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Twitter account highlights history of Ottawa staffers making Wiki edits

Jul 16, 2014

Source: CTV News

A new automated Twitter account is shedding light on government staffers' apparent use of Wikipedia, revealing that users on the federal network have seemingly edited Wikipedia articles to remove scandalous information and update MPs' individual pages, among other things.

The edits are highlighted by @GCCAEdits, an automated Twitter account that tweets every time someone at the Canadian government anonymously edits Wikipedia. The Twitter account tracks government Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which work like digital postal codes, identifying where someone is accessing the Internet from.

When someone at a Canadian government IP address changes Wikipedia anonymously, Wikipedia keeps a record and @GCCAEdits tweets the change. @GCCAEdits started tweeting July 9, but Wikipedia's records go back well beyond that, meaning every change is available for the public to see.

Upon reviewing Wikipedia's records, CTVNews.ca found a number of edits in the histories of government-owned IP addresses. Users on the government's network have attempted to remove controversies and rewrite a number of Wikipedia pages over the years -- and they continue to do so, as @GCCAEdits has shown.

Among the changes CTVNews.ca identified was a repeated attempt to alter the Canadian section of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets page on July 21, 2010. According to @GCCAEdits, a user with an IP address belonging to the Department of Defence was responsible for attempting to remove public criticism from the F-35 article. The user repeatedly removed (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lockheed_Martin_F-35_Lightning_II&diff=prev&oldid=374708987) quotes attributed to then-Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff, who was quoted criticizing the jet deal as a "secretive, unaccountable decision."

Another Wikipedia user restored Ignatieff's comments, but a House of Commons user changed the article again -- this time with an added line of text.
"The opposition tends to overreact and cancels contracts without just cause or reasoning, setting back the procurement of needed equipment," reads part of the inserted text (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lockheed_Martin_F-35_Lightning_II&diff=next&oldid=374714151). That, too, was later removed by registered Wikipedia editors.

IP addresses are tied to location, not computer, so multiple users can work from the same IP address. Therefore, while @GCCAEdits can say where the edits are coming from, it cannot tie any of them to a single individual.

Wikipedia's IP history shows multiple occasions when users on the Government of Canada network have edited individual politicians' pages to remove any mentions of controversy or scandal, only to have those sections reverted back to the way they were by the broader Wikipedia editing community.

For instance, @GCCAEdits tweeted changes to Conservative MP Shelly Glover's page on Monday that showed someone at a government IP address removing a section entitled "Request for suspension by Elections Canada."

The section was restored, then a House of Commons user edited it again to remove the line: "Glover failed to file documents related to the 2011 election campaign." That line, too, was restored by a registered user.

Glover was threatened with a suspension for exceeding her legal campaign spending limit in the 2011 election, but eventually reached a deal with Elections Canada on the matter.

On Wednesday, the Twitter account tweeted an edit to Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu's page, showing someone deleting all mention of an ethics complaint against him. Again, the change has already been reversed.

The Senate Ethics Office ruled in June that Boisvenu broke the Senate's conflict of interest code last year, but no sanctions were imposed.

But not all tweets from @GCCAEdits involve scandal. Many show minor edits and updates to various military or MP pages, or completely unrelated contributions to off-topic Wikipedia pages. Edits include updating a list of Star Trek novels, changing the page of Marvel comic book character Ka-Zar, and updating the final standings for a video game tournament called QuakeCon.

Others show users at government IP addresses adding insults to people's Wikipedia pages. That was the case on Tuesday, when @GCCAEdits tweeted insulting changes to a conservative blogger's Wikipedia entry.
Canada's @GCCAEdits says it draws inspiration from similar Twitter bots based in the United States, Australia, South Africa and Ireland.

© CTV News