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Wikipedia Edits Forecast Vice Presidential Picks

McCain and Palin Begin Joint Campaign
McCain and Palin Begin Joint Campaign (Melina Mara - The Washington Post)

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By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008; 5:47 PM

In the days leading up to Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate announcement, political junkies glued to broadcasts and blogs for clues of McCain's veep choice might have done better to keep a sharp eye on each candidate's Wikipedia entry.

Just hours before McCain declared his veep choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, her Wiki page saw a flurry of activity, with editors adding details about her approval rating and husband's employment. Perhaps more tellingly, some of the same users editing her page were almost simultaneously updating McCain's Wiki entry, adding information dealing with accuracy, sources and footnotes to each.

While Palin was among the least well-known of the potential GOP vice presidential picks - and therefore perhaps the candidate whose Wikipedia page was most in need of updating - her entry saw far more activity than that of Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, probably the next most obscure potential choice.

On August 28, Palin's entry was updated at least 68 times, with at least an additional 54 changes made to her entry over the preceding five days. In contrast, Pawlenty's entry received 54 alterations on the 28th, and just 12 changes during the prior five days.

There appeared to be very little crossover between Wikipedia user accounts editing the Pawlenty and McCain entries, said Terry Gudaitis, director of cyber intelligence for Cyveillance, an Arlington, Va. based Internet monitoring company.

The Wiki page for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) was edited approximately two dozen times during that same period. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's page saw just 17 edits between the 23rd and the 28th.

"We noticed the same pattern when we looked at changes in Wiki pages for [Democratic Vice Presidential candidate] Sen. Joseph Biden and [Virginia] Governor Tim Kaine and some of the other potential Democratic candidates," Gudaitis said. "We saw a lot of accuracy and footnote changes on Biden's, while on Kaine's page there were a few but not too many. Also, a couple of the same editors were working on both the Obama and Biden Wiki pages."

On August 22nd, the day before the Obama campaign officially named Biden as the veep pick, Biden's Wiki page garnered roughly 40 changes. Over the five days prior, users would make at least 111 other changes to his entry.

In contrast, Kaine's Wiki profile earned 28 changes on the eve of the announcement, and just 22 alterations in the preceding five days.

At approximately 5 p.m. ET yesterday, the company's analysts noticed a spike in the editing traffic to Palin's Wiki page, and that some of the same Wiki users appeared to be making changes to McCain's page.

Cyveilliance normally trawls the Internet for data on behalf of clients seeking open source information in advance of a corporate acquisition, an important executive hire, or brand awareness. For example, an executive updating his Wikipedia page or resume on Monster.com may be an indication of that person's plans to change jobs, or even that the company is in financial trouble.

Gudaitis said the company decided to monitor the veep picks on a lark to test the applicability of its open source methods in the sphere of politics. In addition to the Wiki pages, the company monitored chatter on other Internet sites that discussed the observations, movements and locations of potential VP candidates.

Blogs by pilots and others in the airline and private aviation industry also are a font of open source information, Gudaitis said.

"Sometimes you'll have personnel at private airports who see activity and discuss it on blogs and forums, saying 'Hey, I noticed this person leaving in the dead of night'," Gudaitis said.

News that Palin, the mayor of a small town in Alaska just two years ago, was the GOP VP pick came this morning after CNN reported that a private plane had traveled from the Last Frontier to Dayton, Ohio, where McCain unveiled his vice presidential pick today.


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