Scottish wikileaks

Hunched over their work computer, a Whitehall civil servant spends hours fastidiously updating Wikipedia entries – on Scottish football clubs and players.

Changes to the Dunfermline Athletic squad and individual players’ goal tallies account for some of the 45 edits made in the last week alone.

The government employee started making changes at 1045 on the first day back after the Christmas break, finishing about half an hour later.

They made a further 17 changes the next day between 0921 and 1406.

But who is this mystery statistician, and how are they able to spend so much of their work day updating data on the lower leagues of Scottish football?

Sadly, we may never know.

The second-largest number of Wikipedia edits were related to Dundee United player Nadir Çiftçi (left)

The @WhitehallEdits Twitter ‘bot’, set up by Channel 4 News in August 2014, automatically tweets about any anonymous changes made by people using Whitehall-associated Internet protocol addresses.

Government offices at Whitehall include the Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth department, and the Scotland Office.

Every change to a Wikipedia page is public, as is the identity of every editor.

While most editors choose to remain anonymous, a note of their distinct IP address is recorded alongside any edit made.

Controversial edits

The Channel 4 account, and others in the US, Canada and Germany, were inspired by another Twitter ‘bot’ set up to track Wikipedia changes made by the known block of IP addresses assigned to the Houses of Parliament.

An edit detected by this @ParliamentEdits ‘bot’ led to the story of how government computers were used to add inaccurate information about the Metropolitan Police’s shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at a London underground station.

In April 2014, the BBC reported on how a Whitehall computer was allegedly used to post offensive remarks on Wikipedia related to the Hillsborough disaster.

The second-largest number of Wikipedia edits were related to Dundee United player Nadir Çiftçi (left)

However, the football-related edits from Whitehall were not made from a single IP address, and the Twitter ‘bot’ monitors only proxy addresses – meaning the individual computer of the unknown civil servant cannot be easily identified.

The Scottish football-related changes are certainly a far throw from the controversies spawned by previous Wikipedia edits to the page of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Some of the more recent revisions include: the number of goals scored by Berwick Rangers’ defender Ross Drummond; the signing of Jim Paterson by Dunfermline Athletic, and changes to the Montrose squad.

Dunfermline Athletic general manager David McMorrine told BBC Scotland that the information posted about the club was accurate but they had no idea who was doing it.

He said: “As taxpayers we’re concerned if that’s the best thing our civil servants can find to do.”

A recent document targeting civil servants clearly states “care should be taken when editing collaboratively edited websites such as Wikipedia”.

The report warns that “posts can be linked back to government IP addresses.

“Anyone found to be making inappropriate edits will be disciplined which could lead to dismissal.”

A spokesman for the UK government declined to say whether any efforts had been made to identify the individual.

He told BBC Scotland: “Civil servants are required to follow the Civil Service Code when working online.”

Editing habits

But how and why is a civil servant in the centre of the UK parliament able to spend hours updating relatively obscure football statistics?

Since the creation of the @WhitehallEdits Twitter account, 98 of the 1,080 recorded edits have been related to Scottish football.

While many of the revisions were made around the lunch hour, but the bulk of them were made in the middle of the work day between 1000 and 1100, and 1400 and 1500.

The majority of changes bookend the work week with 23 falling on Mondays, 23 on Tuesdays, and 47 on Thursdays.

The New Statesman initially reported on the mystery civil servant in November 2014 when 39 back-to-back edits were made in a single day.

In the wake of that article, a BBC Scotland analysis reveals no changes were then made to football-related Wikipedia pages until 5 January 2015.

Since then the largest number of revisions to date (45) have been made in the last week.

But the unknown football statistician is apparently not the only civil servant providing almost daily amusement for the more than 1,800 followers of the @WhitehallEdits account.

Government employees seem equally concerned with updating Wikipedia entries on topics ranging from gingerbread, the World of Warcraft role-playing game, and the Swedish crime show Wallander.