Conspiracy theorists will no doubt have a field day with this one.
Program shows CIA behind Wikipedia entries
But now an innovation on the site has confirmed a long-held suspicion: that Wikipedia is a prime target for spin-doctoring.
A new identification program on the site reveals that some of the most prolific contributors to Wikipedia are the CIA, the British Labour Party and the Vatican - and they are not just updating their own entries.
The Wikiscanner site shows the CIA has edited entries on many issues relating to the United States Government, including presidential biographies and descriptions of military operations.
It has also edited topics as diverse as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the singer Richard Marx.
Seamus Byrne is the editor of online technology site Gizmodo Australia.
“Wikipedia is basically an open encyclopedia online that basically anyone can edit, anyone can add entries to and anyone can change anything they read on there,” he said.
But he says while anyone can put up content, users do keep track of entries to ensure they’re accurate and balanced.
“It’s quite a large community of users that are really devoted to Wikipedia, and something they do spend a lot of time monitoring is when changes are made,” he said.
“I guess so far it hasn’t been a case of monitoring the source, but they do try to keep an eye on any bias that may appear within any articles.”
And the Wikiscanner has revealed some interesting sources of that bias. It rummages through entries and edits posted on Wikipedia to find where they originate.
And among the usual list of companies and celebrities spinning their online image are some unusual mentions, including the British Labour Party, the Church of Scientology and the CIA.
Mr Byrne says he is not surprised.
“You’ve always got the feeling that they’ve been doing it and it just confirms that idea because there’s a lot of both vanity editing but more serious editing that goes on,” he said.
Gerard Goggin is an expert on the use of the internet in politics at Sydney University, and he says the influence of organisations such as the CIA on Wikipedia is cause for alarm.
“This underscores that we need to be careful with all the sources we quote,” he said.
Despite the CIA’s input, Dr Goggin remains a fan of Wikipedia.
“What is really crucial here is that people are aware of how Wikipedia comes to be, how entries are created and what the limitations of it are,” he said.
“One of its advantages is that any change to the entries can be tracked and you can actually reference those. People need to be aware of that kind of thing because Wikipedia is not the be-all and end-all.”
Mr Byrne says proof that the CIA is editing on Wikipedia will fuel internet conspiracy theories.
He says Wikipedia is just one place where government agencies are watching people.
“Obviously there’s the quite large - and people in online circles certainly know about it - Echelon Project,” he said.
“It’s a series of surveillance systems around the world that actually monitor phone, data, all kinds of traffic that goes on, looking for keywords related to things like terrorism and all kinds of troublesome issues and they pull that out and try to sift through it to find any connections that could be made to point to a real problem.”
There’s also a sound clip available at the link above, however I can’t seem to get it to work.