Anonymous edits to Norwegian Wikipedia from Norwegian government IPs

Originally published at:

Well on the one hand, using wiki for government propaganda is a pretty crappy thing. Cf. Snowden. But on the other hand I don’t think editors in other lines of work are expected to disclose that. Am I wrong?

I got curious about the nature of these edits, so I picked out a half dozen at random to try and make sense of the articles in question and what was changed

(I don’t speak Norwegian, so this is slight guesswork, relying on context and my study of language and general linguistic skills, and a bit of google-fu and brute translation where necessary).

  1. Danmarks ambassade i Oslo

I got this right away: Denmarks’ Ambassador / Embassy in Oslo. The edit appears to have been updating and fixing a link to a .pdf file titled “The Oslo Diplomatic List”.

  1. Mogens Thorsens gate

Another relatively simple one, “Mogens Thorsens gate” is a street in the city of Oslo, named for Mogens Thorsen, and the edit was the correction of a typo, with “Thorsen” having previously been “Thorson”.

  1. Kristen Tobias Rivertz

This article had formatting which supplied ample context, allowing me to easily determine that Kristen Tobias Rivertz was a Norwegian architect, who lived from 1862 to 1937, and who apparantly has connections to the city of Oslo.

The edit in question was a simple formatting update, changing “Frogner terrasse” to “Frogner terrasse (Oslo)” - presumably this -terrace- was one of Rivertz’ works, and presumably there is another terrace elsewhere with the same name, hence the specification of (Oslo).

  1. Henry Bucher

Another Norwegian architect, 1864 to 1944, again associated with Oslo. This edit merely added a few pictures to the gallery, specifically of Huitfeldts gate and Akersgata, apparently two more streets akin to Mogen Thorsens gate.

  1. Byantikvarens gule liste

Apparently this is a “kommune” in Oslo, which seems to essentially refer to a small region or district. The edit was the removal of an external link, apparently to a document hosted on the commune’s official website, presumably because the link led to a document that was moved or no longer existed.

  1. Sørumsand stasjon

A railstation located in Sørum, built in 1892. The edit resized two image thumbnails to be slightly smaller.

I know that’s a small sample size, but we’ve got a clear trend that tells us a decent amount of information about the nature of these edits. The articles edited seem to be chiefly concerned with notable locations and architecture, specifically focusing on the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The edits themselves are very small, very subtle, and entirely utilitarian.

As unexciting as it sounds, this small sampling suggests most of these edits appear to have been completely innocuous, with no political or ideological motivation whatsoever. Better luck next time, eh Boundegar? :wink:

At the same time, Mr. Doctorow’s hopeful commentary about…

“how great it would be if all these Norwegian bureaucrats, wonks, officials and others declared their interest and made their efforts public, working with Norwegian wikipedians to improve the quality of the encyclopedia in the open”

…ends up being just a little over-optimistic, as the nature of these edits is so minimal and jejune as to hardly be worthy of consideration for any sort of official recognition whatsoever.

It seems likely to me that these edits are simply the work of individuals within the government who have personal interests in contributing to wikipedia in small ways in their free time while on breaks or whatnot. Perhaps some of them are regular non-anonymous contributors in their private lives, but when making contributions from government systems, they err on the side of caution and discretion and post anonymously?

Sadly, I can’t with any veracity explain the recent increase in contributions from government IP addresses.

If I had to speculate, I would hazard a guess at it being a topic of discussion among various circles of government employees - perhaps those with shared interests, such as history, landmarks, architecture, and the like? Or might it even be that these edits are the works of employees of a government library or archive involved in such fields?


No, Cory is right. I’m sick and tired of governments and their secret pro-architect agenda, employing a North Korean-style cabal of hidden government employees who evangelize their architectophile propaganda in OUR encyclopedia.


You can’t ignore the edit of the Patsy Cline entry. Obviously the cabal was trying to influence the perception of one of the key people in country music, thereby influencing America and hurting US interests. North Korea is exactly right.


As a Norwegian and not a huge fan of the current government I was all ready to condemn this and blame it on the evil right leaning politicians. But then I looked at the edits and they’re all pretty boring cleanups and updates of dead links etc. I get the feeling a memo has gone out that it might be a good idea for someone to keep an eye on the Norwegian wiki. Either that or someone with a government job has discovered the joys of endless nitpicking.


Not a biggie, I’d say. But certainly a good way to keep the govt workers accountable, in order to preventing them from astroturfing on work time. (Note that this does not work if they “work from home”. Which may be the effect of this on the astroturfers. But even that can limit their effectiveness somewhat as by the time they get home many of them have different things in mind.)

The potential bad outcome could be suppression of the workers’ willingness to edit from their job, in case of “illicit” (from the perspective of their supervisors) edits; even if the Taxpayer in such cases often benefits more from the bureaucrat’s work on the wikipedia than in the office.

There is a similar-principle twitterbot out there.

It could be interesting adding more intelligence into such systems, and tweet or otherwise list changes in important parts of the texts, having some sort of markup internal or external for “guarded” or “semiprotected” parts of the text. E.g. certain key words or sentences that yield an alert to attract attention when they are touched.

Without the appropriate data set I can only speculate, but this number of edits may even be the average number of edits for an organization of the Norwegian government’s size. Also might be interesting to see the total number of edits on these titles vs. the Norwegian government edits. The poster did say that it was only the anonymous edits.

The view below suggests that rather than posting at lunchtime, there are peaks at first thing in the morning and 1pm (maybe lunch is at 1?) and that editing seems to occur throughout the workday, though there are variations between years (not shown).

As to the topics, the top few that I see that possibly could be more open are the edit for Jan Egeland, and Karin Yrvin, both Labour party politicians. What is the etiquette over editing (or having staff edit) your own wikipedia article again? But then the second highest edit over these years is a template for football club odds. Other non government related edits are a quiz show QuizDan, and some organ enthusiast editing the Vox Humana topic 7 times in 2009. Titles with more than 4 edits are shown below, these 40 titles with 271 edits represent less than 20% of the 1437 total edits for all 919 titles.

There are only 35 total IP addresses, 29 from government and 6 from Parliment. On the chart below thin are Parliament and thick are government offices IPs.

I agree there is nothing nefarious going on here, but a few charts more than a plot of total edits can help to show that.


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