Call it Wikipedia revisionist history.
A new government watchdog is keeping Congress honest — about its Wikipedia edits. Congress-Edits, launched July 8, is a Twitter account that tweets whenever someone using an IP address associated with Congress makes anonymous edits on Wikipedia.
How does it work? When an anonymous user edits a Wikipedia page, the site logs the user’s IP address, along with information on the user’s edits. Many congressional offices share an IP address, so every time Wikipedia registers an anonymous edit from a congressional IP address, Congress-Edits is notified and tweets a link to the revision.
In the three days since its launch, Congress-Edits has registered three edits from people using a computer with a congressional IP address. The latest, an edit to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s page, reflects a simple grammatical change. The previous edit immortalizes President Barack Obama’s interaction with a man wearing a horse mask in Denver. The first edit describes how Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation spent his youth “breeding rare long haired cats.”
Though Congress-Edits has so far revealed only innocuous changes, it opens the door for curious netizens to explore Congress’s Wikipedia history by clicking through the provided IP addresses. The person who, using a congressional IP address, corrected a grammar error on Rajiv Shah’s page, for example, also vandalized the page for TV personality Charlamagne Tha God. (The anonymous user wrote that Charlamagne Tha God “sucks farts out of buts [sic],” a change that was later removed by another editor.) Users at congressional IPs have also edited Navy SEALs into pages on Harry Potter, and made at least 61 separate edits on the page for “cleft chin.”
Despite tracing the changes back to a congressional IP address, there’s no way to determine who — Congress members, their top staff, or a summer intern — made the edits.
In 2006, Evan Lehmann of Lowell, Massachusetts’ The Sun revealed that congressional staffers had edited Rep. Marty Meehan’s Wikipedia page to remove references to broken campaign promises. Meehan denied any knowledge of the edits and credited an intern with making the changes.
Likewise, low-level staffers may be responsible for many of Congress’s Wikipedia edits. But if there is a congressperson with an intense dislike of Charlamagne Tha God, @CongressEdits will keep us in the know.