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Wikipedians in Blue

March 15, 2015, 8:00 am

034072-keystone-copsWho knew the New York Police Department was full of avid Wikipedians? Here’s a fun fact to include in your next digital humanities syllabus: in ”Edits to Wikipedia Page Traced to 1 Police Plaza,” Capital, March 13, 2015) Kelly Weill reports on a review of Wikipedia pages conducted by Capital. Numerous edits to Wikipedia pages about police brutality have been altered, and the edits can be traced to IP addresses assigned to NYPD headquarters.

According to Weill,

Computer users identified by Capital as working on the NYPD headquarters’ network have edited and attempted to delete Wikipedia entries for several well-known victims of police altercations, including entries for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo. Capital identified 85 NYPD addresses that have edited Wikipedia, although it is unclear how many users were involved, as computers on the NYPD network can operate on the department’s range of IP addresses.

NYPD IP addresses have also been used to edit entries on stop-and-frisk, NYPD scandals, and prominent figures in the city’s political and police leadership.

Weill notes in particular that, shortly after the Eric Garner grand jury came in on December 3 2014, the entry on Eric Garner’s death was altered to justify the officers’ actions. “Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock,” and once to “respiratory distress.”

I find this fascinating on so many levels, particularly in relation to the conversations about objectivity that any Wikipedia assignment sparks, and Wikipedia’s own prohibition of political advocacy on the site. Part of a liberal arts education is to become skilled in the use of language, and to become attuned to the ways others use particular words and sentence constructions to convey ideas. Most importantly, it underlines the importance of having at least one assignment in any introductory humanities class that asks students to develop critical thinking skills about Wikipedia that include going into the back end of any entry to see the history of edits that has occurred.

HT: Guy Greenberg.

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