Congressional staffers can no longer edit Wikipedia pages in their spare time at work without their changes being tweeted to the world. A new Twitter bot, @congressedits, tracks all anonymous edits to Wikipedia made from congressional IP addresses. So far, the bot has tweeted 97 times and has over 21,000 followers.
Web developer Ed Summers was inspired to create @congressedits after learning about Parliament WikiEdits, which tracks edits coming from the British Parliament.
“The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool,” Summers wrote on his blog.
Summers posted the code for the Twitter bot to GitHub so others could create similar bots, all in the spirit of transparency and community.
“The truth is, @congressedits has only announced a handful of edits, and some of them are pretty banal. But can’t a staffer or politician make a grammatical change, or update an article about a movie? Is it really news that they are human, just like the rest of us?” he wrote. “I created @congressedits because I hoped it could engender more, better ideas and tools like it. More thought experiments. More care for our communities and peoples. More understanding, and willingness to talk to each other. More humor. More human.”
So far, @congressedits hasn’t caught anything particularly controversial (maybe because staffers now know that the bot exists). The edits range from pop culture pages (like those of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Step Up 3D) to pages about journalists (BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith is a Smirnoff ice enthusiast!) to JFK conspiracy theories.
Someone on the Hill called former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld an alien lizard.
A staffer added this entire paragraph to Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)’s page, “Congressman Huelskamp has become an independent, national conservative leader in Congress for his unwavering commitment to Constitutional government, reduced spending and over-regulation, fighting waste and corruption, defending traditional values and civil liberties, stopping ObamaCare, and ensuring accountability and transparency in Congress.”
And someone found it incredibly important to mention that The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Darling bred “rare long haired cats” as a child.
This isn’t the first time that the public has tracked the Hill’s activity on Wikipedia. In 2012, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski did a search of the House of Representatives’ IP address on Wikipedia, and found a few hilarious edits.
The staff of Allen West, a Republican representing Florida at the time, removed a mention of the time that he called the entire Progressive Caucus “Communists.” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)’s office got rid of his entire “controversies” section. And Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS)’s staff deleted any mention of the time he said he “hunted liberal, tree-hugging Democrats.”
As more Twitter bots are created, they’ll start to play an important role in holding politicians accountable. It’s already happened in Russia. @RuGovEdits, a bot launched to monitor the Russian government, caught that someone edited a Wikipedia page about plane accidents. The page had originally said that the Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 was shot down “by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.” The editor changed it to say that the plane “was shot down by Ukranian soldiers.”
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