House staffers blocked from editing Wikipedia

Some House staffers and lawmakers have been barred from editing pages on Wikipedia for the next 10 days, after a series of “disruptive” edits that may have been inspired by a popular Twitter account.

The user-generated Web encyclopedia on Thursday suspended an Internet Protocol (IP) address connected to the House. The block could affect thousands of House staffers who do not have accounts with Wikipedia and are identifiable only through the IP address.

{mosads}The suspension follows the recent launch of a Twitter account that automatically tweets when edits to Wikipedia pages are made from congressional IP addresses. The account rapidly gained popularity in recent weeks, and now has more than 23,000 followers.

Apparently in reaction to the account, House staffers made a series of tongue-in-cheek edits, knowing they would show up on Twitter.

For instance, the Wikipedia page for “Moon landing conspiracy theories” was changed so that the theories were noted to be “promoted by the Cuban government.” Edits were also made to pages for the fictional reptilian race of aliens, ice cream brand Choco Taco and the secret society Skull and Bones.

After Mediaite reported on the Twitter feed, the media outlet’s Wikipedia page was edited by someone with a House IP address to call it a “sexist transphobic” news source. That seemed to be the final straw for Wikipedia administrators, who cited the change in their decision to block edits from the IP address for 10 days.

Only people editing anonymously have been barred from making changes. House staffers who have created their own accounts to log into Wikipedia can still make edits.

Still, not everyone was pleased.  

“Out of over 9000 staffers in the House, should we really be banning this whole IP range based on the actions of two or three?” one person with a House IP address wrote on Thursday.

“Some of use here are just making grammatical edits, adding information about birds in Omsk, or showing how one can patch KDE2 under FreeBSD,” they added, making reference to a meme popular in Russia. 

Despite the possible connection with the Twitter account, a spokeswoman with the Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia, said the organization does not “have any evidence” of a substantial increase in anonymous editing “or that there’s any correlation between the existence of the Twitter account and the number of edits being made.”

Still, at least one person publicly encouraged House staffers to edit pages for aliens and conspiracy theories, moments before they were changed.

— This story was updated at 6:40 p.m.

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