Website bans Congress staff over alterations

LEGISLATIVE aides, press officers, researchers and other Congressional staffers have been blocked from writing for the online encyclopedia Wikipedia after it was discovered that they were breaching the website's ethics code and removing politically inconvenient or embarrassing information about members of Congress.

The affair, which has inevitably been dubbed "Wikigate", has embarrassed Congressional staffers. The open-source encyclopedia is the world's largest reference work. The English-language version of the site contains more than 900,000 entries - six times as many as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia operates on a good-faith basis, assuming that the accumulated wisdom of many contributors and editors constantly revising entries will ensure their accuracy and objectivity. Among more than 1,000 changes to entries made from computers on Capitol Hill was the removing of references to Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan's promise to leave the House of Representatives after four terms - a promise he has subsequently found inconvenient to keep.

"Meehan first ran for Congress in 1992 on a platform of reform," the original entry said. "As part of that platform Meehan made a pledge to not serve more than four terms.

"This breaking of the pledge has been a controversial issue in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts."

Once the entry had been edited by Meehan's staff, the new entry read: "Meehan was elected to Congress in 1992 on a plan to eliminate the deficit. His fiscally responsible voting record since then has earned him praise from citizen watchdog groups. He was re-elected by a large margin in 2004."

The alterations had broken the encyclopedia's honour system, said Jimmy Wales, the volume's founder.

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