Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Congressmen Edit Their Own Wikipedia Pages. Why is this Shocking?

On Tuesday, Buzzfeed broke a story about how members of Congress and their staff have been actively editing the Wikipedia pages about themselves.  Among some of the more notable edits...

  1. Rep. Mike Coffman:  Removed an incident in which he said President Obama was "in his heart, just not an American."

  2. Rep. Allen West:  Removed an incident in which he called members of the Progressive Caucus "Communists."

  3. Rep. Bennie Thompson:  Removed his entire "Controversies" section.

  4. Rep. Gregg Harper:  Removed his remark that he "hunted" "liberal, tree-hugging, Democrats."

Wikipedia has often been commended for being a democratized forum where anybody can create or edit content.  It's also come under scrutiny for the very same reason - that anybody can create or edit content.  (Just ask any college professor who bar students from citing Wikipedia as a research source.)

The one way this system maintains at least a modicum of credibility is its transparency - whenever anybody edits content, a public record is maintained of what was edited and who did the editing.  Thus, Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski was able to investigate which Congressmen's pages were edited by users with the IP address that is only used by Congressmen and their staffs.

But, really, why is this so shocking?  As The Nerfherder has argued before, actively cultivating one's cyber-identity is practically a requirement in this day and age - not only for members of Congress but for all individuals and organizations.  In fact, members of Congress would be crazy NOT to try and edit their web presence on Wikipedia and other sites.  If anything, we should be encouraged that they and their staffs are tech-savvy enough to have the presence of mind to give it a shot.

Call me cynical, but not only is this not surprising, it's also sure to continue far into the future.  Maybe staffers will simply learn that when they want to make social media edits to their bosses' pages, they ought to do so from home or from a public computer, rather than from a Congressional IP address.



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