If there’s one group that should be tempted to try and spin the contents of Wikipedia, it’s politicians. They are constantly in the public eye, involved in disputed narratives, and face strong incentives to lie or overpromise and hope that no one remembers. How could the fact that the world’s most popular encyclopedia is written and edited by individual contributors not be tempting? The ultimate spin is available to anyone with an Internet connection.

So it should be no surprise that Wikipedia had to investigate changes made to articles about politicians in 2006, banning the IP address used by Congressional staffers in the meantime for replacing user-generated articles with official, glowing biographies.

The Lowell Sun reported on changes made by a staffer under the direction of the chief of staff for Massachusetts representative Marty Meehan:

“Meehan first ran for Congress in 1992 on a platform of reform,” the pre-edited entry said. “As part of that platform Meehan made a pledge to not serve more than four terms, a central part of his campaign. This breaking of the pledge has been a controversial issue in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts.”

The new entry reads in part: “Meehan was elected to Congress in 1992 on a plan to eliminate the deficit. His fiscally responsible voting record since then has earned him praise from citizen watchdog groups. He was re-elected by a large margin in 2004.”

A Wikipedia investigation found other examples of congressional staffers attempting to whitewash the records of their bosses, but lifted the ban shortly after. The fact that politicians’ pages are not complete spin or constant battlegrounds indicates surprising restraint on the part of political staffs. Or, more likely, the impressive robustness of an editing process whose amateur, volunteer ranks have kept highly incentivized politicians from rewriting history.

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