A tool used to discover the source of changes in Wikipedia has uncovered edits made by a number of Australian government organisations, including the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Department of Defence.
Staff from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have made at least 126 changes to various pages in the online encyclopaedia, according to a Fairfax report.
While many of the changes affected random subjects, including a page on cockatoos, some changes were clearly political. Alterations were made to pages referencing, among others, Treasurer Peter Costello and the 2001 Children Overboard Affair.
The edit on the Treasurer's page removed a reference to his well-known nickname, 'Captain Smirk', although earlier this morning, the soubriquet had been returned, only to be removed once again later in the day.
Other edits included the addition of the (misspelled) word "allegedely" to a passage on Australia's mandatory detention policies, seemingly in an attempt to blunt charges of inhumane treatment towards detainees.
The tool cannot, however, show who within any government department is responsible for these changes: IP addresses that are recorded with the edits may belong to many people within a single organisation.
The Department of Defence is among the most prolific editors of Wikipedia, with over 5,000 changes on pages ranging from the '9/11 truth movement', the Australian Defence Force Academy and even to Vietnam War-era Pentagon papers.
In response to these revelations, Fairfax reports that the Department of Defence has blocked its workers from accessing or editing Wikipedia on staff computers.
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd told Channel Seven today that while he believes it is legitimate for the Prime Minister's personal staff to make factual changes, "... to engage public servants to go out there and re-edit history, strikes me as odd to say the least."
The news comes after research by US student Virgil Griffith discovered thousands of Wikipedia page edits from sources including the CIA, Republican and Democratic Parties, Fox News and the New York Times.