William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘WWB’

Did Rep. Hinojosa Get a Free Pass on Biased Wikipedia Edits?

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on March 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

This weekend, former Tacitus and RedState blogger Josh Treviño asked over Twitter:

Do you think Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX-15) had his staff edit his own Wikipedia entry? So blatant: http://bit.ly/TSbMm

The answer is yes, and yes it is and I see what could be regarded as something of a double-standard here. First of all, Hinojosa’s congressional staff was quite up front about editing the page in the first place, when they contributed from a House-registered IP address in early 2008:

I am a staffer for Congressman Hinojosa in his Washington office and have found some mistakes. We have edited them and added the official biography from our website. If there are questions, please [sic]

Not unlike Twitter, you only get so many characters to explain your edit in the edit summary. This was not a bad way to go about it, although another editor left this note on the Talk page associated with the IP address for the Hinojosa staffer:

ATTN: Staffer for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa

The edit was constructive in the sense that it did not delete unfavorable information from the page. At least, not all that unfavorable. For example, they changed

Finally in 2002 he was elected once again after running unopposed.


Finally in 2002 he was elected once again.

which it’s debatable whether this is even the right phrasing, but there is no question they removed (what may or may not be relevant) context.

However, I am not sure why adding material from his official bio is “constructive” when Wikipedia explicitly forbids plagiarism. Using information from the bio would be one thing, if there was at least a citation. Instead, are a few examples from what they added:

In Congress, Rubén Hinojosa is regarded as a champion for the disadvantaged and has distinguished himself as a strong advocate for education, housing and economic development. His primary goal in Congress has been to reduce the chronic unemployment rate in regions of the district.


As chairman of the Education Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressman Hinojosa ensures that federal education policy never loses sight of the youngest and fastest growing population in the country – Hispanic Americans.


On the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Hinojosa is widely recognized as a leader on issues affecting the underserved, from banking to housing.

Favorable impressions of a subject can be attributed to independent observers, but it should never presented as a true-because-Wikipedia-said-so fact. Yet as Treviño noticed, it has largely remained intact in the year-and-change since. In fact, one editor did stop by a few days later to clean it up, but only slightly.

A partisan job? Probably not — that editor was a retired aviation engineer from Bristol, England. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking whether a Republican congressional staffer making these kind of mistakes would have received the same benefit of the doubt? If one takes into account the case of former Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), whose staff was caught in mid-2006 making similar changes to his Wikipedia bio, this seems unlikely. Then again, the staff of former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) was called out for doing something similar earlier that year, so the answer is not so simple.

The bottom line here is that Rep. Hinojosa’s page needs some major work to bring it back in line with Wikipedia standards. If nobody gets to it soon — and in fact the page has remained unedited for two months now — I may just have to get in there and fix it myself.

The Electronic Slide: United States Congress Still Editing Wikipedia

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on March 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

As I mentioned in the first post, I presented at TransparencyCamp yeserday. As promised, I posted the related PowerPoint deck to my SlideShare account, but you can click through it right here (and if you’re looking at this on the front page yes, it’s too wide, I’ll get that fixed as soon as I can and remove this parenthetical statement once it has been):

If it doesn’t make complete sense, that’s understandable — it’s meant to support a discussion, after all. However, this was the first time I’ve given this particular talk and, like others I’ve given, it will benefit from additional iterations and refinement. I’ll certainly do plenty of that on The Wikipedian — looking more closely at the Wikipedia edits not just of other members of Congress, but of other government agencies.

In the meantime, you can take a look for yourself at the recent edits from the IP address of the U.S. House of Representatives. And if you’re feeling especially adventuresome, try to find the good-faith edit that I cleaned up and cited.

Welcome to The Wikipedian

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on March 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

Greetings and salutations! If you’re reading this (and I suspect that you are) then you have found the first post at The Wikipedian. I believe this here “Web-site” is the first “Web-log” about Wikipedia written specifically for the non-insider — that is to say, the non-Wikipedian. Which I suppose makes me your presumptively self-appointed host — the “The Wikipedian” — but I’ll probably just stick with “William Beutler.”

As the title suggests, I am an active editor on the English Wikipedia, where I contribute primarily as User:WWB and have been editing in some way, shape or form since the middle of 2006. Here’s how I put it on my user page:

I first started editing Wikipedia as a reader who finally decided to try my hand at editing the articles I read. Beyond that I continued with simple spelling, grammar and formatting corrections, which led to more substantial contributions to existing articles and, eventually, creating new ones.

I am not one of the very top elite contributors, nor am I an administrator or sysop, nor am I anywhere near being a member of the alleged cabal, but I’ll wager that I’m probably somewhere in the top 20 percent — just in deep enough to explain the inside to the outside and, one hopes, avoid being too jargony.

The idea first came to me late last year as I noticed two things happening, at work and in my spare time. In my capacity as Innovation Manager at New Media Strategies I’ve spent the past year (and then some) developing consultative services for clients regarding Wikipedia engagement, leading the white hat approach to Wikipedia optimization. Meanwhile, I noticed that my primary site, Blog P.I., was becoming more and more about Wikipedia (that is, when it wasn’t becoming more and more about Twitter) and so maybe it would be worthwhile to devote more resources to covering Wikipedia on a regular — who knows? maybe even daily — basis. Hence the brand-new blog before you.

Today’s soft-launch comes to you from a third-floor room of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet on the George Washington University campus during TransparencyCamp 2009, where in just a few short hours I will be delivering a brand new PowerPoint-supported presentation about Wikipedia; the focus of my talk will be Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia. Now, that much I had planned for. Less planned for: I’ve just received notice that, for the first time, an article I created made the front page of Wikipedia this morning in the “Did you know” category. Specifically, did you know

… that despite being an object of ridicule in popular culture, over 8 million British Rail sandwiches were sold in 1993?

Call it serendipity if you like, and then look it up on Wikipedia just for the heck of it.

As I get started on this project, there are many arguments and debates I want to cover but avoided previously for fear of hijacking my own blog, and I’ve got more than a few ideas about recurring features to create that heretofore remain uncreated for the same reason. One thing you will certainly see is a version of the old “All the Rage” series from my Thomas Magnum-esque previous base of operations. I will also be seeking guest posts and occasional contributions from others, so if the idea interests you, please contact me at thewikipedianblog at gmail (you know, dot com).

On a goofier note, this blog is named in part for The Oregonian, the daily paper of my hometown, and also in part the inspiration owes something to The Origamian, a defunct newsletter of OrigamiUSA, whose name was also inspired by The Oregonian.

And I might as well add that this is at least the fifth blog I have started since 2002 and at least the eighth I have contributed to in that time, but it’s the first I’ve launched in more than two-and-a-half years. Also noteworthy: this time I will not be shuttering my other sites: Blog P.I. will continue as my increasingly occasional outlet for writings on matters of politics and technology and the Washington Canard is still where I will post about life in the District, when said life and endeavors such as this aren’t keeping me too busy.

Okay, I think that’s enough for an introductory post. Expect topical posts to commence later today or tomorrow, and I hope to see you on Wikipedia.