A dispute between the Republican research firm America Rising and a Wikipedia editor named “Jehochman” has triggered a debate about editing Wikipedia pages during political campaigns.
Jonathan Hochman, founder of an Internet marketing and technology firm in Cheshire, Conn., is the man behind Jehochman. In his spare time, Hochman monitors potential conflicts of interest and controversial edits on the free encyclopedia.
“We take pains to make sure any additions made to a page are based in fact,” says @AmericaRising president.
After Buzzfeed published an article containing screenshots of edits made by an America Rising employee to pages of Democratic candidates, Hochman responded by blocking the user, who goes by the name “Sprinkler Court.”
On Sept. 15, for example, Sprinkler Court updated the page of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee from Georgia. Nunn forged a relationship with the Bush family during her tenure as chief executive of the Points of Light Foundation; Sprinkler Court wrote that former President George H.W. Bush chose not to endorse her. In another example from April, Sprinkler Court added a video of Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, “making disparaging comments about Chuck Grassley” to Braley’s page.
Tim Miller, president of America Rising, said the objections made by Jehochman and other Wikipedia administrators were “very general and emotional rather than providing objections to specific edits that were made by anybody at America Rising.
“We take pains to make sure any additions made to a page are based in fact, relevant and meet all the standards and have citations from reputable sources,” Miller told The Daily Signal.
Following the Rules
During consultations with “long-time respected Wikipedia editors” earlier this year, Miller said he and other employees of America Rising were advised to disclose their affiliation with the PAC upon making edits that could be deemed in favor of their political interest.
Sprinkler Court followed that advice, declaring on his user page that “I am making contributions to articles and topics where I may have a conflict of interest or vested interest. I work for a Republican research firm called America Rising LLC in Arlington, Virginia.”
Despite the transparency, Hochman said Wikipedia is a “demilitarized zone during these elections” and “not a place for any political consultants to make edits to these politicians.
“I would argue they’re the wrong person to be making that edit,” said Hochman. “Maybe he was being very careful and making edits that were factual, but if that was allowed to go on it ends up being a test of limits.”
Sparking a Debate
Other administrators disagree, however, citing Hochman’s unilateral ban as “silly” and a decision in need of “a stronger consensus.”
“I’m highly uncomfortable with a single admin making a block of this nature, especially when it’s an admin who runs a marketing firm, and especially when your original block message simply isn’t true. Paid editing isn’t forbidden; paid editing without disclosure is forbidden. From what I can see of Sprinkler’s edits, he pretty clearly complies with our disclosure requirements,” wrote Wikipedia administrator Kevin Gorman on Sprinkler Court’s user page.
According to Miller, the edits made were made in the public interest in “the spirit of Wikipedia’s creation.”
“In large part, what we added was very obvious, relevant, fact-based information about political figures in the the public eye,” said Miller.
Although Hochman has a history of contributions to the Democratic National Committee, he insisted his decision to block Sprinkler Court from further editing was “a completely nonpartisan action.”
“This is equal opportunity on all sides. We are definitely not trying to favor one side of the political spectrum over the other,” said Hochman.
Wikipedia administrator Chris Troutman expressed a different take on the situation.
“I become very concerned when admins begin asserting authority beyond their remit,” Troutman wrote Tuesday. “I think this harassment of Sprinkler Court is unfortunate, although not surprising.”