Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, a Wikipedia who-done-it. John McCain picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate today. But earlier this morning, just 15 minutes after rumor of her selection broke, a Wikipedia editor discovered something interesting. Yesterday, some 30 mostly favorable changes were made to Palin's Wikipedia biography. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Here are the facts of the case. Starting at 8:10 in the morning on Thursday, someone started making changes, lots of them, to Sarah Palin's page. The changes, all from a single source, included the addition of a quotation calling Palin a politician of eye-popping integrity. The edits diminished a reference to Palin's participation in a beauty pageant and minimized a section about a controversy over whether Palin used her influence to get her ex-brother-in-law fired.

Wikipedia normally allows anyone to edit its pages so long as the result is considered neutral. But in this case, Justin Diehl, the editor, decided to blow the whistle.

Mr. JUSTIN DIEHL (Editor, Wikipedia): Twenty-four hours before she became the nominee for vice president of the United States on the Republican ticket, someone spent hours essentially rewriting the article in a way that, I think, comes across better in many ways, but in some cases, much more favorable than it did just, you know, 24 hours ago.

NOGUCHI: Since then, a Wikipedia administrator restricted who could alter her page.

Mr. DIEHL: I dug a little deeper, and that's when it, you know, became clear that this account had only ever been used to make these significant changes to a single article on a single candidate. In Wikipedia, that's usually a pretty big red flag.

NOGUCHI: The person making the changes seems to know a great deal about Palin's life, including that her family sometimes woke up at 3:00 a.m. to hunt moose. But right now, not much is known about the identity of the person making the changes, except that they use a screen name Young Trig. Trig is the name of Palin's infant son, although Diehl says he doesn't know what to make of that and the McCain campaign did not return calls requesting comment about the changes.

Of course, burnishing online profiles is very common, especially in politics. Two years ago, Wikipedia shut up Capitol Hill's access to editing functions after staffers started tweaking their bosses' pages. Also, President George W. Bush's entry is indefinitely protected, except from elite Wikipedia editors.

In Palin's case, Diehl says, it's good the changes were caught early.

Mr. DIEHL: If you Google for Sarah Palin, which I did, probably millions of Americans will be doing today, the first thing you find is her Wikipedia entry.

NOGUCHI: Passions run high in politics, and it's not unusual for people to fight for years over a simple phrase in an article on a controversial topic like abortion or evolution. Part of the problem and maybe the appeal is that anyone can submit suggestions in Wikipedia articles. Volunteer editors help referee these disputes. And Diehl points out that according to the rules of this open editorial model, directly making changes on yourself or someone you're close to is a no-no.

Mr. DIEHL: You should not edit an article if you potentially have a conflict of interest.

NOGUCHI: For the record, Diehl considers himself not eligible to edit Palin's page because he's written personal blogs saying McCain should take her as his running mate.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: