Why Would Someone From The Russian Government Edit Wikipedia's Entry On MH17?

What people choose to edit on Wikipedia can say a lot.

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While the world is still reeling from the shocking deaths of 298 people onboard MH17 on 17 July, the battle to write and re-write history has already begun online

Thanks to a Twitter bot that monitors Wikipedia edits made from Russian government IP addresses, someone from the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) has been caught editing a Russian-language Wikipedia reference to MH17 in an article on aviation disasters.

The Twitter bot @RuGovEdits, which is only one week old, records Wikipedia edits made from Russian IP addresses — unique numbers that identify each computer on a network

On 18 July, an IP address associated with Russia's state-run broadcasting company edited the page "List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation" to attribute the crash to the "Ukrainian military"

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The entry on the Russian-language version of Wikipedia was changed by someone using an IP address belonging to VGTRK, a television and radio network run by the Russian government. The edit was caught by the Twitterbot @RuGovEdits. Launched last week, the account sends out a notification whenever it detects edits to Wikipedia pages made by people using Russian government IP addresses.

The anonymous user revised one sentence, about which the bot alerted the public with a tweet that said (translated): "Wikipedia article List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation has been edited by RTR [another name for VGTRK]"

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The original entry stated:

"The plane was shot down by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation."

The revised entry, written less than an hour after the original, said:

"The plane was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers."

An address associated with Vladimir Putin's office has also made multiple edits to the page for the crash itself

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While some stated that the news was being overblown:

"People are blowing this out of proportion. One over-eager official edits wikipedia and suddenly it is "Russian goverment omg omg omg wtf!""

""Someone at the Kremlin edited wikipedia" is the latest proof Russia shot down a plane."

"If Russia wanted to run a disinfo psyop I think they would do a better job than simply editing a Wikipedia page using bad opsec. Seriously."

Others speculated that the edit was a propaganda move by the Russian government:

"This clumsy attempt at propaganda only makes the russian government appear amateurish. It also makes their denials of culpability seem less truthful."

"Don't go on #Wikipedia for #MH17. Reportedly Russia government is Puting maximum spin on it. Please RT"

The edit, however, could have been made by anyone at the television company, as this Reddit user emphasised:

"The tweet actually says that Wiki's article has been edited by VGTRK which is a television company. Jeez. VGTRK has thousands of employes, the ordinary people, who can edit Wiki from their work PC-s, any of them could do that. But telegraph decided to make an article out of nothing."

Edit wars in Wikipedia are nothing new. Politicians, PR companies and individuals of all stripes have been caught out editing Wikipedia pages to better suit their interests and reputations.

What people choose to edit on Wikipedia can say a lot.

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With deeply controversial and breaking news events like the shooting down of MH17 the motivation to rewrite the first draft of history is even stronger. Although the evidence appears to place the blame at the hands of pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels, Russia has denied any involvement in the incident.

Luckily edits on Wikipedia are recorded and the IP addresses of the person editing it are publicly viewable, meaning that at the very least underhand editing can be exposed.

Meanwhile, answers to questions you might have about the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Follow the latest verified updates on MH17 on SAYS: