Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vatican, CIA edit online entries on Wikipedia.


Editing your own entry on Wikipedia is usually the province of celebrities keen for some good PR. But a new website has uncovered dozens of companies that have been editing the site in order to improve their public image.

The Wikipedia Scanner, which trawls the backwaters of the popular online encyclopedia, has unearthed a catalogue of organisations massaging entries, including the US Central Intelligence Agency and the British Labour Party.

Workers operating on CIA computers have been spotted editing entries including the biographies of the former presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, while unnamed individuals inside the Vatican have worked on entries about Catholic saints - and the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

And somebody from a computer traced to Democrat headquarters edited a page on the conservative American radio host Rush Limbaugh, calling him "idiotic", "ridiculous" and labelling his 20 million listeners as "legally retarded".

The Scanner says Diebold, a supplier of voting machines, has made huge alterations to entries about its involvement in the controversial "hanging chad" election in the US in 2000. The company was criticised in the wake of the disputed results, but edits made by its employees on Wikipedia have included the removal of 15 paragraphs detailing the allegations.

"In August 2003 Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold, announced that he had been a top fund-raiser for George Bush," the deleted text read. "When assailed by critics for the conflict of interest … he vowed to lower his political profile."

Last year some US congressional staff were found to be removing information from the profiles of the politicians they worked for and this year the computer group Microsoft back-pedalled after it was revealed to have offered money to experts to "correct" entries about it.

The Scanner, built by Virgil Griffith, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, compares 5.3 million edits on the encyclopedia against the internet addresses of more than 2 million companies or individuals.

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