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Twitterbots and the Iron Law

By Hersch


Lately, in press coverage of Wikipedia, the talk has been about “Twitterbots”, Twitter robots that track edits made to Wikipedia from IP addresses that correspond to government offices. The first version was @ParliamentEdits, which tracks edits made from parliament offices in the U.K. After the source code was released to the public, other Twitterbots quickly emerged. There are at least a dozen that we know of, including @CongressEdits for the U.S., @Gov. of Canada edits, @AussieParlEdits for Australia, @Riksdagen redigerar for Sweden, and @Госправки (RuGovEdits) for Russia. This is causing people who don’t normally write about Wikipedia to write about Wikipedia. For example, Global Voices reports that there has been an edit war at the German Wikipedia over whether to call the insurgent forces in eastern Ukraine Aufständischen (“rebels”), or Separatisten (“separatists”). What’s the difference, you may ask? Well, these are the sort of nuances that propagandists thrive on, because they can subliminally affect the way the viewer conceives of political developments. “Separatists” has become the preferred term by Western diplomats, because it carries the implication that the insurgents are acting as running dog lackeys of the Russians, whereas “rebels” is taken to mean that these fighters are simply Ukrainians who don’t like the new regime. Edits were made from an IP address that traces back to the Russian Secret Service (FSO), changing “separatists” to “rebels” (these attempted changes were swiftly beaten back by the opposing camp).

What advice can we at Wikipediocracy offer the government official who aspires to exploit Wikipedia as a propaganda megaphone? Well, first of all, only rank amateurs edit without first establishing a Wikipedia account (this illustrates the limitations of the Twitterbots, which only detect

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