A fancy keychain, via Flickr user bastique.
We live in exciting times, where robots that operate Twitter accounts are trendsetters, and governments are held to a new standard of transparency—despite operating massive surveillance agencies that would make George Orwell have a panic attack while giving J. Edgar Hoover a major spy boner.
Last week, a string of Twitterbots made headlines for tracking Wikipedia edits coming from known government IP addresses. It started in the UK, with @ParliamentEdits, which then blossomed into a string government-tracking copycats after its source code was released on GitHub. The goal of these Twitterbots is to make sure governments aren’t drastically revising history on everyone’s favourite free encyclopedia, while gauging the amount of time our public officials spend grooming and altering Wiki pages in the first place.
It didn’t take long for Canada to get its own watchdog Twitterbot: @GCCAEdits. So far, GCCAEdits hasn’t caught Stephen Harper editing in phony compliments about his hairstyle, nor has it detected any nefarious change-ups from government agencies trying to rewrite history, but it’s caught some odd alterations nonetheless.
For example, an anonymous government employee (or at least someone operating within the Canadian government’s network) took offense to Quebec’s infamous Pastagate debacle being described as an “incident,” writing: “It seems to lessen the seriousness of all true incidents to describe this trivial bureaucratic mistep [sic] as something equivalent to ‘an event or disagreement that is likely to cause serious problems in relations between countries (webster dictionary).’”
That same IP address made an edit on the Wikipedia article for “July 9th,” an article collecting all of the notable events, along with famous or infamous births and deaths, that occurred on July 9th throughout history. An edit made from a government computer added “2014 - Canadian ATOs never forget” to the article. While I’m not totally sure what an ATO is, it could possibly be an allusion to an Ammunitions Technical Officer.
This all may be in reference to a memorial that the Canadian government unveiled on July 9th of this year to commemorate fallen Canadian troops in Afghanistan, which was criticized by family members of soldiers for being publicly revealed without “sufficient notice to attend the event.”
Other edits, like those by anonymous members of the House of Commons, are less meaningful. Some are simply made to revise the changing job titles of various politicians, while others intend to clarify the attendance count of a Buffalo Bills game in Toronto. Other revisions, coming from more generic government IPs, were logged to note the precise date when North Face pulled their sponsorship money from a “death race” through the Rocky Mountains, or to ensure the “Earth Defence Force franchise” was included in a list of PlayStation 3 games, while another was made to include the phrase “poopy balls” in an article about Pomeranian dogs.
As you can plainly see, many of the Canadian government employees’ Wikipedia edits are completely inane. If you had any doubts regarding the efficacy of our country’s bureaucrats, these edits should cement your doubts in a theoretical slab of concrete. I’ve been told Canadian government employees work behind a really strict firewall that prevents them from looking at anything fun on the job, so making poopy jokes on Wikipedia might be all these sad bureaucrats are free to do when they feel like trolling the internet at large.
@GCCAEdits will surely be a source of entertainment and illumination into the wacky world of government employees for as long as the bot’s source code is compatible with Twitter and Wikipedia. How else would we know that government workers enjoy editing inside jokes into the Wikipedia article for maple syrup or are adamant about adjusting the rankings of video game competitions without it? While it would certainly be a big story if the bot ended up catching a government employee trying to drastically rewrite history within a Wiki article, it’s more likely it will continue to catch bureaucrats doing what they do best: wasting time.