Centre for Internet & Society

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has issued a ten-day ban against an anonymous editor of its website located on the premises of the U.S. Congress, after the latter engaged in “disruptive editing,” on a wide range of subjects, from moon-landing conspiracy theories linked to Cuba to naming former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as an alien wizard.

The article by Narayan Lakshman was published in the Hindu on July 25, 2014. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.

Many of the seemingly humorous edits were tracked by a Twitter ‘bot’ with the handle @CongressEdits, which is driven by a code to automatically monitor Wikipedia for changes to the site made by accounts with a Congressional IP addresses.

Per the Wikipedia ban, only persons editing the site anonymously are barred from making changes, while Congressional staffers who have created named accounts to log into Wikipedia could continue making edits.

Yet some reports noted that the changes “have become almost troll-like,” alluding for example to an edit on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which changed the text to say that alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was acting “on behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro.”

Another entry revised the biography of Mr. Rumsfeld to describe him as an “alien lizard who eats Mexican babies,” and yet another change suggested that moon-landing conspiracy theories were “promoted by the Cuban government.”

Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society, said to The Hindu via Twitter that Wikipedia’s ban affected up to 9000 people, while only a few pranksters seem to be indulging in vandalism.

“Ironically, it is the public nature of @CongressEdits has led to this increase in attention-seeking vandalism,” he said, adding that such bans, if there are more to come, could “effectively kill projects like @CongressEdits.”