Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wikisurveillance--and a little tabloid journalism

There's never a shortage of hijinks in cyberspace--people posting admiring things about themselves while pretending to be a third party, or preposterous (and often slanderous) rumors of the type studied and debunked by the admirable

But things are getting more complicated out there. Many of you have read that VP-nominee Sarah Palin's Wikipedia page received such a makeover--beginning 24 hours before the announcement of her selection--and that Wikipedia suspended public updates of her entry and is allowing only senior editors to make changes.

Many other VPs-in-waiting had their pages polished a bit in recent weeks. But Palin's page was treated to an extensive series of tweaks (including things like downplaying her beauty-pageant history). The most interesting of these were thirty changes made over five hours in the 24 hours preceding her nomination by someone who posts by the handle of Young Trigg*. (Trig, with one 'g', is the name of Sarah's youngest child; see the Yellow Journalism section at the bottom of this post.) The "Young Trigg" account was then retired. Some folks are jumping to the conclusion that Young Trigg is Sarah Palin herself, which seems patently absurd to me--I assume she had better things to do with her time in the hours before her nomination was announced.

It wouldn't be surprising at all were it someone from the McCain campaign, and I find it to be far from a scandal--in a business where outright lies are used as attacks on one's competitor, spiffing up a Wikipedia page seems like a minor sin. All of the changes Young Trigg made were certainly favorable to the candidate, but they were also arguably "true" within the Wikipedia guidelines. I imagine the public's reaction to what is being promoted as Wikigate will be, "So?"

The truly interesting part of this story has to do with how this last-minute burnishing came to light. The Washington Post became aware of the massive edits of Palin's page through a firm called Cyveillance. Cyveillance is a firm that watches internet traffic, and one of the things they monitor is updating of Wikipedia pages. According to the article in the Post:

Cyveilliance normally trawls the Internet for data on behalf of clients seeking open source information in advance of a corporate acquisition, an important executive hire, or brand awareness. For example, an executive updating his Wikipedia page or resume on may be an indication of that person's plans to change jobs, or even that the company is in financial trouble.

Gudaitis said the company decided to monitor the veep picks on a lark to test the applicability of its open source methods in the sphere of politics. In addition to the Wiki pages, the company monitored chatter on other Internet sites that discussed the observations, movements and locations of potential VP candidates.

Blogs by pilots and others in the airline and private aviation industry also are a font of open source information, Gudaitis said.

My, my. We are being watched in ways we never suspected. Roger Morris has admitted to spending most of his summer setting up new internet sites for himself. Do you suppose Roger's now on some sort of Cyveillance watch list?

So, don't go order six copies of your own book online, hoping to bump your Amazon ranking for the day from 4,333,286 up to 2,522,314. (Can six books do this? Yep.) Someone is tracking all this. And it will come up when you're nominated as VP. Or for the Booker. Or the next time you apply for a loan.

* The Tabloid Journalism Section of this Blog: (I tried a yellow font for that, but it wasn't readable. You'll have to settle for purple prose.)

One of the first things you hear about Sarah Palin is that she is so committed to her anti-abortion stance that she bore her youngest child, Trig, despite the fact they knew from amniocentesis that he had Down's Syndrome.

There have been rumors for some time that the child is actually the son of one of her teenaged daughters, Bristol, and that Mrs Palin claims it as her own. This seems on the face of it to be a preposterous story, but various events can be added up in such a way that it all hangs together. If you want to follow this tale out through its various branches, here's a good place to start.

The more I think about this story, the more I like it; it sure would be fun to write as a novel. But if you want to run with it, don't let me stand in your way--I have too much on my plate as it is.

Alas, I seriously doubt that it's true. The rumor has been around for some time, and you can bet the McCain campaign went over it with a microscope before they selected her.

Politicians only make careless, unexamined moves once they've already taken office.


Alis said...

Just to strike a semi-serious note amongst all this stuff, how do you guys in the US feel about all this ugliness and shenanigans surounding the way your political leaders are elected?
I ask partly because it seems clear to me that we're headed in the same direction here in the UK.

David Isaak said...

Hmm. Well, on my "down" days, it all makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach and makes me think about the history of Rome. On my "up" days, when my medication has been properly adjusted and I have my long pants on for school, I'm amused. Overall, the net effect is a sort of smiling loathing of the whole thing.

As to where it all leads, let me quote the famous philosopher Woody Allen:

"More than at any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Jen Ster said...

I guess it could be worse. We could be one of those countries where they break out in open warfare every time a politician sneezes. But, yeah, I'm pretty disenchanted with the whole deal.

By the way, looking at pix of Ms. Palin when she was allegedly pregnant, I ain't seein' it, and if that is her daughter's child and not hers, she should not be on any major party's ticket for anything. DNA testing, anybody?

David Isaak said...

Hey, Jen--

I'm with you on the photos. But weird things happen.

WHne I used to live in Hawaii, a women's basketball team came to play UH. One of their players collapsed during the with unbearable stomach cramps. They rushed her to the hospital, where she delivered a healthy baby, and not all that premature. Turns out she didn't even know she was pregnant.

Must be something about women basketballers. I'm picturing some really lonnnnnng skinny babies, that come out like toothpaste.

michael stephen fuchs said...

In the minutes after the Palin selection was announced, I cruised over to her Wikipedia page (as one does) to get up to speed with her. I was enormously amused to find the text above her picture, at the head of the right column, read "Sarah Palin aka MILF". I refreshed the page a few minutes later and of course it was gone. Wish I'd grabbed a screenshot.

David Isaak said...

Hi, MSF--

Yep, you missed freezing a fleeting but historic moment!

I've already seen a number of references to her as a "VPCILF," which is a coinage that's never been needed before.

Creative A said...

Wow. I don't know whether to be creeped out or impressed. I think I'm just going to raise an eyebrow and move on.

BTW David, on a slightly personal note, I sent you a PM on Absolute Write as was wondering if you got it, yet?


David Isaak said...

Hi, Creative--

Creeped out and impressed is a possibility, too.

Actually, I haven't been to AW in ages. I'll drop by. But you can always e-mail me via this blog, too (!