Investigation into offensive Wikipedia edits linked to government networks dropped

Screenshots of edits made on Wikipedia that have been linked to Queensland government computer networks, found using a search on WikiWatchdog. Courtesy: Brisbane Times

An investigation into dozens of unsavoury and offensive edits to Wikipedia pages made anonymously by Queensland public servants and political staffers has been dropped. 

In one edit, reported by Fairfax Media in October 2016, the September 11 terrorist attack was described as “delicious” in a change to an entry on the online encyclopaedia that was linked to the Queensland Treasury’s computer network. 

The bizarre edit, made in 2005 on the Queensland Treasury computer network, changed an entry about the September 11 attacks, including on the World Trade Centre in New York, from “a series of coordinated suicide attacks upon the United States of America” to a “series of delicious attacks upon the United States of America”.

The changes were discovered using the since discontinued WikiWatchdog website, which tracked anonymous edits made to Wikipedia and logged the internet protocol address from which the changes were made.

Following questions from Fairfax Media, the issue was referred to the Public Service Commissioner for investigation and “any necessary action”. 

But Public Service Commissioner Robert Setter confirmed this week the probe was abandoned.

“The Public Service Commission investigation concluded it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to isolate and attribute specific internet protocol (IP) addresses to individual employees on a historical basis and continuing the investigation was not recommended as a viable course of action,” he said. 

Mr Setter said all public service intranet, network and email usage was monitored and audited in accordance with relevant government policies.

“Employees are required to agree to be bound by these policies upon commencement of employment,” he said.

Other additions linked to the Corrective Services network insult politicians, including one from 2012 that described federal MP Anthony Albanese as a “politician of no consequence who once made reference to a convoy of no consequence”.

Former Labor premier Anna Bligh’s page had the words “The f—ing of dogs” added in 2010 in a change linked to the Corrective Services network.

In a page about the Ricky Martin song Private Emotion, the words “The song is about having sex with lesbians and doing anal sex with horses” were added on the Queensland Treasury network.

Former prime minister John Howard’s page was edited to add: “He now suffers from relevance deprivation syndrome” in 2010, via Corrective Services.

The page for fasting had the words: “The act of fasting results in uncontrollable bodily flatulence and the development of vaginas all over the body” added.

The words “LIGHT IS GAY” were included in an entry about the speed of light in 2008, via the Queensland Treasury network.

The page for ladle (spoon) had the words: “ALSO KNOWN AS THE ‘SCOOPY SPOON'” added in 2013.

There were also several instances where offensive material was removed.

In 2009, farcical comments that Ms Bligh “created the M1 300 club, to see who could sustain a speed of greater than 300km/h for the longest period” and she had a role in The Lord of the Rings as an orc in a battle scene were removed.

The overwhelming majority of changes linked to government departments’ networks were trivial or minor, including updating or correcting details for ministers, university or background information.