Rewriting your corporate history on Wikipedia

WIRED has a story about companies rewriting their history on Wikipedia. The story is based on Wikipedia Scanner, a tool from Cal Tech grad student Virgil Griffith that allows you to look up anonymous Wikipedia edits from a specific company’s computers. Among the companies who apparently edited their own Wikipedia entries are Diebold (removing criticism of its voting machines), Wal-Mart (outsourcing, employee wages, etc.), Exxon (that Valdez thing) and Microsoft.

Some of this appears to be transparently self-interested, either adding positive, press release-like material to entries, or deleting whole swaths of critical material.

Voting-machine company Diebold provides a good example of the latter, with someone at the company’s IP address apparently deleting long paragraphs detailing the security industry’s concerns over the integrity of their voting machines, and information about the company’s CEO’s fund-raising for President Bush.

The text, deleted in November 2005, was quickly restored by another Wikipedia contributor, who advised the anonymous editor, “Please stop removing content from Wikipedia. It is considered vandalism.”

It’s not just corporations; religious groups and politicians are also cleaning up their own images. See WIRED’s Threat Level to view and vote on the most shameful spin jobs.

What’s amazing is that they’re not even trying to hide it; the changes are being made from trackable locations. If the same changes were made from a coffee shop, they wouldn’t be directly trackable.

There’s no direct evidence of intent. It could be corporate policy to edit Wikipedia for public relations or it could be an employee who takes the initiative without company approval. Or it could just be someone goofing off on company time: “One CIA entry deals with the details of lyrics sung in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode.”


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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