OK, Feds -- Go Ahead and Edit Wikipedia


Wikimedia DC says you make good editors because you know a lot.

Federal employees make great Wikipedia editors, according to Wikimedia DC -- the online encyclopedia’s Washington-area outreach chapter.

“Government staff are experts in areas of public interest, including very new hot topics,” Wikimedia DC Treasurer Peter Meyer and President James Hare said in a blog post. “They play a promising role in our mission to make a better online reference work, with notable, neutrally phrased, verifiable content.”

The post was in response to recent issues with inappropriate, anonymous edits that inspired Wikipedia to suspend certain congressional IP addresses. The disruptive edits came to light after a Twitter bot -- @congressedits -- was created earlier this summer to automatically tweet anonymous edits from Capitol Hill; the account has more than 30,000 followers.

Some federal agencies have already issued guidance and best practices for editing Wikipedia. Now, Wikimedia DC has offered its own general best practices for editing the website from within government:

If you or your agency are interested in participating as a Wikipedia editor, we recommend these basic best practices:

  • Register individual accounts. By registering an account, it helps you develop goodwill with the Wikipedia community. Fellow editors get the sense that they are working with another person, not a shadowy figure hiding behind an IP address. However, Wikipedia’s policies do not permit the registration of group or company accounts; each account must be used by one person only.
  • Acknowledge your potential conflicts of interest. The community of volunteers that maintains Wikipedia cares very strongly about potential conflict of interest. To this end, avoid editing articles on your boss or your employer. Additionally, being transparent about your affiliation can help build trust. NARA has a standard format for conflict-of-interest disclaimers, a format which can be freely copied and re-used by others in the federal government.
  • Look into other agencies’ best practices. Some agencies have published best practices on Wikipedia participation, including NARA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health. These are best practices you may wish to incorporate, should you have the opportunity to develop best practices for your own agency. We also recommend reading Why CongressEdits Matters for Your Agency on DigitalGov. 

Also, don’t be silly when you edit Wikipedia.

Wikimedia DC described the entry vandalism from Congress as “the kind of juvenile or disruptive edits that Wikipedia deals with every minute of every day without incident, notable only because of where the edits are coming from.”

Wikipedia has good technology to identify and correct most vandalism, but that's the kind of editing that would get an agency in trouble.

(Image via 360b/Shutterstock.com)