Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin and Wikipedia, part II

It appears that both the New York Times and I missed the real story about Sarah Palin and Wikipedia. Shortly after I posted my previous post, I received an anonymous tip to look at the edits to the article from August 21st. Those edits, by an anonymous IP address, are much more interesting than the edits by Young Trigg.

The edits appear to be done by what may be a professional PR person.

The editor’s IP address,, which most likely corresponds to a home DSL line, has no other edits to the English Wikipedia. Using a home address to make edits is something that the smarter PR people have engaged in after repeated scandals in the press made clear to them that using IP addresses corresponding to their organizations was a bad idea.

Now, the individual edits in question:

First, the editor toned down the wording on the Monegan incident, replacing discussion of Monegan being fired with a statement that he had been “dismissed.”[1] The editor then also removed material disputing Palin’s version of events and removed material noting the ongoing investigation.[2]

The editor also changed the section on Palin’s approval ratings so that the headline was “High approval ratings” and similarly toned down a section header that had the word “controversy” in it.[3]

Now, one aspect of the edits is subtle and can be easily missed: The editor downplayed the later articles about the Monegan incident so that if one followed the links one would go to the less negative material in an earlier newspaper article. This is more obvious if you look at the entire set of changes:

There are two other points that suggest that these edits were made by a PR individual: When changing section titles, the individual capitalized the entire section title. For example, “Matanuska Maid Dairy controversy” became “Matanuska Maid Dairy Closure.” Similarly, “Approval ratings” became “High Approval Ratings.” Now, a regular Wikipedian would be familiar enough with the Wikipedia manual of style not to do this. Moreover, the edits all occurred in an eight minute span. That speed of editing for someone who is not a regular Wikipedian, including the addition new sources to an article, would be difficult without prior planning. That is most consistent with a PR person having a set plan and then implementing it.

Finally, the individual in question made one other edit, also on the 21st. This is the individual’s only edit aside from the Palin article. The editor moved Palin to the top of the list of rumored Republican vice-presidential candidates.[4] This edit is particularly interesting, because as of the 21st, there was very little noise about Palin as a candidate at all. While we must speculate, it is quite possible that these edits were made by an insider to the McCain campaign, a possibility that both the Times and I missed.


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