My Sony and BBC Wikipedia editing shame

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 20 August 2007

There has been quite a fuss this week about edits made to Wikipedia from within the BBC.

Wikipedia logo

Changing George Walker Bush to George Wanker Bush using a BBC IP address is pretty damn stupid, but writing an article accusing other organisations of manipulating Wikipedia in a bad way, without first checking whether you had your own IP address related skeletons in the closet was even sillier.

The story feeds wonderfully into the paranoia of those who believe the BBC is one big organised conspiracy, and Interactive News Editor Pete Clifton has had to write a back-pedalling blog post on the topic.

I have a fantastic mental image of Mark Thompson at the heart of his dark HQ suddenly bellowing over the ringmain, 1984-style:

"Oi you! Over there in White City. Stop faking Bargain Hunt for a minute, and get yerself sat down at the computer. We need to put a veneer of limp-wristed feel-good crypto-socialist liberalism on Wikipedia pronto, before people start voting for the fucking Tories again."

Kim has already come out of the closet to confess to editing whilst on staff time at the BBC, and helpfully reminds us of the previous notorious misguided wikifiddling done by the BBC - that on the fictional Jamie Kane entry.

I don't recall making any anonymous edits to Wikipedia myself whilst at the BBC, although I'm sure I must of.

In fact, only a couple of weeks ago I nearly made a named one which would have fallen into one of the categories that is now under scrutiny - editing articles about the BBC itself.

Whilst I was working there a couple of weeks back. I noticed that the Wikipedia entry about the BBC's iPlayer was factually incorrect in one place and misleading. It claimed that:

"However, on April 19, 2007 the BBC announced that after online pressure from the British public (including an e-petition signed by over 15,500 people[4]) that they would re-engineer the iPlayer to work on other platforms in the future."

The BBC's on demand proposals have always been conceived of and described as a cross-platform solution for downloading TV programmes, even if the initial incarnation is locked down to one operating system, partly due to the arcane but understandable DRM implementation requirements of third parties other than the BBC.

It was mischievous for whoever wrote that bit of the entry to imply that the BBC had not considered making the iPlayer cross-platform until after the OSC had made representations to the BBC Trust, or until after there had been the petition on the Number 10 website.

I didn't make the edit whilst in the office in the end because I didn't have the time to dig up the citations I felt were necessary in order to refute that part of the article - things like the terms of reference of the BBC Governors inquiry into the BBC's on-demand proposal, and various speeches by Ashley Highfield that pre-date the 'public outcry'.

I see that someone else has not removed the bit of the article that I disagree with, but there is now a preceding paragraph to the effect that the iPlayer project was never designed to only deliver a Microsoft based solution.

"The BBC emphasises that it 'has a commitment to platform neutrality and a remit to make its content as widely available as possible', and that while the initial trial used a Microsoft-based technology, they are constantly looking for new technologies which would enable them to relax the restriction: Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of Future Media and Technology, has explained that 'we have always started with the platform that reaches the most number of people and then rolled it out from there'. They also point out that not all of the content delivered through the iPlayer will be subject to DRM - live streaming content, for instance, may not need the same level of control, presumably implying that players for Mac OS X and Linux systems could be developed with a restricted range of content."

However, it is quite funny to think that had I found the right citations at the time, then editing the Wikipedia page from the BBC's White City buildings might have thrown it into the revision spotlight this week, as a company using Wikipedia as a propaganda tool.

Whereas if I'd done it a couple of hours later that day outside of office hours, nobody would have batted an eyelid - it would just be put down to an interested Wikipedian correcting a factual inaccuracy and improving the encyclopedia.

I do have to don my sackcloth and ashes and make a confession about when I worked at Sony however.

At some point, someone might track down their corporate Wikipedia audit trail, and find that a Sony IP address was consistently used to edit Wikipedia articles about artists who didn't record for the Sony label.

Please be assured that this wasn't part of a Tokyo mandated campaign to use Sony NetServices to spread disinformation about musicians who had not signed on the dotted line for the Japanese Corporation.

I just kind of like tidying up the entries for artists I'm interested in when I'm bored.

My Sony based Wikipedia edit audit trail including Noddy Holder

And for the record, I'm one of those people who find Wikipedia to be a good starting point to get an overview of a topic or a person, but I certainly wouldn't bet my mortgage on the factual accuracy of any of the entries at any given point in time.

In any case, I generally find either the Conservapedia or the Uncyclopedia to be much more fun.

Fun with wikis - amusing clips from Uncyclopedia and Conservapedia


well, I remember a 'look at this crazy new media' presentation at the BBC a couple of years ago where it was demonstrated that anyone could edit wikipedia to anything they liked but it would soon be reverted. The presentation contained two slides, one showing the 'Wanker' Bush comment, the other showing the reversion to the original. Was the edit someone proving a point for their presentation, or even someone trying it out after seeing it? No, of course not, where would be the 'hidden truth that the MSM doesn't want you to know' in that explanation?!

Hi Martin - what about your other BBC Wikipedia editing shame? (see comments) :-)

The real issue, juvenile leftie edits aside, is the sheer hypocrisy of the BBC in leaping into action to castigate the CIA for 'their' edits, whilst conveniently ignoring their 'own' edits, and then of course downplaying the 'BBC' edits as being 'just some staff' - an explanation that the BBC wasn't prepared to indulge in when it came to reporting on the CIA...

P.S. Just because I'm paranoid it doesn't mean that the BBC is not biased... :-)

Hi Andrew - you're a bit ahead of me there - you just needed to wait a couple of hours. I am in a different timezone here you know ;-)

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