Future Tense

Wikipedia Edit Twitterbots Are Revealing How Russia Wants to Frame the MH17 Crash

What people choose to edit on Wikipedia can say a lot.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Just a few weeks after the first bot launched, and a few days after the concept really started gaining momentum, twitterbots that comb government IP addresses for Wikipedia edits are already surfacing interesting and important results.

Over at GlobalVoices, Kevin Rothrock reports that an IP address at VGTRK, the state-run TV and radio network, edited the Russian-language Wikipedia page about aviation accidents to say that Malaysia Air Flight MH17 “was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.”

The edit seems to have been in response to an earlier edit from an IP address in Kiev that described the plane as being shot down “by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.”


@RuGovEdits, a twitterbot that launched on July 13 to monitor Russian government Wikipedia edits, shows that the Russian revision came from VGTRK. According to Rothrock, the tweet says, “A Wikipedia article about commercial aviation catastrophes was edited by VGTRK.”

With nearly 300 people dead from Flight MH17, it’s hard to focus on the minutiae of information technology. But the scenario shows just how revealing these little Wikipedia edit twitterbots can be.

Read more of Slate’s coverage on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.