American Tax Dollars at Work on Wikipedia

Taken from here:

[…]The staff of U.S. Rep Marty Meehan wiped out
references to his broken term-limits pledge as well as information
about his huge campaign war chest in an independent biography of the
Lowell Democrat on a Web site that bills itself as the “world’s largest
encyclopedia,” The Sun has learned.

The Meehan alterations on represent just two of more
than 1,000 changes made by congressional staffers at the U.S. House of
Representatives in the past six month. Wikipedia is a global reference
that relies on its Internet users to add credible information to
entries on millions of topics.

Matt Vogel, Meehan’s chief of staff, said he authorized an intern in
July to replace existing Wikipedia content with a staff-written
biography of the lawmaker.

The change deleted a reference to Meehan’s campaign promise to
surrender his seat after serving eight years, a pledge Meehan later
eschewed. It also deleted a reference to the size of Meehan’s campaign
account, the largest of any House member at $4.8 million, according to
the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission.

“Meehan first ran for Congress in 1992 on a platform of reform,” the
pre-edited entry said. “As part of that platform Meehan made a pledge
to not serve more than four terms, a central part of his campaign. This
breaking of the pledge has been a controversial issue in the 5th
Congressional District of Massachusetts.”

The new entry reads in part: “Meehan was elected to Congress in 1992
on a plan to eliminate the deficit. His fiscally responsible voting
record since then has earned him praise from citizen watchdog groups.
He was re-elected by a large margin in 2004.”

Vogel said, “It makes sense to me the biography we submit would be the biography we write.”

The change doubled the length of the entry on Meehan, corrected
errors and replaced “sloppy” writing, Vogel said. “Let the outside
world edit it. It seemed right to start with greater depth than a
paragraph with incorrect data from the ’80s.”

Wikipedia’s online honor system has made it ripe for abuse by
vandals. Recently, a user wrote in a Wikipedia bio that Virginia
Congressman Eric Cantor “smells of cow dung.” Another wrote that Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist is “ineffective.” These statements were
traced to the House Internet-protocol (IP) address.[…]

[…]While vandalism is a problem, deleting factual
information raises ethical concerns, said Geoffrey Bowker, director of
the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara

“The vandalism is just plain childish,” Bowker said. “The term-limit
pledge (that was changed by Meehan’s staff) is a much more serious
case. That’s someone trying to alter the public record.

“To knowingly remove a truthful statement is just wrong,” he added.
“It’s not the place of any special-interest group to tamper with the
facts available to the public.”[…]

[…]In November and December, The Sun has learned, users
of the House’s IP address were temporarily blocked from changing
content because of violations described by the site as a “deliberate
attempt to compromise the integrity of the encyclopedia.”[…]

[…]Yesterday, Wikipedia was ranked the 19th- busiest
site on the Internet, according to, a subsidiary of that tracks Webtraffic.

A new reference to Meehan’s term-limit pledge was inserted in the
Wikipedia entry in November by a person not using the House address.

On Dec. 27, someone using the House IP address reduced the reference
to a single sentence: “(Meehan) also supported term limits, pledging to
serve no more than four terms.”

Vogel said he did not authorize the change.

No reference to Meehan’s top-rated campaign account has been reintroduced.

The changes by Meehan’s staff are not as “reprehensible” as
inserting derogatory comments in someone else’s entry, said Stephen
Potts, former director of the federal Office of Government Ethics,
which establishes conduct standards for the executive branch.

But the sheer breadth of changes emanating from the House reflects
an abuse of public time and equipment, said Potter, now chairman of the
Ethics Resource Center.

“That kind of usage, plus the fact that they’re changing one
person’s material, is certainly wrong and ought to be at a minimum the
focus of some disciplinary action,” he said.[…]

The entry in question.

One thought on “American Tax Dollars at Work on Wikipedia

  1. Free Stuff on Tax Day

    So did you get your taxes done yet?  Granted, if you’re not in the United States, that question is kind of moot.  My taxes have been done for ages.  I did mine on OLT.  Haven’t gotten my refund yet…

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