A screenshot of Tim Pawlenty's locked-down Wikipedia page. (Wikipedia / Los Angeles…)
With Republican Mitt Romney offering no hints about his vice presidential selection, political observers have been on the alert for the smallest of clues. And it seemed – at least for a moment – that keeping a close eye on Wikipedia might offer a hint.
Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, on Monday theorized that the number of edits made to a politician’s Wikipedia page could be used as s hint of their standing in the vice presidential race.
Sarah Palin’s page was altered 68 times the day before she was announced as Sen. John McCain’s running mate. A similarly large number of edits were also made to Vice President Joe Biden’s page.
Sifry, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, characterized his method as speculation. But for the media, starved of any real information, it was enough to create a small frenzy. He noted, there’s “no question some of the reporting went from saying ‘This worked last time,’ to saying ‘This must work this time.’”
The heaviest media coverage came from the Colbert Report. Following a segment on Fox News’ coverage of the Wiki-theory, Colbert called for viewers to take action.
“So, nation, let your voice be heard in this history decision. Go on Wikipedia, and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender,” he said.
Immediately after Colbert’s call, Wikipedia administrators and editors took action to prevent vandalism, bowdlerizing or inappropriate editing on the various candidate’s pages.
Some, such as Gov. Chris Christie’s, are under “semi-protection,” which prevents unregistered or brand-new accounts from editing pages. This measure is specifically intended for pages “Subject to significant but temporary vandalism or disruption (for example, due to media attention) when blocking individual users is not a feasible option.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s page, however, was the only one placed on total lockdown.
And just why would anyone be concerned with editing Wikipedia pages in the first place?
Just take a look at the alterations made to Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) page Monday. As highlighted by a prominent thread on Reddit, Wikipedia user River8009 made a lengthy series of changes that included cutting references to Portman serving as the U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush and eliminating the “Controversies” section. Wikipedia administrators resorted the page.
Sifry, who followed up on his original post TechPresident by declaring “Game Over,” admitted that the attention destroyed any possibility that hints could have been gleamed from Wikipedia. But he said he was nonetheless pleased with the lesson imparted by the series of events.
“Anybody that tries to sanitize it just got another reminder that there are plenty of people watching,” he said, although he noted that it “totally stresses them out.”
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