Congressional staffers caught abusing the Wikipedia

While many of the changes were legitimate enhancements to the Wikipedia, some of the changes were grossly abusive. The worst example was when congressional staffers modified the Wiki of Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor (R) with the statement "smells of cow dung" and modified Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) as "ineffective". The abuse was so excessive that the Wikipedia temporarily blocked the House's IP range last November and December.

[Updated 9:40 AM:  Wikipedia posted a Wiki on "Congressional staff actions prompt Wikipedia investigation"]  A story came out last Friday from Evan Lehmann about the abuse of Wikipedia.  While these Wikipedia abuse cases are getting common, this is the first time it was directly attributed to congressional staffers in the United States House of Representatives.  Staffers of Representative Marty Meehan (D) deliberately made alterations on Meehan's Wiki by erasing embarrassing but factual information about the congressman.

Excerpt from Lehmann
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.

As it turns out, there were thousands of other times that Wikipedia modifications were tracked down to the House of Representatives' network.  While many of the changes were legitimate enhancements to the Wikipedia, some of the changes were grossly abusive.  The worst example was when congressional staffers modified the Wiki of Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor (R) with the statement "smells of cow dung" and modified Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) as "ineffective".  The abuse was so excessive that the Wikipedia temporarily blocked the House's IP range last November and December.  A House of Representatives spokesman declined to disclose the names of culprits who slurred Representative Cantor and Senator Frist but it would seem to me that this is such a serious violation of ethics and an abuse of Government resources that the names should be made public and punished.

This latest incident brings up some larger security questions about Wikipedia in general.  The Wikipedia is essentially a free-for-all where any anonymous person can make any modification to the Wikipedia.  Aside from the political motivations, I'm really surprised that the spammers have not started polluting the Wikipedia with their own advertisements.  It also raises some serious Spyware concerns since anyone could plant malicious links or even malicious images using exploits like the recent WMF vulnerability.  Since the Wikipedia is essentially an open Web server with anonymous read/write privileges, it's even conceivable that a worm would go out and wipe out the Wikipedia or worse, use the Wikipedia to spread malware.

I'm not advocating that the Wikipedia should shut down, only that it needs to be a little more transparent and accountable.  Anyone should be able to post anything they want so long as they log in.  That won't necessarily stop people from abusing it, but it does add an additional method for blocking abusers via their Wikipedia account which in turn is attached to their email account.  While it will never be perfect, it is one more tool that can help track down abusers and curb Wikipedia abuse.

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