the entirety of Congress was blocked. After the expiration of the block, the IP address resumed editing Wikipedia, including an edit on August 5 which labeled Edward Snowden an "American traitor". This particular edit was the subject of news coverage from Ars Technica, Reason, and The Hill. Global Voices Online reports that the same IP address was blocked for a day on the Russian Wikipedia on July 31 for changing the musical notation of the Russian national anthem to that of a "popular Ukrainian chant" which roughly translates to "Putin is a dickwad". Jimmy Wales told BBC News (July 25) that while vandalism has "always gone on and it always will", many in the Wikipedia community felt that congress-edits may have provided an audience for "some prankster there in the office" and that the Congressional IT staff "might be hunting them down this very moment."

Canadian Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II mock-up

The Toronto Star reported on Gov. of Canada Edits, a Twitter bot set up by Nick Ruest, Digital Assets Librarian at York University, which tweets edits made to Wikipedia from the House of Commons of Canada, the Department of National Defence, and Industry Canada. The creation of the Twitter bot prompted Canadian media to examine specific instances of Wikipedia editing from Canadian governmental IP addresses. CTV News highlighted edits that removed information regarding criticism of the Canadian purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter plane, a minor elections complaint concerning MP Shelly Glover, and an ethics complaint against Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu. Vice noted edits removing information about complaints and controversies involving Senator Pamela Wallin, Senator Yonah Martin, MP Patrick Brown, MP Glover, and MP Louis Plamondon. Staffers for Martin and Glover confirmed to Vice that they were responsible for the edits to those articles, stating that they were responding to incorrect information, though Vice noted that their edits removed those items from the article altogether instead of correcting them.

Perhaps the most significant fallout from the Canadian Twitter bot concerns Dean Del Mastro, MP representing Peterborough in the House of Commons. The Ottawa Citizen reports in a story that has been widely circulated in Canadian media that Del Mastro asked the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, to investigate edits made to his Wikipedia article from IP addresses belonging to the Canadian parliamentary network discovered through the Twitter bot. On July 15, an IP address assigned to the Canadian government edited the article to refer to Del Mastro as a "used car dealer" and a "perjurer" who "formerly sold crippled mules". (The Del Mastro family owned a Suzuki dealership and a few days before the vandalism occurred, Del Mastro had testified in his trial regarding charges that he had violated the Canada Elections Act by overspending during his 2008 campaign.) When confronted about the vandalism and the reliable sources policy by a Wikipedia editor, the IP editor wrote "We are the government. We are the only source." Because the IP addresses are temporarily assigned, server logs will have to be checked to discover the culprit. The article was previously edited in November of last year by a different Canadian government IP address to remove material unfavorable to Del Mastro, including a discussion of allegations of fraudulent donations to his 2008 campaign. On August 1, the Citizen reported that Speaker Scheer is investigating the matter.

A Buk-M1-2 SAM system 9A310M1-2 TELAR

Russia was the focus of a number of controversial edits noticed by the media. RT, the Russian television network, noted a number of edits tweeted by congress-edits originating from the US House of Representatives. The article for Crimea was edited to read that "the peninsula was illegally annexed by Russia" and RT America television correspondent Abby Martin was labeled "a Russian propagandist". The Telegraph reported on edits tweeted by Госправки, the Twitter bot devoted to edits from IP addresses belonging to the Russian government. An IP address from the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company edited the Russian Wikipedia to insert the claim that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was "shot down by Ukranian soldiers" and remove the claim that it was instead shot down "by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation."

Gawker noted that following a July 21 press conference where Russian military officials stated that a Ukranian Sukhoi Su-25 was in the vicinity of Flight 17 when it was shot down, an IP address belonging to the Kremlin changed the Russian Wikipedia's article on the SU-25 to increase its maximum altitude from 7 km to 10 km, reflecting a claim made during the press conference. Global Voices Online reported on multiple edits from the Russian Federal Protective Service to the German Wikipedia, unsuccessfully attempting to rebrand pro-Russian "separatists" ("Separatisten") into "rebels" ("Aufständische"). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote that a "war of words" had hit Wikipedia. The New Republic asked "Why won't Wikipedia ban propaganda on its Russian site?" and quoted Dmitry Rodionov, an administrator on the Russian Wikipedia.

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.

¡Hola! We in the government in the socialist paradise of Cuba are very pleased our editing is not noted as part of this report. ¡Viva la Revolución! (talk) 04:11, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would like to express the same pleasure as our Cuban brothers. Allahu akbar. (talk) 06:34, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
+1 from the Syrian Arab Republic. (talk) 06:59, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
+1 from the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Sooner or later we will succeed in having Burma moved to Myanmar. (talk) 07:06, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

It's worth remembering that we don't know who makes these edits. It could be an elected representative, a member of their staff, working under instruction, a student intern independently trying to curry favour, a member of administrative staff, or even a cook or cleaner using their tablet through Wi-Fi during a rest break. False flag editing is also possible. Conversely, propaganda edits may be made by politicians or spooks from home, libraries and other public networks, or mobile 9cellular) connections. Andy Mabbett (Pigsonthewing); Talk to Andy; Andy's edits 08:40, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

The IP posted comments that implied s/he was acting under the direction of a Congressperson, but without substantiation we can't consider that anything more than trollish bluster. Gamaliel (talk) 15:37, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
The IP was blocked again for a month following a series of transphobic edits and comments. Gamaliel (talk) 22:48, 20 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The Canadian governmental IP addresses that are reported through the Twitter feed are also available to journalists, and anyone who has internet access in a large number of research archives and libraries; in some cases, it includes wi-fi in places like government offices, which can sometimes be accessed by the general public. I suggest that these "reports" be taken with sufficient quantities of sodium chloride, since the number of people with access is huge. Risker (talk) 20:00, 18 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

There's another Twitter bot that was inspired by the others: Wikibills. The bot tweets out edits made to United States legislation. FYI. HistoricMN44 (talk) 15:18, 19 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]

  • Who uses Twitter (an asocial company that sells propaganda and is not using an open standard like Diaspora (software))? What the report is missing: the government users with an account and especially the administrators who work for the government. (talk) 11:08, 23 August 2014 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0