Draft blog post on federal and congressional editing

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Workspace: Public policy Status: Draft

Draft post

Post has been published here.


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

We may want a statement about congressional edits similar to the Donovan House PR statement; see also [1].

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

w:NIH has a stated policy. See Guidelines for Participating in Wikipedia from NIH. Key points include:

  • NIH scientists and health and science writers can contribute to Wikipedia within their own fields -- not other fields, on government time, though on personal time of course this okay.
  • Claims should be sources/footnoted/cited, and it is good to seize opportunities to cite NIH work.
  • Edits to the articles on NIH programs should be approved through the appropriate communication officer (not be edited ad hoc by anyone from NIH).
  • Time spent on Wikipedia entries should be predetermined and approved by the immediate supervisor.
  • NIH staff may only share information that is in the public domain and contribute factual information not opinion, and avoid discussions of policy.


  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.