Wikipedia 'sentinel' quits after using alias to alter entries

Conflict-of-interest row forces out the Labour councillor who changed David Cameron's page

A "guardian of the truth" on Wikipedia, the global internet encyclopedia, has been caught up in an embarrassing scandal after it was revealed that he created bogus online identities to change entries on the system.

David Boothroyd – a London councillor by day, a cyber policeman by night – has been forced to resign from Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee after his alias editing gave rise to a major conflict of interest.

The Labour councillor's fall from grace comes two years after he fought off stiff international competition to win a coveted seat on the 15-strong committee, which is responsible for settling hundreds of editorial disputes every day.

His membership of "ArbCom" was no longer tenable after it emerged that he had committed one of the most serious crimes in cyberspace: sockpuppeting – the use of multiple online identities to create the illusion of support for a point of view, person or organisation.

A log of publicly available page edits exposes several changes to Tory leader David Cameron's Wikipedia entry by Mr Boothroyd under the alias of Sam Blacketer, including changing the picture to one "not carrying saintly overtones".

Mr Boothroyd claims the whole thing was an "innocent oversight" and points to the numerous favourable corrections he has made to Mr Cameron's page.

Paul Williams, volunteers director at Wikimedia UK, the British arm of the American company, said: "Sock-puppeting is a very serious offence for anybody. But for someone on the Arbitration Committee it is even more so. It can result in a lifetime ban. The problem with Wikipedia is that you can hide behind user names, but there is an expectation that you don't write for self-interest. In this case there is a conflict of interest."

The online encyclopedia has been plagued with disputes since its launch in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Initially hailed as a utopian vision – an encyclopedia for the people, by the people – it quickly attracted criticisms about the inaccuracy of its content. But with 13 million entries, Wikipedia is the world's largest online encyclopedia and the eighth most popular site on the web.

The committee adjudicates on all matters. From the trivial (whether J K Rowling's surname is pronounced "ow" or "oll") to the political (the geographical borders of Palestine). It can also ban people from writing on the site, a punishment which has been meted out to Scientologists who have tried to erase criticisms of their creed.

Mr Boothroyd said: "I can be a partisan when I want to be, but I can look at things objectively. I created different user names because people found out I was a Labour councillor and kept harassing me, accusing me of being biased. Getting a new name was a form of defence. I have never written to self-serve but I admit it was wrong, although an innocent oversight."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Product Assurance Manager

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: Primary Quality Authority for a ma...

MBDA UK Ltd: Principal Supportability Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?An opportun...

MBDA UK Ltd: Principal Supportability Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? An opportu...

MBDA UK Ltd: Principal Materials Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A fantasti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy