Your tax dollars are hard at work … editing the ‘Horse head mask’ page on Wikipedia


This is a photo of President Obama shaking the hand of a man wearing a horse mask. (Jewel Samad/AFP)

Apparently, congressional staffers don't have enough work to do, because they're editing Wikipedia pages for the most pressing issues of our time -- including (but not limited to) horse head masks.

On Wednesday, someone with an IP address (a unique number assigned to devices accessing the Internet on a network) linked to Congress updated the "Horse head mask" Wikipedia page to include this essential detail: "On July 8th, 2014, [[President Barack Obama]] shook hands with a man wearing a horse head mask in [[Denver]]."

(More on President Obama's encounter with the horse head masked one here. And here.)

Over the years, there has been a lot written about Wikipedia edits – from the mundane to more serious accusations of revisionist history – originating from sources within Congress. In 2006, the Lowell Sun broke the story of a Hill staffer editing the Wikipedia entry of his boss, whose broken campaign promises were deleted while glossy biographical details were added.

A newly formed Twitter account has automated the process of revealing those changes. @Congressedits is based on a similar account devoted to the British Parliament. The IP addresses are fairly easy to come by, and it uses a script similar to what you might accomplish with an "If This Then That" command to send notifications to Twitter.

Congress edits

While @Congressedits doesn't identify individual staffers or offices, it has uncovered some ... uh ... interesting uses of congressional time.

Someone edited Heritage Foundation fellow Brian Darling's Wikipedia page to add that he was involved with breeding rare long-haired cats as a child. Fascinating!


(Wikipedia)

One close reader of  U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah's page changed "22 billion dollars" to "$22 billion," which we have to admit is a genuine public service to those of us who are OCD about edits.

There's also the Blake Farenthold anonymous staffer who added Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) to the Wiki page for Corpus Christi, Tex. (Incidentally, this person also messed up the code on the page and had to go back in to fix it.)

If you aren't already following the account, it may be worth it for the same reason you might monitor Sunlight Foundation's Politwoops page, which tracks the deleted tweets of politicians and has become an invaluable accountability resource.

[This post has been updated to fix a typo and clarify how the @Congressedits account sends notifications via Twitter.]

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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