Why shouldn’t Federal employees edit Wikipedia entries?

This looks to me like a pseudo-scandal. But how many edits have been made by Exxon-Mobil or Burston Marsteller

Offhand, I’m not sure why we’re supposed to be upset that a bunch of Wikipedia entries have been edited from federal government computers. A bunch of people work for the government, after all, and only a tiny fraction of them graduated from Regent University. Many of the rest actually know something. I wouldn’t want Wikipedia deprived of all that information.

If the edits are politically tendentious, that would be a reason to worry. But so far there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. And if there are really dirty tricks going on, wouldn’t you expect the dirty tricksters to use cyber-cafes rather than federal computers?

An obvious solution, if indeed there’s a problem to be solved, would be to have a separate page on which every Wikipedia edit made from a federal computer gets listed. That would make it easy to find the propaganda. But that doesn’t get around the using-another-computer problem, nor the RNC problem, the ExxonMobil problem, or the Burston-Marsteller problem. There could, of course, be a law forbidding Federal employees from making Wikipedia changes except from Federal computers, but I’m not sure why we’d want to interfere with their free speech rights in that way, or cut off the flow of information from career staff that might be contrary to the party line.

A more modest solution &#8212 again, assuming that there is a problem &#8212 would be to forbid any Presidential appointee, non-career Senior Executive Service member, or Schedule C employee, from monkeying with Wikipedia or any similar site, or ordering or encouraging anyone else to do so. But I’m waiting for someone to find actual examples of bad-faith edits first.

Remember, if we start treating all information from the Federal government as automatically suspect, the terrorists Bushoids will have won.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com