ALISON STEWART, host:
Wikipedia describes itself as the "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." And they really mean it when they say anyone. I could log on right now and change the Wikipedia entry for the Bryant Park Project to say the show is the number one rated show in the country. I'm not saying that I would do that. I'm just saying I could do that...
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
For example. Also - and you know what? With this much openness, the site has become a battleground for people who want to get their voices heard. So it's not really a surprise that some of the most-edited pages right now are those belonging to the presidential candidates.
STEWART: But if you think you're making those changes to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain's pages without anyone really noticing what you're up to, better think again about that. There's a group of editors out there who have appointed themselves the unofficial protectors of these pages, not for political reasons, but to simply to the right thing. Kind of wiki-cops.
(Soundbite of song "Bad Boys")
INNER CIRCLE: (Singing) Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you? Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?
STEWART: Now, they don't have administrative rights to shut down the pages, but they are surfing them constantly on the lookout for changes they think are inaccurate or inappropriate, or if anybody is wearing one of those T-shirts without sleeves while doing it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Two of these unofficial lead editors joining us now on the line. Jonathan Schilling, who's been working on Hillary Clinton's page for about three years now, and Tina Vozick has been on Barack-watch for about two. Hey, guys. Thanks for joining us.
Ms. TINA VOZICK (Editor, Wikipedia): Hi.
Mr. JONATHAN SCHILLING (Editor, Wikipedia): Thank you.
MARTIN: Hey, Jonathan. We're going to start with you. Changes being made all the time to these pages. Every couple minutes. How in the world do you keep up with it all?
Mr. SCHILLING: Well, some of them, Wikipedia has robots that go around and get rid of. Like, if you put an obscenity in on the Hillary Clinton page, which happens all the time, people like me don't even have to worry about that. There are robots that go around and just automatically revert it to the previous state.
Mr. SHILLING: Like, someone blanks the whole pages and puts in "Hillary Clinton is a communist and she'll ruin America," the same thing happens. But if there are less, you know, less obvious transgressions against the page, things putting in slanted political statements or people putting in things that aren't true or whatever, that's where editors like me, who have the page on their watch list, come in.
MARTIN: So how often do those changes happen that require a more nuanced, analytical look at it? That actually requires you to sit and think?
Mr. SCHILLING: It varies over time, but certainly, during this heated political campaign, especially this year, it's been very - it's been pretty intense at times.
MARTIN: Now, how much, Jonathan, do you have to already have stored up in your brain in order to be able to correct these edits, so to speak? I mean, when you look at it, do you just - are you on the news so much? Are you so familiar with her bio that you can just, on the fly, know that, oh, that's wrong?
Mr. SCHILLING: A lot of times, yes. I've done a lot of the writing for the article, not just the safekeeping of it. I've read any number of books about her. I've gone to libraries many times to research it. I've gone to university libraries to find political science papers about some aspects of her public reaction and so forth. So, I'm pretty familiar with her whole biography at this point.
MARTIN: And what was the most difficult change that you had to make? What - was there something was put up there and you thought, well, I don't really know about that one, I'm going to have to think about that for awhile?
Mr. SCHILLING: In some cases you need to sort of wait a bit to see how something resonates. For example, this recent incident with the controversy about the Bosnia sniper fire business. At first, it looked like it might just be a one or two-day story that you get all the time during these campaigns.
But more lately, it seems like it's seeped into the public consciousness and that it really is one of the turning points perhaps of the campaign, undermining her credibility, her foreign policy expertise. So at that point, you can make a decision - well, this probably needs to go in. But even after her campaign's over, we may rethink that and look at it again.
MARTIN: Is that why there's a bit in there about her initial vote in support of the Iraq war? That's not on Barack Obama's page, but that's something you clearly thought is in the public consciousness?
Mr. SCHILLING: Yes, I mean, that's one of the major - I mean, that's something that happened as a senator. Obviously that's an important that she cast as senator. So it's pretty much a no-brainer that we have put in the fact that she voted for the Iraq war. Even though she's tried to sort of explain her way around it ever since then, it needs to be there.
STEWART: Tina, I want to bring you into the conversation. Initially, what kind of changes did you see that were being made to Senator Obama's page?
Ms. VOZICK: Well, the page has been under attack for as long as I've been on it. From racist and just vicious critics, let's say, and I found that for most of the time - last two years, it's been more personal than political. In the last few months, though, I would say that the attacks have become more political and subtler.
Jonathan is right that the obvious attacks, the pure racism, the cursing, the, you know, just disgusting stuff that gets put up there, gets off almost instantly, but the more subtle stuff gets argued out a lot and the Obama page recently has had so many people coming and trying to put things in there that the regular editors felt were not neutral, that the page has been locked down for awhile, which is really unfortunate. We don't like when that happens.
