The denial was unequivocal. “This smear is categorically false and defamatory,” the Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said, insisting he was not behind an anonymous Wikipedia account, “Contribsx”, that altered the entries of politicians – including Mr Shapps himself.
But an analysis by The Independent has revealed intriguing details about Contribsx and the user’s obsession with Mr Shapps’ reputation.
Wikipedia logs show Contribsx came to life on 25 August 2013, proclaiming to be a floating voter with a “broad interest in UK politics”. Over the next five days, Contribsx made a series of fairly uncontroversial amendments to the Wikipedia pages of a number of British politicians. The user pointed out that Francis Maude had helped prepare the Conservative Party for Government in 2010, and added details of David Miliband’s salary as head of the International Rescue Committee in New York.
Then, on 1 September, Contribsx contacted another Wikipedia editor called Edwardx for advice on a project.
“As you can see I work on UK and US political figures only,” wrote Contribsx – despite having only been a user for less than a week. “I fact check, bring up to date and/or add any significant information which is missing. I have been contemplating tackling the Shapps page which is in need of some work. Looks to have been hijacked somewhat and is in need of tightening up with proper balance achieved.”
Contribsx added that before they did anything, they “wanted to touch base” because they had seen Edwardx had been in a dispute with an “annoying user” who had been “removing chunks of text without justification”.
Edwardx replied enthusiastically: “Your proposed approach sounds excellent.”
Contribsx was delighted. “I will be careful not to remove criticism... This should be a balanced and dispassionate article like all others.”
Except this is not quite how things turned out. Contribsx’s first change was to remove a reference at the top of the Shapps page to Michael Green – the alter ego under which the Conservative chairman sold his get-rich-quick schemes before he became an MP.
Then Contribsx removed a critical reference to donations Mr Shapps had received in opposition from firms connected with his shadow ministerial housing portfolio.
But it was a revision to Shapps’ Wikipedia entry three days later that really alarmed other users. Contribsx deleted swathes of the entry relating to controversies surrounding Mr Shapps business activities and seemed keen to add in rebuttals for every allegation relating to the Tory chairman.
In fact, a study of Contribsx’s Wikipedia alterations reveals that on almost every occasion in which the user made small changes to other people’s entries, they also made changes to the Shapps page, which were often more controversial and extensive. In Contribsx’s last edit, on Easter Sunday this year, the Wikipedia page of Karl Turner, the shadow Attorney General, was changed. Two weeks earlier, Turner had called on the Prime Minister to investigate Shapps over his repeated denials that he had posed as “web millionaire” Michael Green while an MP.
The user posted on Turner’s Wiki page that the Labour MP had “admitted breaking House of Commons rules by sending out invitations to a £45-a-head Labour party fundraising event from parliamentary email”. Contribsx did not add that the Parliamentary Commissioner for standards had dismissed the allegations.
What is also strange is the lengths that such a “floating” voter should go to keep their online identity a secret. Wikipedia tracked a range of IP addresses used by Contribsx to a web hosting service regularly used by spammers. The same service had been used by an anonymous user in 2013 to remove material from Wikipedia related to Michael Green.
Of course, none of this proves anything. But one thing is certain: somewhere out there is a very dedicated fan of Mr Shapps who is very protective of their privacy.
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