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Wikipedia Was Prophetic, Sort Of, If You Roll Back the Tape on Ryan VP Pick

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, August 13 2012

According to various news accounts, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney secretly met Rep. Paul Ryan on Sunday August 5th in Brookline, Mass., where the two men spent an hour in private conversation going over their relationship. Then Romney offered Ryan the VP slot, which he accepted.

On Monday, August 6th, I wrote a short post called "How to Spot Romney's VP Pick in Advance," which noted that in 2008, last-minute edits to Joe Biden and Sarah Palin's Wikipedia pages were a harbinger of their announcements. I observed:

None of Wikipedia entries for the current candidates being bandied about by Romney-watchers — Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Kelly Ayotte or Pawlenty — are currently showing anything like the spike in edits that Cyveillance spotted on Palin and Biden's pages back in 2008. But most of those came in the 24 hours prior to the official announcement. That said, if Wikipedia changes offer any hint of what's coming, then today might be a good day to bet on Ryan. [Emphasis added.]

I didn't make a more definitive statement because the number of recent edits to Ryan's page was only 12, just a handful more than the other contenders. And as anyone who was bored last week by the seeming lack of important political news already knows, by late Tuesday night, after a flurry of stories picking up on my article, comedian Stephen Colbert had effectively hacked my hack by calling on his viewers to add their random edits to their favorite candidates' pages. So, while registered users of Wikipedia continued to make changes to all the candidates's pages, it was no longer possible to judge whether the flurry was genuinely coming from people trying to airbrush someone's page, or the opposite.

Now that Ryan is the nominee, of course, the wars over his Wikipedia page have begun in earnest, as Megan Garber helpfully details in the Atlantic today. First detail to go, says Politico's Dylan Byers: a reference to Ryan's being voted class "brown-noser" in high school. As of now, there have been more than one thousand changes made to the page.

Were there any important edits made between August 1 and August 7? It doesn't look that way. One edit clarified that he had only "briefly" worked in marketing in one of his family's businesses before running for Congress (which is true, and might have been done to soften any appearance of resume inflation), and another challenged a revision describing the source (National Review Online) of a statement he made recently renouncing some of his devotion to libertarian objectivist Ayn Rand. But during this brief period when presumably Ryan and some of his intimates knew what was coming, and before the influx of "truthiness" injected by Colbert and everyone else, it looks like no one tried to make any significant changes to Ryan's bio. So, while my post last Monday may appear prescient, it would be more honest to say that I was just lucky.