25. NYPD Editing Wikipedia on Police Brutality

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

In March 2015, Kelly Weill reported in Capital New York that computers operating at One Police Plaza, the headquarters of the New York Police Department (NYPD), had been used “to alter Wikipedia pages containing details of alleged police brutality,” including the entries for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo. As Mother Jones subsequently reported, “The pages have been edited to cast the NYPD in a more favorable light and lessen allegations of police misconduct.” According to Weill’s report, an NYPD spokesperson indicated that the matter was under internal review.

Capital New York identified eighty-five Internet Protocol (IP) addresses associated with the NYPD that had been used to edit or to attempt to delete Wikipedia entries. “Notable” Wikipedia activity was linked to approximately one dozen of those IP addresses, Weill reported.

On the evening of December 3, 2014, after a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner’s death, a computer user on the NYPD headquarters network made multiple edits to the “Death of Eric Garner” Wikipedia entry. For example, edits included changing text that read “push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” Another edit revised text that read, “Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” to read, “Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.” As Mother Jones noted, additional edits suggested that “Garner’s death was his own fault.”

On November 25, 2006, undercover NYPD officers fired fifty times at three unarmed men, killing Sean Bell, whose death led to widespread protests against police brutality. On April 12, 2007, a user on the NYPD headquarters network attempted to delete the Wikipedia entry for “Sean Bell shooting incident.” On the website’s internal “Articles for deletion” page, the user wrote: “No one except Al Sharpton cares anymore.”

On three occasions between October 2012 and March 2013, a user on the One Police Plaza network made edits to Wikipedia’s “Stop-and-frisk in New York City” entry.

As Weill noted, revisions and counter-revisions are “typical of Wikipedia’s self-policing user community.” However, those made with NYPD IP addresses seemed to violate Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy involving contributions that promote one’s own self-interests.

All of the NYPD edits documented by Capital New York were made anonymously (rather than with a Wikipedia account). Capital New York developed a computer program to search Wikipedia for all of the anonymous edits made from the range of IP addresses registered to One Police Plaza. Weill concluded by providing a link to a list of all the anonymous Wikipedia edits made by NYPD IP addresses.

The Washington Post and Time magazine each ran stories based on Weill’s original Capital New York report.

Kelly Weill, “Edits to Wikipedia Pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo Traced to 1 Police Plaza,” Capital New York (since renamed Politico New York), Politico, March 13, 2015, http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/03/8563947/edits-wikipedia-pages-bell-garner-diallo-traced-1-police-plaza; since redirected to http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/03/edits-to-wikipedia-pages-on-bell-garner-diallo-traced-to-1-police-plaza-087652.

Inae Oh, “The NYPD is Editing the Wikipedia Pages of Eric Garner, Sean Bell,” Mother Jones, March 13, 2015, http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2015/03/nypd-editing-wikipedia-pages-eric-garner-sean-bell.

Student Researcher: Amber Gerard (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)