WikiScanner Report: Amnesty for Amnesty?

There was a whole lot of outrage a year or two ago when it was discovered that staffers on Capitol Hill had been anonymously making edits to the Wikipedia pages of their Members of Congress.

Shortly after this was uncovered, Wired Magazine took it upon itself to see what kind of “evil” corporations were trying to get away with the same thing.  Turns out, Diebold (the folks who make voting machines) and Wal-Mart (a company which according to some runs entirely off of the blood of the American working class) had been making anonymous edits to their entries as well.  Shocking!

Well, it looks like two groups everyone loves to hate – politicians and “evil” corporations – have already been nailed for making anonymous edits to their own Wikipedia pages, so I’ve decided to put some effort into looking at the NGO community to see if anything interesting is going on there.  It’s only fair, right?

Well there’s some really juicy stuff out there.  Particularly of interest to me were edits that Amnesty International – the renowned global human rights organization – has made to its own page.  Here’s what WikiScanner allowed me to uncover:

  • In February of 2006, an IP address linked to Amnesty completely deleted an entire section of their page devoted to “Articles Critical of AI.”  In total, eleven reports linked to sources were removed, including some that raised criticism that Amnesty has an Anti-American/Israeli bias and that the organization is “selective” in how it defends human rights.
  • That same day, Amnesty also completely deleted multiple sections on its page regarding Criticism and Rebuttal, Ideological Bias, and Selection Bias. Amnesty also wholly deleted sourced examples of their alleged bias in the article.
  • Under the pretext of adding “balance,” an anonymous contributor from Amnesty added content in a section called “Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our times.” that cited a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer defending Amnesty International and alluding to comparisons between prisoner abuses at Guantanamo Bay and the Soviet gulag prison system.
  • Amnesty also made several anonymous contributions to their talk page.  Some disclosed that the poster worked for Amnesty.  Most did not.
  • Finally, Amnesty also used Wikipedia to anonymously promote their campaigns on the online encyclopedia.  For example, they spent a lot of time editing on the “Make Some Noise” page – an article that describes an Amnesty campaign that used record artists to promote their human rights agenda.   (For example, they added the following to the page: “A fundraising album is scheduled to be released in June 2007, with exclusive new tracks from the likes of [[Christina Aguilera]] or [[Green Day]], to highlight the need to solve the crisis in Darfur.”)

Unfortunately, this is appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.  In addition to making edits to their own page, Amnesty has also made changes to the following Wikipedia pages:

  • “Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp”
  • “Extraordinary Rendition” (in which the person making the edit added what I think is a weasel word to the entry)
  • “Rendition Aircraft” (Here, the editor added a link to an Amnesty report critical of rendition)
  • “Anarchist communism” (Yikes)

I respect Amnesty.  Generally, they do great work.  But for an organization that spends such a large amount of time and effort criticizing human rights violators, it doesn’t seem like they’re able handle criticism of themselves all that well.  In many of these edits, Amnesty would have been able to make a convincing case in the discussion pages for removing certain content because it did not meet Wikipedia’s reliable sourcing, NPOV, notabilty, etc guidelines.  However, by unilaterally removing large chucks, hiding behind a wall of anonymity, and ignoring the discussion page, they violated the spirit of Wikipedia.

One of the greatest things about online collaboration is that ANYONE can contribute content.  Should Amnesty, Congressional staffers, and corporate employees be allowed to participate?  Absolutely.  After all, often, these are people who might know the most about certain topics and subjects (even though they may be biased).  But if we want a system that’s transparent and accountable, these users should disclose who they are and where they work.  After they post, I trust the wisdom of the crowds to balance out any bias that arises.


2 Responses to “WikiScanner Report: Amnesty for Amnesty?”

  1. July 4, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Nice sleuthing corbusier!

  2. July 4, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Aahh the things people (or in this case organizations) will do when they think they are not being watched…. No one is innocent!!

    Haha but jokes aside, great sleuthing!! Looking through many controversial topics will lead to some interesting findings (such as the above)

    Anyhow keep up the great work 🙂


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