What Congress Edited on Wikipedia Today: Snowden, Manning, Cato, More


Stian Eikeland CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Members of Congress may want to check if their staffers are actually hard at work on their computers, because a few people (but mostly one prolific individual) seem to spend their days trolling Wikipedia. Today, the site has been edited at about 20 times by people with congressional IP addresses.

And one person, who has made about 30 edits in the last 48 hours, has been focusing on some politicized topics, like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, the Cato Institute, and many others.

Under the IP address (which has apparently been blocked in the past for "disruptive edits"), he (or she) today changed an entry about Snowden, calling him an "American traitor who defected to Russia." Regarding Manning, the user took to the talk page, asking, "Why is this man referred to throughout the article by his alias? He is much more well-known under his real name." As far the Cato Institute goes, the individual added the fact that the policy institute is hosting a talk about congressional staff editing Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the individual has gotten his fingers in the pages of libertarian-leaning congressmen Justin Amash and Thomas Massie. Arguably, he's made their pages more neutral, albeit less informative, changing a description of Amash from "corporate lawyer" to simply "an attorney," and removing the fact that Massie supports the ending federal gun-free zones in schools.

For what it's worth, it seems this prolific John Doe may be a Russian-speaker and has a fixation on Russia Today anchor Abby Martin, writing that she's not a journalist but a "propagandist," but also adding her name to a list of psychedelic artists (she really does dabble, apparently). He makes other legitimate, if obscure, additions to Wikipedia, like information on the congressional chicken caucus and peanut caucus.

John Doe also recently rewrote Mediaite's page, calling it a "sexist transphobic" media outlet for "automatically assum[ing] that someone is male without any evidence." Shortly thereafter, on July 24, Wikipedia began a 10-day ban on edits from Congressional computers.

The site has been dealing with "vandalism" from congressional computers basically since the beginning.

Ed Summers, a software developer who started a Twitter account called "@CongressEdits" that automatically tweets all of the changes, has said, "Imagine if our elected representatives and their staffers logged in to Wikipedia…  and used their knowledge of the issues and local history to help make Wikipedia better?"

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has criticized CongressEdits, saying that "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." To be fair, so did banning them and creating media hype in the first place.