Who In The Australian Department of Justice Edited Julian Assange’s Wikipedia Page?

On: December 14, 2010
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About Natalie Dixon
I’m a new media thinker, strategist and writer. My current research focus is on the ‘affective bandwidth’ of mobile-mediated communication. My research interests include affective computing, HCI, biomapping, emotion, the impact of mobile phones on social behaviour, analytical design and information visualization. I graduated from the new media track of the Media and Culture masters programme in 2011.


It’s no surprise that Julian Assange’s Wikipedia page has already undergone more than 800 revisions in the first two weeks of December. On the 23 November Wikipedia changed the edit setting on the page to allow for “semi-protection” which prevents any anonymous IP addresses and unconfirmed users from editing the content.  However, before this protection change and according to the Wikipedia edit history, on 23 September 2010 shortly before midnight, the entry for Julian Assange was edited by a user whose IP address belongs to the Australian Government’s Justice Department. The user attempted to make a seemingly innocuous change to the page by adding: “Assange is a supporter of the North Melbourne Football Club” under the Early Life section of the entry. The contribution was speedily deleted a minute later by another user.

The Australian user (IP address is hardly a Wiki novice, with a thousand edits listed in their profile. The user is also warned numerous times by Wikipedia editors to refrain from vandalizing content on the site:

“This is the last warning you will receive for your disruptive edits, such as those you made to Talk:Whaling in Japan ‎. If you vandalize Wikipedia again, you will be blocked from editing. Toddst1 (talk) 15:54, 7 January 2010 (UTC).”

The user’s edit history, as provided by Wikipedia, covers a wide variety of topics including music; football; the Australian 50 dollar bill; Irish politics; politicians’ biographies; judges in the Australian judiciary; whaling in Japan; sluts; shit; and an edit war on the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships. In one edit, for the entry on “Bung”  (an apparatus used to seal a container) the user attempts this inclusion:

“Over 80% of males understand what a “bung” is, in contrast to only 5% of females. The reasons for this discrepency (sic) are unknown, but some authors have speculated that a fascination with trivial issues, unicorns and fashion may be to blame.”

Alongside other attempted edits of Assange’s page like those about the details of his custody battle and reputation and alleged rape charges, this user’s edit would seem harmless. It signals intent on the part of someone in the Department of Justice to contribute to Assange’s rich life and biography, without any political intent. But surely this breaks with protocol in the Department? Perhaps this user is giving a virtual “high five” to another North Melbourne Football Club fan but there is no guarantee that this user did not attempt other edits from a different IP address. Previously, the practice of geo-locating anonymous editors of Wikipedia resulted in scandals, and in governments and corporations banning their employees from editing Wikipedia. This Wikipedia edit is of another order but it also seems as if many of the contributions from this user are not positively and/or constructively contributing to the site. Who is this user? A bored intern? Does the Department take Wikipedia seriously? Are they monitoring this activity amongst staff? And if they are then what else can we assume?

This post is based on a Digital Methods for Internet Research assignment for the New Media Masters Course at the University of Amsterdam by Natalie Dixon.

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