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The world is still reeling from the shock of the deaths of 298 people on Malaysian flight MH17, which was shot down in Ukraine yesterday, but the battle to write and re-write history has already begun online.
Thanks to a Twitter bot that monitors Wikipedia edits made from Russian government IP addresses, someone from the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) has been caught editing a Russian-language Wikipedia reference to MH17 in an article on aviation disasters.
The tweet reads: “Wikipedia article List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation has been edited by RTR [another name for VGTRK]” (Google Translate).
The edit was in response to an initial edit to the MH17 section that said the plane was shot down “by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation,” according to the website Global Voices.
In a counter-edit less than an hour later, the entry was changed to say, “The plane was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers”.
Edit wars in Wikipedia are nothing new. Politicians, PR companies and individuals of all stripes have been caught out editing Wikipedia pages to better suit their interests and reputations.
With deeply controversial and breaking news events like the shooting down of MH17 the motivation to rewrite the first draft of history is even stronger. Although the evidence appears to place the blame at the hands of pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels ( with The Sun going even further with their front-page headline “Putin’s Missile”), Russia has denied any involvement in the incident.
Luckily edits on Wikipedia are recorded and the IP addresses of the person editing it are publicly viewable, meaning that at the very least underhand editing can be exposed.
The Twitter bot that spotted the edit, @RuGovEdits, is one of a host of government-monitoring bots that include the US congress-focussed @CongressEdits, which were inspired by the UK’s @ParliamentEdits.