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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hundreds of anonymous Wikipedia edits made every month by a UK Government computer


A UK government computer is making hundreds of anonymous edits to Wikipedia pages every month.
The connection, understood to be owned by the Government's Public Services Network, made more than 500 edits to articles in a 30 day period in December and January.

While the edits themselves are harmless, the sheer scale makes scrutiny of government edits to Wikipedia - the kind that uncovered vandalisation of the entry for the Hillsborough disaster carried out by a civil servant - next to impossible.


The vast majority the edits were made during work hours and follow a pattern.
Wikipedia's community forums include a list of articles that need improving by adding 'factboxes' - sidebars containing at-a-glance information on the subject.

Since August, an anonymous user on a government connection has done so on an industrial scale, in alphabetical order - usually between 8.30am and 5pm on weekdays.

Just a few of the thousands of edits made from the same IP address

The factboxes have been added to pages ranging from the Aviation Security Act 1982 to the British Homeopathic Association.
On December 29th, the connection was used to make 95 edits in a single day.

The unusual activity was flagged up using a Twitter account called WhitehallEdits, set up by Channel 4 News to automatically tweet whenever a government owned IP address makes changes to Wikipedia.

It's allowed the public to scrutinise the activities of Government officials on Wikipedia, and helped to uncover occasions when they'd edited pages they shouldn't have.

In April, the list of IP addresses owned by the government was used to uncover vandalism of the Hillsborough disaster Wikipedia page.


Insults, including "Blame Liverpool fans" were added to the page from a Government computers, and the phrase "You'll never walk alone" was changed to "You'll never walk again."

The IP address used to make the edits was revealed to be part of the Government's secure network by then treasury secretary Angela Eagle MP in 2008, in response to a parliamentary question.

While adding factboxes to articles is relatively harmless, the sheer scale of the operation has rendered the WhitehallEdits bot next to useless, swamping it with dozens of changes every hour on some days.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said it was impossible to tell which computer was making the edits, or even if they were being made by a single person as public facing IP addresses can be shared by numerous computers.

They told Mirror Online they were unable to publish information which would confirm whether this IP address had been assigned to a particular Government department, or if it was in use by a local government agency.

But the pattern of making the factboxes in alphabetical order suggests the work of a lone editor.
The Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Civil servants are required to use their time online responsibly and ​follow the Civil Service Code when working online."

Read more:

Russia plans 'alternative Wikipedia' - Russia creating its own encyclopedia

Father of Web tells Russia's Putin: Internet is not a 'CIA project' 





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