If you’re like me, you’re probably asking yourself right now “Who is Chuck Morse?” And “What does he have to do with Wikipedia?” Well, maybe you don’t care. But the story behind the question made for an interesting late afternoon on Wednesday with the sleuths of theSC jumping to action. And it may just be an interesting example of how politicians who are unfamiliar with new forms of media/communications are going to come into conflict with them.
Chuck Morse is a man running as a candidate for US congress. He’s running for Barney Frank’s seat. Why should you care? You probably shouldn’t care too much. Last time he ran against Rep. Frank he lost by a worse margin than any other Republican running against a Democrat in that election.
PRESS RELEASE………………… FRANK CAMPAIGN TAMPERS WITH OPPONENTS WIKIPEDIA BIOGRAPHY Brad Patrick.. Wikipedia technical director 727-231-0101 Chuck Morse 617-271-5044 Ben Kilgore 978-257-6282 6/20..Massachusetts Republican congressional candidate Chuck Morse accused his opponent, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, of arranging for the tampering of his wikipedia biography. “Wikipedia is supposed to be an online encyclopedia, not to be used as a campaign screed” said Morse. Brad Patrick, technical director of Wikipedia, agreed and moved the offending information to the discussion section with Morse’s response.
It actually doesn’t sound to me like it is written by an opposing candidate. It’s not nearly negative enough. It’s less like a screed and more like “unflattering.” Perhaps the worst of it are comments like these:
His first campaign against Congressman Fran was a dismal failure. […] He used the Republican label to raise funds from Republican donors which was, at best, unethical.
“Congressman Fran?” If it were a staunch Frank supporter, I think you’d at least trust him to get the name right. But wiki also stores the identity of the editors, so I looked into that. This page highlights the offending change.
And that’s when I suddenly got interested. Because the person who added the comment didn’t leave behind an identity, but he/she did leave behind an IP address. 188.8.131.52 is an address from the block which belongs to UMass Dartmouth (134.88), so it immediately jumped out at me. The third number in the address was also familiar. As I read the number to Ryan he remarked that all the machines from our office have this number.
So, someone really close to us made that edit. What a bizarre coincidence! Ryan ran off to get Jake, because we figured he’d be able to help us locate the exact machine.
And he did. Some tracerouting and a phone call yielded the relevant information. I won’t mention who the machine was registered to, because we can’t be sure who made the edit; only which machine was used to make the change. I will say that it was a password-protected machine, it is in the building where I work, and it was not anyone from my project who made the edit.
And the chances are pretty good that it wasn’t Barney Frank, since we would have noticed him walking around in the office last Wednesday. We can be sure the edit didn’t happen from Washington D.C. I can’t say with complete certainty that someone who works for Frank doesn’t also have access to that machine.
I don’t see the threat online, but Keri mentioned that Morse was mulling a lawsuit. Who against, I can’t imagine. Wikipedia? They haven’t done anything to him. Frank? I haven’t seen any evidence that Frank’s campaign made the edit and I doubt they are working out of our building.
But perhaps the most obvious thing here is that Morse just doesn’t get wiki and rushed to judgment before finding out. He himself could have repaired the offending story. He didn’t and it remained until a janitor got to it. He could have put a more favorable bio up, but instead contacted the guy who runs the wiki and sent him some email comments, which didn’t on the page. They ended up instead on the discussion for that page.
From now on, candidates are really going to have to get familiar with these technologies. While flawed, Wikipedia is fast becoming the first place that connected citizens go to get definitive and organized information on subjects from apples to Zarathustra. And wikis are just one new way that people exchange information. Every day, people are trying to find new ways to share their knowledge with others. One way or another, people are going to have to deal with the explosion of access to information and opinion. Flattering or not.
Thanks for the help, Ryan and Jake, in our little bit of sleuthing today. It was fun! I called into Keri’s show and tried to explain wiki ot her audience, but I fear that I bored them to tears.