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NYPD Caught Editing Articles About Eric Garner, Others: Report

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 16, 2015 10:28 AM

The New York Police Department has been caught with its hand in the virtual cookie jar. Capital New York reported Friday that several Wikipedia entries about victims of police violence had been edited or deleted by computers with IP addresses registered to the NYPD's One Police Plaza headquarters.

In particular, the article about the death of Eric Garner was modified to make Garner seem more threatening and police actions less outrageous. The article was modified to include a sentence stating that Garner was "considerably larger than any of the officers." In addition, the phrase "push Garner's face into the sidewalk" was changed to "push Garner's head into the sidewalk."

That Depends on Your Definition of 'Stop and Frisk'

Articles related to other high-profile police brutality incidents involving the NYPD were also modified, including those on Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times in 1999 after an officer mistook his wallet for a gun. Officers in the Diallo case were found not guilty in a criminal trial, but the city settled for $3 million in a civil case.

Surprisingly (or not), this isn't the first time the NYPD has been caught editing Wikipedia pages related to sensitive, newsworthy issues. In 2012 and 2013, when the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy was in the news, articles about "stop and frisk" were edited on three separate occasions by users coming from computers at One Police Plaza, Capital New York reports.

Get With the Times

Not that any of this is going to work, of course. Changes to Wikipedia articles are routinely monitored, and Wikipedia editors can easily restore deleted or altered material.

It's also surprising the NYPD -- or anyone else -- continues to edit controversial Wikipedia articles from publicly known IP address blocks. In 2007, CalTech graduate student Virgil Griffith created a tool called Wikipedia Scanner, which ties anonymous edits of Wikipedia articles to the Whois information of IP addresses, allowing users to look up Wikipedia changes particular entities make.

Back in 2007, Wikipedia Scanner was a revelation, showing us that voting machine company Diebold, for example, had deleted significant amounts of information from articles about voting machine security. Eight years later, however, organizations apparently don't know any better. In fact, secrecy has gotten worse. Shortly after Capital New York published its article, a Twitter user created a bot that tweets every time an NYPD IP address edits a Wikipedia article.

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