Twitter Bots Keep Watch on Government Edits to Wikipedia

Wikipedia users have created bots to keep a Twitter change log of edits that come from government IP addresses.

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Wikipedia has always maintained its commitment to remaining open source, free of advertising, and relatively bias-free. The online encyclopedia has maintained its position by doing its best to weed out editors with an agenda, and most recently, it clarified the disclosure rules for paid editors. But users have also been creating tools to keep the site as free of bias as possible.

Earlier this month, British comedian and programmer Tom Scott set up the Twitter account @ParliamentEdits. This bot would post a tweet whenever a change to Wikipedia was made that originated from the IP addresses associated with British Parliament buildings.

While there have not been any tweets posted about activity yet, that may be because there were offensive edits made from government computers earlier this year, and government officials may have learned their lesson. Or, they could’ve changed their IP addresses.

Scott’s idea has been used in other countries to better effect, particularly in the U.S. The Twitter account @CongressEdits has shown several edits originating from congressional buildings recently — some of which were to the pages of politicians and geographic locations.

The impact of accounts like these is that any anonymous editing by government sources can be viewed in the changelogs of Wikipedia and fact checked. But that wasn’t the intent of Ed Summers, the creator of @CongressEdits.

“The truth is, @congressedits has only announced a handful of edits, and some of them are pretty banal. But can’t a staffer or politician make a grammatical change, or update an article about a movie? Is it really news that they are human, just like the rest of us?” Summers wrote in a blog post, adding that he wished to see “more, better ideas and tools like it.”

While these bots are small tools and simple ideas, they speak to how Wikipedia and its users prize the site’s integrity. Summers hopes legislators or government officials could log into Wikipedia using their own names and add their wealth of knowledge to the site. But I’m sure that a lot of users are just glad they now know members of Congress are using government resources to edit the “Horse Head Mask” entry.