A new data-mining service is making it possible to check anonymous Wikipedia edits, confirming that yes, the US Government is editing Wikipedia, with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) apparently making changes to entries about itself, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Richard Nixon, and Pope Benedict XVI. On a lighter note, it appears that someone at the CIA also made changes to entries about Secret societies, Fortune cookies and the Beatles.
When users make changes to Wikipedia anonymously, their IP address is logged, and this is what has allowed a computation and neural-systems graduate student at CalTech, Virgil Griffith, to create Wikpedia Scanner.
Wikipedia Scanner allows you to search anonymous Wikipedia edits by organization, location, or IP address.
To create his database Griffith downloaded the entire contents of Wikipedia, capturing the IP addresses of anonymous edits. He then matched those IP addresses to companies and organizations using IP matching services such as ARIN and IP2Location.com.
Already a number of other interesting discoveries have been made.
Both the Democrat and the Republican parties have been busy making changes to Wikipedia, as have the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US National Institute of Health.
Corporates have also been contributing, with Diebold, Amgen, Pfizer, Wal-Mart. Microsoft, Apple and Exxon Mobil all doing their bit.
And not to be left out, news agencies, including Fox News, the New York Times and Al-Jazeera, have also been participating in the Wikipedia community.
To be fair, many of the edits simply involve updating information or making corrections. For example someone at an IP address associated with the New York Times made a contribution to the entry on Louis XIV of France. And some of the edits are more than likely being made by Wikipedia buffs on their lunch break using their work computers.
But that certainly doesn’t account for all the changes, as Wired’s John Borland found out.
For example, Borland noted that in 2005 someone at an IP address associated with Diebold deleted paragraphs detailing concerns about the integrity of the company’s voting machines and the company’s fund-raising activities for George Bush. Thankfully the deletion was noticed by a legitimate Wikipedia editor at the time.
Borland also busted Wal-Mart making more subtle changes, such as changing a line that said it pays less than other retailers to saying that it pays more than twice the minimum wage.
Is it such a surprise that companies and organizations are changing entries related to their sphere of activity. Not, really, but at least now we have a tool to help keep “the bastards honest”, as we say in Australia. And surely that’s going to make Wikipedia even stronger.