British government computers were used to disseminate inaccurate information via Wikipedia following a number of high profile cases, according to an investigation by Channel4 News.
Edits were made to the Jean Charles de Menezes, Lee Rigby and Damilola Taylor entries on the open-source encyclopaedia website via the secure computer network open to UK civil servants.
In the case of Mr de Menezes, the page was edited to remove an entire section that explained how the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had conceded it had “got it wrong” over leaks. The Brazilian electrician was shot dead by police who mistook him for a terrorist shortly after 7/7 bomb attacks in 2005.
The editor who deleted the section also contributed other information about the IPCC, including how many cases it dealt with and how its role is to increase public confidence.
Despite Mr De Menezes’s innocence, the editor made changes that stated he had a “high level” of Class A drugs in his system. As Mr de Menezes had an autopsy after his death, anyone involved with the case would know that the drugs claim was entirely without basis. Accurate information on his immigration status was also deleted.
The alterations come at a delicate time for family of the Mr de Menezes, as there has already been an investigation into undercover Police officers spying on them. A report last month found the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad had spied on eighteen justice campaigns, including the de Menezes case.
In other examples of edits the murdered British solider Drummer Lee Rigby was removed from the page on terrorism because he was “not notable enough”. Whilst 10-year-old Damilola Taylor, who was stabbed to death by a racist Caribbean gang for being from Nigeria, had the word “murdered” replaced with “died”, arguably downplaying the significance of his death.
Speaking on behalf of the de Menezes family Asad Rehman, said: “Like all ordinary members of the public, I’m shocked. This is yet one more smear and attack on the family.
“We’ve seen over many years lies, misinformation and smears during the family’s attempt to find the truth and justice and answers about how an innocent young man on his way to work was gunned down by police officers.”
A government spokesperson said: “Government takes these matters very seriously. We have recently reminded civil servants of their responsibilities under the Civil Service Code and any breaches of the code will be dealt with.
“We will shortly be issuing fuller guidance on using the internet and social media to all departments.”
The news of the edits has come to light after the media began to scrutinise Wikipedia more closely as a result of changes from government computers made to pages about the Hillsborough Tragedy. The tragedy occurred when Police incompetence led to fans being herded into a part of Sheffield Wednesday FC’s stadium that was already full. Ninety-six were crushed to death.
The alterations suggested the Liverpool fans had been responsible, a claim that is wholly without basis. The edits caused outrage in the City of Liverpool, where the tragedy is still a raw subject despite it taking place in 1989.
Not every Wikipedia edit from a government computer is as disturbing as these examples though. As reported in the Guardian parliamentary computers have been used to make some sympathetic alterations to a number of MPs pages. There were also dozens of MPs who had references to their expenses claims removed. Although there is no way of knowing who was responsible the finger of suspicion inevitably falls on the MP or their staff.
A twitter feed @ParliamentEdits now tracks and tweets all alterations to Wikipedia pages made from the Houses of Parliament. In addition to this the government has promised to tighten up rules on editing of Wikipedia from their network.
Many of these alterations were made several years ago and as a result it can be very difficult to work out who was responsible or what their motivation was.