You Can Watch The Private Sector Edit Wikipedia Too

Monday, July 21, 2014 - 11:30 AM

Earlier this month I wrote about CongressEdits, one of a number of Twitter bots that track and tweet links to Wikipedia edits made from IP addresses within national legislatures. They’ve continued to be pretty interesting to follow, and the other day one of them caught Russian state-owned media editing the entry for downed flight MH-17.

The code used to create the bots is available on GitHub, and they’ve proliferated like crazy. Aside from many more bots focused on (increasingly local) legislatures, people have started making bots to track edits made from various colleges and universities, and a few to monitor the private sector.

The private sector bots are particularly interesting. They’re fewer and farther between than legislative or university bots, and include Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, and Pharmaceutical Companies. They’re also largely silent. So much so that the person operating the pharmaceutical account took to it three days after the account was made in order to announce that it was, in fact, still looking out for edits.

The notable exception to this rule is @oiledits, which has already captured tens of edits in the course of a few days. That’s probably in large part because it’s casting a much larger net: multiple corporations across different continents and languages, as well as tweets from defense contractors.

As with CongressEdits some of the edits are minor grammatical changes, or just reveal one person’s personal interests. One Boeing employee just seems interested in stopping vandalism on the Smashing Pumpkins entry. @oiledits also seems to be catching some more involved vandalism, though not necessarily on behalf of a corporation. Just this morning, the bot announced a series of edits made from an ExxonMobil IP address to the ExxonMobil, Turkmenistan, and Switzerland entries to English language Wikipedia. The three edits were attempts to list a seemingly nonexistent guy named “Tom M. Ripoll” as Chancellor of Switzerland, head of ExxonMobil, and owner of Turkmenistan (that’s the anonymous editor’s usage, not mine).

But there are also some more worrying edits. A couple of days ago someone at Boeing made an edit on the page about the Israeli Iron Dome defense system, which Boeing has helped manufacture. The change isn’t drastic, but it does have to do with the substance of the article, and seems particularly brazen given its origin and timing. It’s exactly the sort of change that shouldn’t be made to Wikipedia, and I’m glad @oiledits was there to catch it.


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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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