As anti-government demonstrations have intensified, articles on subjects from Hong Kong’s leadership to its police force have been ceaselessly rewritten for months on the website, used by millions everyday to check facts and untangle complex issues.
(Click tmsnrt.rs/37IPxAZ to see an interactive graphic on the Hong Kong Wiki wars.)
A Reuters analysis found a seven-fold surge in edits of the Hong Kong Police Force page over the 10 months to October, compared with a year earlier. Similar spikes occurred in articles about the protests and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Changes swapped facts for insults or inserted slabs of material that upset the balance of the articles.
Where it was possible to determine the location of the editor, 40% of edits were found to have been filed from computers in Hong Kong. Internet users can disguise their location by using a virtual private network (VPN).
The number of daily edits spiked during particularly intense clashes on the territory’s streets, and prompted Wiki administrators to restrict editing access to some pages, a common practice adopted with controversial issues.
Now, unregistered users and very new accounts cannot alter those articles directly, but have to make a request to submit edits.
“There has been a great increase in all types of disruptive editing including vandalism, edit wars, and extreme language from both of the major perspectives,” said a volunteer editor with the username MarkH21, who has 13 years’ experience.
“The level of disruptive editing against the government, particularly from sources in Hong Kong, is significantly higher,” MarkH21 said. The user did not respond to requests to be identified other than by their username.
More edits eventually improve Wikipedia articles and changes can be publicly tracked to aid transparency, said Samantha Lien, a spokeswoman for Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit entity that operates Wikipedia.
“Articles about contentious topics, in particular, because they are watched so regularly by editors, tend to become higher quality and more neutral,” Lien wrote in an emailed response to a request for comment.