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Game Over: Wikipedia Locks Down Potential VP Pages In Response to Colbert Mischief-Making

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, August 8 2012

The act of observing something can sometimes change the thing being observed. Case in point: my observation on Monday that we might be able to get useful clues as to the identity of Mitt Romney's vice president pick by watching for a surge of edits on their Wikipedia page.

Not any more.

Last night, Stephen Colbert played a snippet of a Fox News report noting the jump in last-minute edits to Sarah Palin's page four years ago, and then he went to town. Assuming that Wikipedia edits were the tip-off, he declared, "We could be looking at Vice President Season Six of Buffy-the-Vampire Slayer. So, Nation, let your voice be heard in this history decision. Go on Wikipedia, and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender." He then proceeded to mime editing Tim Pawlenty's page. (You can find the segment at about 8:40 minutes in, here.)

Well, Rob Portman's page has had 112 edits since Sunday, against 52 for Marco Rubio and just 18 for Pawlenty. But as of last night, the Pawlenty page was locked to protect it from vandalism. In addition, the Portman and Rubio pages have been "semi-protected" by site administrators, which means they can only be edited by registered users. The same thing has been done to the pages for Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and David Petraeus (who got a burst of attention yesterday because of an item on the Drudge Report). That means that only people who have already been on Wikipedia for at least four days and previously made ten edits to other unprotected pages can edit these pages.

Even without the pages being locked, yesterday afternoon — before Colbert decided to have some fun — it was already clear that noise was overwhelming signal on the Portman and Rubio pages. My little item had been picked up by Politico, HotAir, NPR, Digg, Reddit, DailyKos, The Guardian (hey, Huffington Post, what gives?), and the Reddit community in particular was already swarming around the Portman page, sniffing for clues of misbehavior. The Internet loves nothing more than a scavenger hunt, after all.

Oh well, I guess we all just pushed the needle deeper into the haystack.

With Miranda Neubauer

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