There’s now a real-time record of Wikipedia edits made by US lawmakers. Congress-edits (@congressedits), a Twitter account started earlier this week, is positioning itself as a sort of digital watchdog. Ed Summers, a DC-area computer programmer, set up the project. It works by monitoring edits coming from IP addresses known to belong to Congress, then posting tweets identifying those edits. While this not a completely new idea, this seems to be the first attempt to automate the process of revealing these edits. “There is an incredible yearning in this country and around the world for using technology to provide more transparency about our democracies,” Summers wrote in a blog post about @congressedits.
Ed Summers, an open source Web developer, recently saw a friend tweet about Parliament WikiEdits,a UK Twitter “bot” that watched for anonymous Wikipedia edits coming from within the British Parliament’s internal networks. Summers was immediately inspired to do the same thing for the US Congress. “The simplicity of combining Wikipedia and Twitter in this way immediately struck me as a potentially useful transparency tool,” Summers wrote in his personal blog. “So using my experience on a previous side project [Wikistream, a Web application that watches Wikipedia editing activity], I quickly put together a short program that listens to all major language Wikipedias for anonymous edits from Congressional IP address ranges… and tweets them.” The stream for the bot, @congressedits, went live a day later, and it now provides real-time tweets when anonymous edits of Wikipedia pages are made. Summers also posted the code to GitHub so that others interested in creating similar Twitter bots can riff on his work. So far, @congressedits hasn’t caught anything scandalous; most of the edits caught have been stylistic changes rather than factual ones. The most interesting edit found so far was to the Wikipedia article on horse head masks—adding a reference to President Obama shaking hands with a man in such a mask on a recent trip to Denver.