On July 28, Aragon Alexandre of Folha de S. Paulo reported that eleven of Brazil’s federal government computers were used to modify Wikipedia pages between 2008 and 2014. The IPs indicate that Serpro (the Federal Data Processing Service) and the Presidency edited articles on both allies and opposition to the current government, adding compliments, suppressing criticism and so on. More recently, on August 12, Exame magazine reported 256 Wikipedia interventions from computers connected to the Presidential Palace’s wifi network.
Controlling knowledge, information and the historical narrative has always been a way of exercising power and enlisting popular support. Since politics is about perception, it has always been necessary to persuade the people that the system in power is just and should be perpetuated, and that one or another group “deserves” power.
In the old Soviet Union, Stalin erased old allies from pictures. In Brazil Getulio Vargas presented himself as a savior of popular and black cultures through his own (selective and controlling) cultural policy, relegating to oblivion recreational, sports, carnival and dancing associations formed by poor and black people in the cities, especially in the old capital, Rio de Janeiro. In fiction, the totalitarian state of 1984 even created a new language to express the worldview of the party in power, formulated so as to make any kind of thinking outside its boundaries impossible.
Politicians have never been short on ideas to manipulate and try to get more power, but the recent attempt to edit Wikipedia articles is at best laughable. The Internet is one of the greatest technologies for free expression, thinking and press.
Wikipedia, especially its English version, is an excellent example of how open collaboration and voluntary cooperation can achieve excellent results. Thousands of people work diligently to make Wikipedia’s content incrementally better, while the government tries to edit articles to meet its objectives. One by one, these edits have been weeded out by other users.
And, so that the government is put under even more scrutiny, the Twitter bot @BRWikiEdits has been created, modeled after the US-centered @congressedits (a move that has also been replicated in Canada and in the UK as well). @BRWikiEdits is a bot that tracks edits to Wikipedia page performed by computers from the Senate, the House of Deputies and several other government branches.
It’s a welcome effort in a cyber-libertarian activism that has also been responsible for a ramping up our online privacy against government surveillance through encryption and helping take our economy out of the corporations’ hands through P2P networks and crypto-currencies. Edit bots now act to protect our information sources, and have already tracked several modifications to Wikipedia pages.
The recent unanimous approval of the Civil Landmark of the Internet in Brazil, without much discussion in society (who does it benefit?) proves the necessity of increased activism online.
The government can’t extend his power over the internet. It’s too powerful a tool to be put in service of power, the re-writing of history and the suppression of freedom of thought.
Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.
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