/ 5 September 2008

Heard about John McCain’s special ability?

United States Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday fell victim to cheeky editing of his profile on Wikipedia.

His profile starts with a brief overview of his biography, ranging from his graduation from the US Naval Academy in 1958 and his time as a naval aviator to the years spent as a prisoner-of-war during the Vietnam War.

“His war wounds would leave him with lifelong physical limitations,” the synopsis originally ended — but then the following sentence was added: “McCain’s slightly ‘puffed up’ swollen cheeks are the result of his special rodent-like ability to store nuts in his mouth for the cold winter.”

Minutes later, however, the unwelcome addition had been removed.

The veracity of Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit, has been criticised as it is relatively easy to vandalise an entry by adding false information.

However, the website’s dedicated volunteer editors keep a close watch especially on articles relating to controversial people and subjects.

The McCain article is classified as “semi-protected”, in order to prevent editing by anonymous users or by users with unconfirmed accounts.

Though sometimes defamatory — the article on Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, once sported a line accusing him of paedophilia — Wikipedia vandalism is often light-hearted.

A profile picture of Microsoft founder Bill Gates had horns drawn on to Gates’s head along with a moustache. And for 10 months, a Wikipedia entry informed readers of a Mediterranean island called Porchesia, population 354 897 — which never existed.