Are Wikipedia Edits Still a Good Predictor of Vice Presidential Candidates? Not Anymore.
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 - 04:05 PM
On Tuesday, Tech President’s Micah L. Sifry observed that in the lead-up to the 2008 picks for vice presidential nominees, the best predictor wasn’t a pundit or a poll, but the number of recent edits on that contender’s Wikipedia page.
Sarah Palin's Wikipedia page was updated at least 68 times the day before John McCain announced her selection, with another 54 changes made in the five previous days [sic]. [...] The same burst of last-minute editing appeared on Joe Biden's Wikipedia page, Terry Gudaitis of Cyveillance, told the Washington Post.
Since the Romney campaign released an app for the express purpose of announcing their candidate’s running mate, Sifry ultimately concluded Wikipedia edits wouldn’t be a good predictor this year. But that didn’t stop a flurry of media coverage from speculating about Wikipedia activity anyway. Here’s CNN:
On Monday, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan had the most changes with 10, but on Tuesday, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman took the lead with 16 changes. [...]
Marco Rubio's Wikipedia page was also quite active on Tuesday. [...]
Recent Wikipedia edits could be the work of hopeful candidates wanting to look better to the Romney campaign as it deliberates (though a presidential candidate likely uses more than Wikipedia to vet vice presidential running mates). It is also possible the Romney campaign has learned from the past coverage of Wikipedia edits and will only make changes gradually leading up to an official announcement.
Politico’s Dylan Byers thought Sifry’s observation showed a shift from simply vetting candidates to editing their lives for gaffes:
In the Internet age, vetting includes not only a rigorous look at a candidate's past, but rigorous editing of his or her public record. It's a simple but oft overlooked point.
But Stephen Colbert bested them all. In a riff on Tuesday night’s show, he urged his viewers to take to their keyboards. “Nation,” he said, “let your voice be heard in this historical decision. Go on Wikipedia, and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender.”
(You’ll have to skip ahead to about the 3 minute mark for this part of the segment.)
Wikipedia took fast action, locking the pages of several vice presidential hopefuls. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s page has been protected due to the threat of vandalism, and the pages for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and CIA Director David Petraeus are all in “semi-protected” mode, which allows edits only from users who registered before August 4.
This is not the first instance of Colbert enjoining viewers to edit Wikipedia at his behest. In July 2006, Colbert coined the word “wikiality” - a reality that exists when you make something up and enough people agree with you - and invited viewers to change Wikipedia to say the elephant population had tripled in the last six months. Not only did the stunt momentarily force Wikipedia to lock several articles about elephants, it also spawned a Wikipedia spin-off, Wikiality, the Truthiness Encyclopedia.