Root Out Dangerous Wiki-Spin!

John Borland at Wired.com has written about an amazing new search tool developed by a CalTech graduate student that easily traces the IP addresses of people making changes to Wikipedia. While IP addresses have always been publicly available, if hard to find, making data easily searchable can change the game when it comes to networked information. In this case, we’re in for a lot of ugly revelations.

To build the tool, Virgil Griffith, the tool’s creator, downloaded Wikipedia (yes, it’s possible) and isolated

the XML-based records of anonymous changes and IP addresses. He then correlated those IP addresses with public net-address lookup services such as ARIN, as well as private domain-name data provided by IP2Location.com.

He ended up with a searchable database of “5.3 million edits, performed by 2.6 million organizations or individuals ranging from the CIA to Microsoft to Congressional offices, now linked to the edits they or someone at their organization’s net address has made.”

So doing a search for, say, the U.S. House of Representatives reveals 3,733 edits made from IP addresses belonging to their offices. Examples of edits run from making changes to the history of the Iron Curtain to, among other things, describing Nancy Pelosi’s views as part of the “extreme liberalism/liberal wing.” Borland notes a few other examples as well, making it clear that “the vast majority of changes are fairly innocuous.”

It’s the kind of inside-out search that, like outside.in, which searches blog posts based on location, makes you wonder why no one else did it before. Also, like Opensecrets.org, OpenCongress, or the OpenHouse project, it makes it easier for a distributed network of citizens to pore through data and share their findings.

In that vein, Wired is encouraging users of the tool to submit “Wikipedia Spin Jobs” — examples of “wiki-chicanery” — to their Threat Level blog; users can also rate their favorite pieces of wiki-spin. So far, Diebold’s shenanigans are the most popular, in part because they’ve been pretty consistent about rewriting entries about themselves.

My addition? The entry for “Baath Party,” which was edited by someone with an IP address belonging to the Republican party. The original line read, “In June 2003, the US-led occupying forces in Iraq banned the Ba’th party.” Someone changed it to read, “In June 2003, the US-led liberating forces in Iraq banned the Ba’th party” [my emphasis]. One word can mean so much…

As for the presidential candidates, I haven’t yet found anything incriminating (the site is currently suffering from an onslaught of traffic), but someone from Hillary Clinton’s office did edit the “Korgoth of Barbaria” entry, adding that the animated TV series is “is currently residing in Development Hell.” What do you think — does Hillary watch Korgoth with her staffers or alone with Bill and a bucket of popcorn?

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