Scotland

Scottish football Wikipedia pages edited by Whitehall civil servant

Dunfermline captain Andy Geegan (left) celebrates pulling a goal back for his side with team-mate Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Image copyright SNS Group Craig Foy
Image caption Wikipedia entries for Dunfermline Athletic have been edited from Whitehall computers

A Whitehall civil servant has spent hours at work updating Wikipedia entries on Scottish football clubs and players, BBC Scotland has found.

Changes to the Dunfermline Athletic squad and individual players' goal tallies account for some of the 45 edits made in the last week alone.

An online "bot" has been monitoring changes made to Wikipedia from Whitehall-associated IP addresses.

But the identity of the government's Scottish football fanatic is unknown.

Government offices at Whitehall include the Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth department, and the Scotland Office.

The @WhitehallEdits Twitter 'bot', set up by Channel 4 News in August 2014, automatically tweets about any anonymous changes made by people using Whitehall-associated Internet protocol addresses.

Every change to a Wikipedia page is public, as is the identity of every editor.

While most editors choose to remain anonymous, a note of their distinct IP address is recorded alongside any edit made.

From this data, the BBC has found that one government employee started making changes at 10:45 on the first day back after the Christmas break, finishing about half an hour later.

A further 17 changes were made the next day between 09:21 and 14:06.

Page Number of revisions
Dunfermline Athletic Football Club 12
Nadir Çiftçi 3
Ross Drummond 3
Adam Rooney 2
Alan Trouten 2
East Stirlingshire Football Club 2
Gary Mackay-Steven 2
Jamie Walker 2
Jim Paterson 2
Kevin Smith 2

Controversial edits

The Channel 4 account, and others in the US, Canada and Germany, were inspired by another Twitter 'bot' set up to track Wikipedia changes made by the known block of IP addresses assigned to the Houses of Parliament.

An edit detected by this @ParliamentEdits 'bot' led to the story of how government computers were used to add inaccurate information about the Metropolitan Police's shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at a London underground station.

In April 2014, the BBC reported on how a Whitehall computer was allegedly used to post offensive remarks on Wikipedia related to the Hillsborough disaster.

Image copyright SNS
Image caption The second-largest number of Wikipedia edits were related to Dundee United player Nadir Çiftçi (left)

The Scottish football-related changes are certainly a far throw from those controversies.

The edits were not made from a single IP address, and the Twitter 'bot' monitors only proxy addresses - meaning the individual computer of the unknown civil servant cannot be easily identified.

Some of the more recent revisions include: the number of goals scored by Berwick Rangers' defender Ross Drummond; the signing of Jim Paterson by Dunfermline Athletic, and changes to the Montrose squad.

Dunfermline Athletic general manager David McMorrine told BBC Scotland that the information posted about the club was accurate but they had no idea who was doing it.

He said: "As taxpayers we're concerned if that's the best thing our civil servants can find to do."

A recent document targeting civil servants clearly states "care should be taken when editing collaboratively edited websites such as Wikipedia".

The report warns that "posts can be linked back to government IP addresses".

"Anyone found to be making inappropriate edits will be disciplined which could lead to dismissal," it says.

A spokesman for the UK government declined to say whether any efforts had been made to identify the individual.

He told BBC Scotland: "Civil servants are required to follow the Civil Service Code when working online."

Editing habits

But how and why is a civil servant in the centre of the UK parliament able to spend hours updating relatively obscure football statistics?

Since the creation of the @WhitehallEdits Twitter account, 98 of the 1,085 recorded edits have been related to Scottish football.

Many of the revisions were made around the lunch hour but the bulk of them were made in the middle of the work day between 10:00 and 11:00, and 14:00 and 15:00.

The majority of changes bookend the work week, with 23 falling on Mondays, 23 on Tuesdays, and 47 on Thursdays.

The New Statesman initially reported on the mystery civil servant in November 2014 when 39 back-to-back edits were made in a single day.

In the wake of that article, a BBC Scotland analysis reveals no changes were then made to football-related Wikipedia pages until 5 January 2015.

Since then the largest number of revisions to-date (45) have been made in the last week.

But the unknown football statistician is apparently not the only civil servant providing almost daily amusement for the more than 1,800 followers of the @WhitehallEdits account.

Government employees seem equally concerned with updating Wikipedia entries on topics ranging from gingerbread to the World of Warcraft role-playing game and the Swedish crime show Wallander.

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