Government computers edited Wikipedia to downplay killings

Wiki articles on Jean Charles de Menezes and Damilola Taylor are among the pages altered by users on a government network

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A shrine remembering Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station via wikimedia.org

Great news, everyone – the government might be spending your taxes on editing Wikipedia pages to make themselves look less bad. 

A Channel 4 investigation has revealed that government computers have covertly edited Wiki articles to be more sympathetic towards its involvement in high-profile cases, including the killings of Jean Charles de Menezes, Damilola Taylor and Lee Rigby.

On the Wiki article for de Menezes – the 27-year-old Brazilian who was shot by the Metropolitan Police after being mistaken for a terrorist – a user on a government computer network deleted an entire section on the mishandling of the case by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). 

The anonymous user went on to add text about the IPCC, describing its position as a branch of government designed to increase public confidence. They also added information casting suspicion on the levels of illegal substances in his bloodstream and a sentence describing a "public backlash against Menezes, with British tabloid newspaper in particular protesting that he has received more publicity than any of the 52 people who died in the bombings".

A spokesperson for the de Menezes family described the Wikipedia edits as "one more smear and attack on the family". 

Government computers were also used to change the Wikipedia page for Damilola Taylor, the Nigerian schoolboy who was killed in Peckham in 2010. An anonymous user swapped the word "murdered" to simply say that he had "died" on the page.

Information about the death of Lee Rigby was also deemed "not notable enough" to be included for an article on terrorism.

Left-wing anti-war activists Stop The War were also hit, with an edit claiming that the group believes "that terror attacks on Britain are justified because of the UK's involvement in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein".

A government spokesperson said in a statement: "Government takes these matters very seriously. We have recently reminded civil servants of their responsibilities under the Civil Service Code and any breaches of the code will be dealt with. We will shortly be issuing fuller guidance on using the internet and social media to all departments."

The revelations come at a sensitive time for Wikipedia as it battles the EU's "right to be forgotten" law, which it believes to be censorship. Google has been asked to remove five links to Wikipedia in just the last week.

Speaking at the launch of Wikimedia's transparency report, the site's founder Jimmy Wales said: "History is a human right and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another. I’ve been in the public eye for quite some time. Some people say good things, some people say bad things, that’s history, and I would never use any kind of legal process to try to suppress it.”

Unless, of course, you're on a government computer.

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