You Can Watch Congress Edit Wikipedia

Friday, July 11, 2014 - 12:59 PM

(Tara Siuk/Flickr)

On Tuesday a new twitter bot with the handle @parliamentedits debuted with this announcement:

The account is the brainchild of Tom Scott (who’s also one half of emojli) and it’s really simple: it finds edits to Wikipedia made from IP addresses within Parliament, and posts a link to the revision page to Twitter. Within a couple of days several others had appeared. There’s one for the French National Assembly, the Swedish Riksdag, the Canadian government, and, of course, Congress (amongst others).

Scott didn’t have any grand plans in creating the first bot. He told me via email that he decided to build it because no one else had, and that it was done in 15 minutes. Some of the accounts have yet to yield anything, but the US version has recorded 9 edits in its 3 days of existence.  

The bots are a fairly simple transparency tool for dealing with the problem of staffers editing Wikipedia for political purposes, and at first glance I have trouble imagining someone gaming them as a political stunt.

They also serve a more positive purpose, though. Ed Summers, who created the US version of the edit bot, wrote about the bot on his blog:

I wrote this post to make it clear that my hope for @congressedits wasn’t to expose inanity, or belittle our elected officials. The truth is, @congressedits has only announced a handful of edits, and some of them are pretty banal. But can’t a staffer or politician make a grammatical change, or update an article about a movie? Is it really news that they are human, just like the rest of us?

I created @congressedits because I hoped it could engender more, better ideas and tools like it. More thought experiments. More care for our communities and peoples. More understanding, and willingness to talk to each other. More humor. More human.

I have to agree with him. The update to an article about a movie Summers references is recorded in this tweet:

A congressional staffer was editing Wikipedia not to help their boss's reputation or to disparage someone, but to copy edit the article on Step Up 3D. That’s a) kind of funny, but b) makes me feel some fondness for that anonymous staffer (though I doubt everyone shares my love for the Step Up series). A transparency tool that accomplishes that at the same time is a great success in my books.

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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