Wikipedia, the free and openly editable online encyclopedia, has launched an investigation into suspicious edits coming from the IP addresses of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. Prominent House representatives and Senators apparently have had their biographical pages edited with sometimes helpful clarifications containing spelling corrections. Other edits have been less helpful, often crossing into page vandalism. In response, Wikipedia administrators have repeatedly blocked and unblocked Congressional IP addresses to curb the edits.
Wikipedia maintains a log of all edits and the IP addresses where the edits come from. Officials started their investigation when the Lowell Sun, a Massachusetts newspaper, reported that staffers of Congressman Marty Meehan were removing negative comments, while pasting in material from a political flyer. Wikipedia then checked the edit logs and found that a flurry of edits was coming from both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives are protected by a proxy server, so all computers are registered as a single IP address. Interestingly enough, the Senate computers each have a separate IP and are better tracked. In the past few weeks, Wikipedia administrators have blocked and unblocked the House of Representatives IP address. Last week, one of the administrators banned the IP for seven days, but it was lifted by another administrator who disagreed by saying that Wikipedia, “shouldn’t block people just because they work for Congress”. He also added that some of the staffers were trying hard and, “complying with our culture and policies”.
During the investigation, representatives for Wikipedia acknowledged that many of the edits have been helpful. “In fact it would be fair to say the vast majority of edits were neutral, correcting factual, spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors,” states Wikipedia’s investigation page. However, some of the edits have been malicious with several Senators and even the United States President George W. Bush’s page being vandalized. Someone coming from a Senate IP address edited Senator Coburn’s page to add that he was a, “huge douche-bag”. Those entries were later removed by Wikipedia.
The investigation is still ongoing and Wikipedia has unblocked all IP addresses coming from both the House and Senate. Wikipedia has set up a page where people can suggest ways to prevent such edits in the future and there is heated debate. While many people are in favor of banning certain IP addresses from editing, others point out that this would go against what Wikipedia stands for – a free and open encyclopedia.