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BBC Wikipedia Pot Kettle Flap

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Chris Vallance | 19:56 UK time, Saturday, 18 August 2007

_42816601_wikipedia203logo.jpgBy putting off a blog post one risks being overtaken by events - just so with Wiki Scanner - the website that lets you see who has been editing wikipedia entries. Earlier the BBC Reported that the "CIA was involved in editing [wikipedia] entries", and then it turns out, oh the irony, that BBC people had been editing Wikipedia entries too.. As Pete Clifton put it in The Editor's Blog

Words like glass, house and stones spring to mind, because we weren’t exactly sharp about the other obvious question that springs to mind... What about people inside the BBC?

Well it may have been obvious but the assembled brains of the national press failed to spot it either, credit for that goes to Biased BBC beating the papers to the punch. They certainly got the attention of BBC top-brass. From The Editors blog again:

You are hardly the brightest button if you choose to make unpalatable updates to Wikipedia when you are sitting at a BBC computer, but policing every keystroke of more than 20,000 staff is impossible. One thing is clear – when BBC staff choose to get involved, they should behave well and not in a way that flies in the face of BBC values or risks bringing the BBC into disrepute.

Ok so enough of us being "Busted!" as a friend exclaimed on learning of the story, what of the earlier and now horribly outdated blog-post?

Well my original intention had been to point out that it doesn't follow that just because Wikipedia edits had been made from CIA computers, that they were officially sanctioned. We know the IP address Wiki Scanner reveals is one of a block assigned to agency computers but we can deduce nothing about who typed "Wahhhhh" in front of the entry about President Ahmadinejad. Somehow I doubt it was a senior figure making a policy statement.

But what's more troubling is that none of the people caught by Wiki Scanner heeded Wikipedia's very clear warning that when posting without logging-in your IP address becomes publicly visible. Not great if you are inside a spy agency, not great if you are writing rude things about fellow employees or calling the US President childish names.

It's a pretty sorry tale. In the end I think this comment on the Digg debate about the issue summed it all up for me:

...Organizations have hundreds, thousands or millions of people working for them. What some low-level person does on his lunch break really has no bearing on what the BBC is doing as an organization[..] I thought the same thing the other day when I read about the CIA post updating the song lyrics from Buffy. I'm sure if the CIA bosses found out they were doing this from work they'd be fired in a second. It looks like all of us in the corporate world are going to get new "Wikipedia posting guidelines" and training classes. And, before you know it, if the IT Dept. catches you posting to Wikipedia you'll probably get fired.


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