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The Russian Government's 7,000 Wikipedia Edits

Images mixed by author.

Images mixed by author.

When it comes to Wikipedia, the Russian government’s computers are busy bees. Over the past ten years, IP addresses belonging to various Russian state agencies are responsible for almost 7,000 anonymous edits to articles on Wikipedia’s Russian-language website.

A Norwegian programmer named Jari Bakken recently produced a complete list of the Russian government’s 6,909 anonymous edits to Wikipedia. Bakken has published similar lists for Wikipedia edits made on IP addresses that trace back to governments in the United States, Israel, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and Norway, as well as changes by several major oil corporations.

Studying the Wikipedia revisions made on the Russian government’s computers, we can only guess whether the people responsible were acting independently or in service to an organized campaign. Probably, it’s a bit of both.

Bakken’s list includes repeated revisions to articles about Russian politicians, adding accolades and removing damaging information. For instance, IP addresses at Russia’s secret service, the FSO, made 36 edits to the Wikipedia article about Russian Senator Andrei Klishas, whom the US government sanctioned in March 2014 for his role in the annexation of Crimea. The same agency has revised Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s Wikipedia page five times. Government IP addresses have protected the reputations of other public figures, too, including playwright Aleksandr Pudin (25 revisions), philosopher Viktor Vaziulin (30 revisions), Russia’s “Children Ombudsman” Pavel Astakhov (35 revisions), Astakhov’s successor Aleksei Golovan (4 revisions), politician Vyacheslav Tetyekin (36 revisions), and many others.

For all that, not everything looks like a Kremlin conspiracy to whitewash the Internet. For example, someone at a computer owned by a state-run chemical plant in Kursk edited the Wikipedia page about the video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”—not to criticize the game’s storyline (which involves a Russian military attack on New York City), but to correct a small detail in the article’s plot summary. The author was probably just a fan of the game.

Some of the revisions even suggest dissension amongst the ranks of Russia’s bureaucracy. In the midst of protests that rocked Moscow in December 2011, for instance, someone at a state-run TV company updated a Wikipedia article about an anti-Putin petition to show that another 2,000 people had signed. Presumably, this Wikipedia edit wasn’t on orders from the government.

Other revisions to Wikipedia, however, do dovetail with the Kremlin’s efforts to protect its own reputation and damage the image of the United States. Here are five examples.

  1. Criticizing the appointment of Michael McFaul as U.S. ambassador to Russia.
  2. Changing the historical background subsection of the Wikipedia article on the Beslan school hostage crisis to claim that Ossetians welcomed Russian influence in the 18th century.
  3. Adding a sentence to the Wikipedia article about the Vietnam War to emphasize the embarrassment of America’s defeat.
  4. Criticizing Greenpeace for “non-scientific” claims about genetically modified food.
  5. Removing a claim on Andrei Klishas’ Wikipedia page that his dissertation may have been plagiarized.

Of course, even these suspiciously pro-Russia, anti-West changes to Wikipedia don’t prove that the Kremlin is trying to control the Web’s biggest encyclopedia. The author of the attack on Ambassador McFaul, for instance, deleted the revision almost immediately. It’s entirely plausible that these revisions are the work of state employees acting on their own, out of genuine interest in “setting the record straight.”

This being the Internet, we’ll probably never know for sure.

15 comments

  • worldinsane3pfs

    It is simple…to quote George Orwell’s 1984…” those who control the present…control the past…those who control the past..control the future. ” Russia has been whitewashing and changing its view history long before this current group of thugs took over.

  • Chris

    How much is the US doing the exact same thing? Sort of reminds me of what Stephen Colbert calls “Truthiness”.

  • […] provided for the English twitter account). Some of the edits have been summarized by Globalvoicesonline. However, RuGovEdits has not commented on the origin of the edits as of yet, so they can be as […]

  • NA

    You know, if they really wanted to they could edit by way of proxy and you’d never learn who edited what.

  • […] by Kevin Rothrock · comments (3) Donate · Share this: twitter facebook reddit […]

  • worldinsane3pfs

    Yes…the US does similar things but at least they bring forth evidence to present to the public..also we have ( in the so-called West ) clear access to a variety of news sources that allows a more rational conclusion to be pieced together. AND yes…they could do the editing by proxy but you are missing the point..they are doing the editing anonymously and by proxy…it is courtesy of people who dig deep into those very proxies that have shown where the editing originates.

  • Stuart M.

    “4. Criticizing Greenpeace for “non-scientific” claims about genetically modified food.”

    How is this pro-Russian or anti-West? The claims against GMO foods are non-scientific hysteria. Every independent scientific study has said that (except for that ridiculous rat study in France which was retracted by the scientific magazine that published it).

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