Wikipedia editors have blocked computers from the U.S. House of Representatives for making “persistent disruptive edits” to Wikipedia pages. Page edits from House computers have been banned for ten days, largely due to the “actions of two or three,” one staffer told the BBC.
The Twitter account @congressedits has been monitoring changes to Wikipedia pages coming from congressional computers. In an attempt to maintain the site’s integrity, bots like these alert editors by sending out a tweet each time an edit is made from government-owned IP addresses.
The bot brought attention to rouge edits made to the pages of businesses, politicians (the biography of former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was edited to say that he was an “alien lizard who eats Mexican babies”), conspiracy theories and events like the Kennedy assassination — in particular an edit saying that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting “on behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro.”
The ban, however, was instated after a round of edits were made to the page of news site Mediaite, which has reported about similar acts of vandalism originating from congressional computers in the past. Edits from a House IP address said the blog “automatically assumes that someone is male without any evidence” and described the site as “sexist transphobic.”
The creator of @congressedits Ed Summers said the account was not created for fact-checking anonymous editing by government sources. Summers wrote in a blog post, “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?”
But Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the BBC that the bot account may have been unproductive:
There is a belief from some of the [Wikipedia] community that it only provoked someone — some prankster there in the office — to have an audience now for the pranks, and actually encouraged them rather than discouraged them.
Maybe someone at the House of Representatives better think about their IT staff – they might be hunting them down this very moment.