STEWART: And largely, that had to do with content about Jeremiah Wright?
Ms. VOZICK: It had to do with Jeremiah Wright and a few other things that people were raising that - it was just getting very heated. There was a lot of edit warring going on. You know, one person making a change, someone changing it back, someone changing it again. So there's sort of a cooling-down period, I guess you would call it.
STEWART: It's interesting, under the frequently asked questions about Barack Obama's page, the first question is, why don't you include Obama's Muslim faith? Well, he's not a Muslim.
Ms. VOZICK: Right. Exactly.
STEWART: It's kind of interesting. Do you see a repetition of certain themes over and over again?
Ms. VOZICK: Oh, absolutely. The Muslim faith, the madrassa story, the discredited madrassa story, that goes in there just all the time. I would say at least once a week someone puts it in, and if they don't put it into the article, they'll put it on the talk page and they'll ask a question about it. Why doesn't it say that Barack Obama was a Muslim, is a Muslim, is going to be a Muslim, has Muslim family? That, I would say, is probably one of the more prevalent attacks that the page has gotten.
MARTIN: Tina, what's the most ridiculous, egregious thing that has popped up there?
Ms. VOZICK: Well, I don't know about ridiculous, but the most offensive to me was very late one night, I think it was last summer, I went over to the page and there was a picture there of naked men - black men in a sauna or something like that, which I thought was rather inappropriate...
STEWART: And like no one would find that, whoever did the edit. That's my question.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. VOZICK: It wasn't there very long, but it was put back a couple of times and I was able to reach an administrator who was online at the time who could just remove the picture completely and close down the editor account that was doing it. But you know, that's the one that sticks in my mind.
STEWART: I can understand why.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Do either of you watch John McCain's page?
Mr. SCHILLING: I do, yes. I've done a lot of work on John McCain's articles.
Ms. VOZICK: Yeah, I don't - I've done a little bit of work on McCain. I do a lot of work on Clinton, actually, as well as Obama.
STEWART: And on McCain's page, are you finding the same sort of, let's say, "heated editing"?
Mr. SCHILLING: Not as much. McCain doesn't attract as visceral a reaction as Obama or Hillary does. I mean, Hillary, even long before she ran for president, she's always been an incendiary figure, you know, in American politics. McCain doesn't quite attract that level of attention. I expect as the election goes on it will get more and more active just because of reasons of pure partisanship.
STEWART: So, Tina, does anything happen to these mischievous editors? We'll be kind and just call them "mischievous."
Ms. VOZICK: Well sure they get blocked, if they're being incredibly disruptive. Their editing privileges will be removed. But then, it's very easy to set up a new account. You know, most of these people do not use their own - their real names, so it's really very easy to set up an account, and in fact, you can edit without having an account at all. So, you know, they get slowed down, I would say, but they don't go away.
MARTIN: Lastly, Tina and Jonathan, do you guys dream about these Wiki pages? Do you go to sleep with images of the pages in your head?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. VOZICK: Oh, God, I try not to!
Mr. SCHILLING: No, but my family thinks I'm crazy for doing it, so...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. VOZICK: I think we're related.
MARTIN: But you must clearly have an interest in this stuff. You're political junkies or just very intent about guarding...
Ms. VOZICK: Yeah, I've always been a news junkie, but you know, it's not really partisan for me, and I don't think it is for Jonathan, either. You know, as I said, I edit Clinton almost as much as I edit Obama, and you know, I edit Nancy Reagan sometimes also, so...
Mr. SCHILLING: Yeah I mean, the motivation is really different. It's about being able to instantly publish something that you get this huge readership for. You get to write outside your professional area of interest. You know, I'm not a political scientist or a journalist. You know, how else are you going to get this opportunity to sort of do research you're interested in or whatnot?
On the other hand, you're always worried that, you know - you're never sure if people believe what's in these articles. I heard your show yesterday and you were debating where you could believe a Wikipedia article about octopuses...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SCHILLING: So there's a big tradeoff here, and of course, we don't get any credit usually for this. We put in a lot of hours and the pay is absolute zero, but that comes with the territory.
STEWART: Well, we thank you for the work that you do.
MARTIN: Jonathan Schilling and Tina Vozick are some of the lead editors on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's Wikipedia pages. Thanks, you two!
Ms. VOZICK: Thanks.
Mr. SCHILLING: Thank you.
STEWART: Next on the show, CNN's Soledad O'Brien will join us to talk about her new documentary, airing tonight on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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