Difference between revisions of "Internal:Public Policy/Draft blog post on federal and congressional editing"

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(more reference points: HHS and NARA's guidancde)
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* http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/07/anyone-your-agency-editing-wikipedia/90173/
* http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/07/anyone-your-agency-editing-wikipedia/90173/
* http://fedscoop.com/twitter-bots-like-congressedits-target-agencies-wikipedia-behavior/
* http://fedscoop.com/twitter-bots-like-congressedits-target-agencies-wikipedia-behavior/
* [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/National_Archives_and_Records_Administration/Guidelines NARA's guidelines for NARA Wikipedians]
HHS Wikipedia Guidance is [http://www.hhs.gov/web/socialmedia/getting_started/wikipedia_guidance.html here]. It includes:
* "HHS staff and contractors are to follow Wikipedia’s policies, guidelines, and terms of use."
* "Editing of Wikipedia, a public Web site, may create a federal record of agency action or be subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request."
* Follow the Username policy.
* -- there's more ; keep going
=== References ===
=== References ===

Revision as of 17:50, 26 August 2014

Workspace: Public policy Status: Draft

Draft post

Congress edits Wikipedia: Our perspective as Wikipedians in the nation's capital

By Peter Meyer and James Hare

This past July, programmer Ed Summers created CongressEdits, a Twitter feed that posts an update every time an edit to Wikipedia is made anonymously from an IP address belonging to the United States Congress. Wikipedians who edit through a registered account have their edits attributed to their username, while those who edit without being logged in have their edits attributed to their IP address. The range of IP addresses used by Congressional offices is public knowledge, and the Twitter bot reports only those where the person posting wasn't logged in. In fact, Wikipedia administrators have been watching out for Congressional edits for years.

CongressEdits provided a new level of visibility to these edits. The Twitter account has around 30,000 followers as of writing; by comparison, the English-language Wikipedia has 1,400 administrators. The visibility and resulting press coverage generated a lot of interest in Wikipedia on the Hill—particularly since some of the edits are less than constructive. That said, they are mostly the kind of juvenile or disruptive edits that Wikipedia deals with every minute of every day without incident, notable only because of where the edits are coming from. Over the years Wikipedia has developed sophisticated technologies, including filters that prevent certain edits from even happening, that ensure that most trivial vandalism gets swiftly undone.

Most press coverage of CongressEdits has focused on acts of vandalism, and one would think we would want to chase Congressional staff away. In fact, Wikimedia DC welcomes edits by Congressional staff and the staffs of federal government agencies. Government staff are experts in areas of public interest, including very new hot topics. They play a promising role in our mission to make a better online reference work, with notable, neutrally phrased, verifiable content. We can overlook minor discretions and work with Capitol Hill and all federal employees to forge a path forward.

Recently we partnered with the Cato Institute for a panel on editing Wikipedia on Capitol Hill. You can read about it in U.S. News and World Report. Cato and Wikimedia DC both agree that Congress does have a part to play in Wikipedia—not political advocacy, but transparently improving the quality of information about legislation and other Congressional activity. This includes not just direct edits to articles, but making data about government more open and machine-readable for reuse in highly visible third-party platforms like Wikipedia. There is a great potential for Wikipedia as a platform to increase awareness of Congress' activities, a potential we should not overlook.

Best practices for federal employees

Wikimedia DC is interested in developing best practices for employees at all levels of government. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been working with the Wikipedia community since 2011, pioneering government engagement with Wikipedia and showcasing the potential to serve the public.

If you or your agency are interested in participating as a Wikipedia editor, we recommend these basic best practices:

  • Acknowledge your potential conflicts of interest. The community of volunteers that maintains Wikipedia cares very strongly about potential conflict of interest. To this end, avoid editing articles on your boss or your employer. Additionally, being transparent about your affiliation can help build trust. NARA has (a standard format for conflict-of-interest disclaimers), a format which can be freely copied and re-used by others in the federal government. At a future event we will come up with a disclaimer that would work best for Congressional staff specifically.
  • Individuals should register accounts on Wikipedia—not groups. Wikipedia's policies do not permit the registration of group or company accounts; each account must be used by one person only.
  • Look into other agencies' best practices. Generally we think the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and NARA have good sets of rules for employees to edit Wikipedia. [links to these best practices?]


