NYPD Hacks Wikipedia With False Information
The profound and odious ways the authorities manipulate information have long been a subject of study. After a couple years of very bad press, the New York Police Department is in the spotlight again for what some see as unforgivable shenanigans on a few Wikipedia pages.
In the most heinous cases, about a dozen IP addresses associated with the NYPD made subtle changes to the pages about to victims of excessive force. Specifically Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, all of whom were killed in high-profile incidents by the department. The page about the Eric Garner incident, where officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Garner using a choke hold the department had trained officers not to use, was modified just hours after a New York City grand jury decided not to indict the officer for the wrongful death of Garner. The image below demonstrates the importance of how information is conveyed.
Eric Garner Case Semantically Engineered
As you can see, the description of Garner’s surrendering body language is changed to “flailing,” which can be interpreted as a threatening gesture. The size of the man is added in an attempt to garner pity for the officers, who were smaller in stature than Eric Garner. Garner’s size did not prevent Pantaleo from successfully subduing the man on that fateful day.
On the page of Amadou Diallo, the man killed in 1999 when police officers claimed to mistake a wallet for a gun, an NYPD IP address changed a crucial fact about officer Kenneth Boss, whom Amy Goodman had reported as having killed another unarmed man in 1997. The edit changed “unarmed” to “armed.” According to a Village Voice article from the era, the evidence as to whether Bailey was or was not armed is conflicting. The Anti-Crime Unit that Kenneth Boss was a member of was similar in nature to the “Rough Riders” of the Oakland Police Department. By this, it is meant that these officers were not operating within the normal procedural framework expected of them. In Bailey’s killing, for instance, they did not announce themselves as police at all.
In any case, an edit made in the interest of truth and factuality would have simply changed the term to the naked “man,” without the word “armed” or “unarmed,” since it is objectively hard to establish whether the unloaded shotgun was a plant or not. (Witnesses of the killing insist that Bailey was unarmed; in the event that he actually had been holding a gun, the fact that the officers had not identified themselves would make it seem reasonable for the man to wield it against unidentified, armed intruders.)
Police Inserting Themselves in Band Profiles and Adding Homophobic Falsities
In less nefarious edits made by addresses associated with the NYPD – the full list of which is available here – an anonymous editor from the department added three officers to the line-up of British anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba. In August, 2009, they changed the names of Lou Watts, Boff Whalley, and Jude Abbot to Mark Kraljevic, Danny Levine, and Paul Law, all of whom are NYPD officers.
The more reprehensible hijinx of the department are on the page about the eye infection Stye, where they make ludicrous claims about the disease emanating from homosexual acts.
New York City is a big place and it’s not surprising that Capital caught them in these many acts of information manipulation. The question is where else these sorts of edits are going unnoticed, and how effective community editing can be in an age of unprecedented disinformation.
Images from Shutterstock.