A few clever programmers have done more for governmental transparency than most politicians have. There are now Twitter accounts in tons of countries that automatically tweet when someone from a government IP address make a change to any Wikipedia page. Since Wikipedia is where we all go to learn about the the people involved in the scandal of the day (and creepily learn about their family life), changes to those pages could actually make a big difference to public perception. These new accounts keep us updated on all government editing activities.
If some staffer on Parliament Hill goes onto the Dungeons and Dragons page and changes some minute detail about level 13 spellcasting, the Gov. of Canada Edits Twitter account will let you know there’s a geek in government. If someone from a Parliament IP edits the page on MP Dean Del Mastro to make him look sillier than he already does, this clever Twitter bot will make sure we all know that too.
While pundits (read: Twitter users) everywhere are hailing this as a brilliant innovation that will help us know when politicians, or more likely their staffers, are trying to manipulate the infallible source of knowledge that is Wikipedia, there are some pretty obvious flaws. This system of accountability is subject to a paradox: it stops working when everybody knows about it, but only works if people know to check it.
If we know to spy on Parliament Hill through Gov. of Canada Edits, odds are the staff of every MP and Senator also know that this bot exists. That means they’re going to be a little more hesitant to go change the Wikipedia page on their favourite summer cocktail, but also that when they want to change something about the latest scandal involving their boss, they’ll just do it from a personal computer at home. We’re not exactly forcing them to jump through hoops, just use their brains.
Don’t get me wrong, these Twitter accounts are a fantastic innovation. They actually force political staffers to think twice before messing around with public data. More than that, they open the door to new ideas in using social media to increase government transparency. Maybe we can get livestreams of the office of every MP so we can see their drug dealers and mistresses drop by. Maybe we can use Reddit upvoting algorithms to do better polling, since election polling is clearly pretty horrid these days.
More and more of them popping up to keep institutions on their toes, including one monitoring what the RCMP is doing on Wikipedia, which turns out to be nothing. The more information we have about what our public institutions are doing the better, right? Unless they’re editing Wikipedia pages about inappropriate things, in which case we don’t want to know what staffers are doing at work.