There's been recent news of inappropriate, anonymous edits to Wikipedia from Capitol Hill, presumably from Congressional staff. It's not worrisome-

Wiki DC is trying to help shape guidelines for the ethics of editing from Capitol Hill, from government agencies, and from quasi-governmental nonprofits. Wiki DC is tracking the guidelines we can find, to learn from and compare.

Our Cultural Partnerships Coordinator, Dominic McDevitt-Parks, is a leader in this area.

  • A good principle is that a user should offer a conflict-of-interest (COI) statement if they are editing agency-related content on work time. I think that's not a hard rule and they are not all "paid editors." (this may take discussion)
  • And this applies to the congressional branch and congressional staffers.

Michelle Newby of Cato Institute had already suggested that at our next Legislative edit-a-thon we offer a draft COI statement for congressional staffers. we have several models to work from. We can't require it but we can recommend it and learn from variations.

may have a staff editathon next week. suggested using a congressional user page template based on NARA

suggested a congressional sign-on similar to Donovan House PR statement. look forward to WMDC blog on COI issues.

We can quote Dominic as a NARA expert.

There are agencies whose missions (whether it's about government records, public health information, cultural heritage, government scientific research, etc.) align with Wikipedia's work, and who should get savvy about ethical Wikipedia contribution.

Dominic published a blog post for GSA's DigitalGov blog in July, early on in the @congressedits saga. This grew out of a similar post I sent to the government-wide social media managers listserv. https://www.digitalgov.gov/2014/07/30/why-congressedits-matters-for-your-agency/ I also spoke to NextGov and FedScoop in the wake of that post: http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/07/anyone-your-agency-editing-wikipedia/90173/ http://fedscoop.com/twitter-bots-like-congressedits-target-agencies-wikipedia-behavior/ We at NARA don't necessarily want to seek out any press attention around things like ethical editing and COI (rather than our actual Wikipedia programmatic work) because every instance carries a bit of risk of negative attention, but we do believe we are leaders in within the federal government, and don't mind any positive press. In terms of NARA modeling ethical behavior on Wikipedia for other agencies and institutions, I produced the following timeline for internal use which might be useful background information for anyone representing WMDC as well:

As early as July 2011, NARA’s Social Media Team developed internal guidelines for staff editing Wikipedia. In September 2012, NARA posted these guidelines publicly on Wikipedia, after they were reviewed by general counsel, in order to promote transparency. In conjunction with the guidelines, NARA also published a blog post explicitly addressing conflict of interest on Wikipedia and detailing our approach. In October 2013, after his full-time hiring, Dominic McDevitt-Parks posted his job description and a FAQ (general counsel-vetted) about his work to his Wikipedia user page, going far beyond standard disclosure practices on Wikipedia. In May 2014, NARA created a Wikipedia template for staff user pages (general counsel-vetted) which standardizes and enforces conflict-of-interest disclosure statements by verified NARA staff Wikipedia editors and allows tracking of the accounts via a Wikipedia category.

Also of note is that HHS also has guidelines on Wikipedia that go back to 2012, but I don't know the background here about how they came to be or how they are used (it seems likely they came from NIH's Wikipedia work).

NARA has a Wikipedian-in-residence, Dominic McDevitt-Parks.

NARA has an officially collaborative project with Wikipedia's project GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) -- posting photos, videos, etc. It is described including citations to press coverage at Wikipedia's project pages for GLAM/NARA.[1] At events at NARA, Wikipedia volunteers sometimes scan photos or documents for uploading to Wikipedia Commons, or transcribe some holdings through the Wikisource project and technology.[2]

From Dominic McDevitt-Parks:

Relevant publications by or about NARA:

HHS Wikipedia Guidance is here. It includes:

  • "HHS staff and contractors are to follow Wikipedia’s policies, guidelines, and terms of use."
  • "Editing of Wikipedia, a public Web site, may create a federal record of agency action or be subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request."
  • Follow the Username policy.
  • -- there's more ; keep going


  1. GLAM/NARA project pages at Wikipedia. Press coverage is listed and hyperlinked.
  2. Partnership for Public Service; Booz Allen Hamilton. Jan 2013. #ConnectedGov: Engaging Stakeholders in the Digital Age page 16-17.