Want to create a Wikipedia article about yourself, or edit the article that’s already out there to make yourself look better? Go ahead: Wikipedia policy discourages the practice, but there’s nothing really stopping you, especially if you’re working from an anonymous IP address. Anyone can do it—even parliamentary staffers.
According to the Telegraph, Wikipedia pages pertaining to 12 members of UK Parliament were anonymously edited by IP addresses within Parliament itself in recent months. Some of the edits were innocuous—such as the addition of the honorific “The Right Honorable” to MPs’ names—but many were not. A Parliamentary IP address deleted a mention of MP Craig Whittaker’s 2012 arrest for allegedly assaulting his son in a gas station (he was released without being charged), for instance, and another removed links to new stories about the family values-oriented Tory politician Bob Blackman’s alleged 11-year extramarital affair.
The IP addresses used to make the offending edits—and there are many more of them—only specify that the corresponding computers are owned by Parliament, not who is using them, so it is impossible to know whether employees of the implicated MPs are to blame. “However,” the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith notes, “it is unclear why people unconnected to the politician or party would gloss up the Wikipedia biographies from inside Parliament.”
The free encyclopedia is a powerful tool, and its democratic nature means that nearly anyone can use it for education and deception alike. Google “Bob Blackman,” and the second result is his Wikipedia page. The affair was never scrubbed from the article entirely, but the two links that were removed by a Parliamentary IP address—a Mirror story headlined “Caught with his pants down” and a quote from an alleged former mistress claiming that Blackman was a “terrible lover”—were never reinstated.
Regardless of the educational merits—or lack thereof—of a blurb about Blackman’s apparently lackluster lovemaking, Wikipedia is trusted as an independent and ostensibly neutral source of information, and it is currently hosting an article that was likely edited with the specific intent of increasing Blackman’s chances at reelection. The Parliamentary IP address—which also added Blackman’s name to a list of notable pupils of the Preston Manor School—removed the “pants down” and “terrible lover” links in February, three months before Blackman’s successful reelection bid this month.
For a live feed of every single anonymous Wikipedia edit made from within Parliament, follow the Twitter bot @parliamentedits. Of course, Parliamentary staffers aren’t the only powerful Wikipedia contributors with less-than-noble intentions: U.S. Congress, the Canadian Government, and tech companies like Apple and Google have great Twitter bots tracking their edits as well.