Jul 11 4:26 PM

Those who do not learn history are doomed to retweet it

There’s a new government watchdog in town, and it’s a bot. Congress-Edits tracks anonymous edits to Wikipedia pages that are linked to congressional IP addresses, then tweets out a link from @congressedits.

Many congressional offices use the same IP addys, and an office computer could be in the hands of a member of Congress, a staffer or an intern, so this is not quite like sampling DNA from the House spittoon, but sunshine is the best disinfectant (well, except for with the House spittoon — for that, use bleach), and a flurry of activity can call attention to anything from some biography polishing in advance of a campaign to a special love of long-haired cats.

Congress-Edits is reminiscent of WikiScanner, a publicly searchable database of anonymous Wikipedia edits, created by a technologist/programmer after hearing of, funny enough, Congress members editing their own Wikipedia pages.

Though the bulk of edits are innocuous, Wikipedia changes have raised eyebrows in the past. In 2006, staffers in the office of Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., were caught buffing their boss’s Wikipedia entry (Meehan denied any knowledge of the actions and blamed an intern). The page for Sarah Palin was favorably revised dozens of times in the days before she was tapped as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. (Those edits were not linked to a congressional IP, but to a Wikipedia user called “YoungTrigg” — a reference to the Alaskan half-governor’s youngest son — who later claimed to be a McCain campaign volunteer.)

Most recently on @congressedits, a Senate IP has done work on the page for Akron Public Schools, while a House office has been editing Lower Yangtze Mandarin — apparently, “The Beijing dialect was not only influenced by various northern dialects.”

Since the Palin discoveries, clusters of Wikipedia edits have been sometimes thought to predict near-future activity. Given the amount of legislation coming out of this record do-nothing Congress, however, the amount of Wikipedia action might be more a reflection what Congress is doing with all its spare time.

Why make history when you can just endlessly revise it?

. . .

PS Al Jazeera America has a few bots of its own, tracking congressional “activity” on immigration, energy and pot.

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter