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Wikipedia Edits Forecast Vice Presidential Picks 152

Posted by kdawson
from the keep-watching-the-skies dept.
JimLane writes "The Washington Post reports on the findings of Cyveillance, a company that 'normally trawls the Internet for data on behalf of clients seeking open source information in advance of a corporate acquisition, an important executive hire, or brand awareness.' Cyveillance decided 'on a lark' to test its methods by monitoring the Wikipedia biographies of Vice-Presidential prospects. The conclusion? If you'd been watching Wikipedia you might have gotten an advance tipoff of Friday's announcement that McCain was selecting Sarah Palin. 'At approximately 5 p.m. ET (Thursday), the company's analysts noticed a spike in the editing traffic to Palin's Wiki page, and that some of the same Wiki users appeared to be making changes to McCain's page.'" The article goes on to say that watching Wikipedia pages for the Democratic VP hopefuls would have tipped Obama's choice of Biden, as well. NPR also has coverage (audio).
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Wikipedia Edits Forecast Vice Presidential Picks

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  • What's This? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:37PM (#24813195)
    Politicians (or their group) editing wiki pages in order to appear better to the public? (the same people who have the power to put them in office) Gasp. Shocked I am. I honestly am starting to expect this kind of thing. PS: I do think that it's rather interesting, looking for spikes in Wiki traffic to predict assorted events, perhaps we should start monitoring the "US invades the entire middle east" page
    • Re:What's This? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:42PM (#24813217)

      It is called traffic analysis. An old trick of what used to be called trade craft and probably is by the spooks

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        It is called traffic analysis. An old trick of what used to be called trade craft and probably is by the spooks

        They could have figured out the same thing if they had paid attention to the increase in pizza-deliveries to the alaska governor's mansion for the two days beforehand too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Z34107 (925136)

        It is called traffic analysis. An old trick of what used to be called trade craft and probably is by the spooks

        Except that they used to literally analyze traffic - if you see a lot of cars in a parking lot overnight, it means people are working late hours and that, presumably, something is happening. If you see triple the usual amount of cars parked outside the Department of Defense, it may be something to phone home about.

        • by xenocide2 (231786)

          "They" didn't use it to analyze literal traffic. "They" used it to analyze the flow of communications, for things like who talks to who. If you have monitoring in place, you can uncover communication hubs that are a) critical to the flow of information and b) are likely command centers who's destruction would leave opposing military momentarily crippled.

          The wikipedia stuff is a bit stronger than mere traffic analysis. It is similar, though. We know the contents of edits, and which page they intend to edit.

    • Re:What's This? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:50PM (#24813261) Homepage

      So if an event is expected it may pay off to monitor the Wikipedia traffic to the related pages and by that forgo the official announcement.

      This poses some interesting prospects. Like if it was possible for party A to beforehand predict that a certain alternative was going to be selected by party B and therefore making that selection problematic.

      Only way around this is of course to make sure that the inner circle doesn't use the web for a while before official announcements are done.

      And this does of not only apply to politics but also to a lot of other events. Like potential inside affairs when it comes to buying/selling on the stock market. Pattern analysis evolves, and it may not even be necessary to actually listen in to a certain message, just measure the amount of traffic to a certain node to make a statistically based deduction. So even if you encrypt your information it may be traced and therefore provide valuable information.

      At least we do live in interesting times!

      • Re:What's This? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by iamwhoiamtoday (1177507) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:04PM (#24813347)
        I do want to point out that because this article is being read by thousands and thousands of people, the assorted political groups are likely to not make the same mistake again. They will most likely compensate for this in the future.
      • Re:What's This? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by OpenSourced (323149) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:30PM (#24813489) Journal

        Only way around this is of course to make sure that the inner circle doesn't use the web for a while before official announcements are done.

        The problem is of course that they want the biographies "updated" for all the press and other interested parties that are going to hit Google in the first hour after the announcement.

        So much more likely will be that before such announcements, they will update like ten or twenty biographies, to mask which is the real one.

        That of course if they care enough.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by lazy_playboy (236084)

          So much more likely will be that before such announcements, they will update like ten or twenty biographies, to mask which is the real one.

          Perhaps, although personally I would prepare any edits in advance and make them at exactly the same time as any announcement (/leak or whatever)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sj0 (472011)

        This story is completely meaningless.

        Anyone can stand up after the fact and say "Hey! I could've predicted this!"

    • Wikipedia has banned Senators from making edits in the past and while I know it's a futile attempt to stop them from doing it full stop. When found out they should lock those pages and revert it back to the pre-tweaking stage until the election is over.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)

        Just one more example of wikipedia's "neutrality" NPOV policy being used to promote exactly 1 point of view, silencing all others.

        As has been the point of half the comments on this story ... I don't think anyone's surprised at all.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        They didn't "ban Senators" from editing, but they did call into question edits that apparently came from congressional office IP address ranges that attempted to whitewash biographies on Wikipedia.

        People are generally discouraged from editing their own biographies on Wikipedia, although fixing factually inaccurate information is not explicitly prohibited. This certainly isn't a problem restricted to biographies of politicians either.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tubapro12 (896596)
      Wikipedia's edits forecast the future? Don't they say the same thing about Nostradamus' Les Propheties [wikisource.org] ?

      What's that? It's easy to see trends from nothing leading to something after the fact..?
    • by Columcille (88542) *
      First, this wasn't some edit to make the politician look better but info to provide the running mate. Second, why wouldn't a candidate or his staff edit information about the candidate? Who better knows about that candidate? One might well question bias but it's easy enough to go in and tone things down if, say, one of Obama's supporters gets a little too exuberant on his Wikipedia page. It's wikipedia. That's the way it works.
  • Leaks to Wikipedia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Apple Acolyte (517892) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:38PM (#24813207)
    It's pretty cool that Wikipedia has become a de-facto official source of leaks for such information. Fox News was reporting that Palin had moved to the top of the list but had no confirmation of her selection about an hour before officials confirmed it, and at that time they reported that Wikipedia listed her as the pick. Someone within the campaign evidently leaked it to Wikipedia before leaking it to offline media.
    • by WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) <sexwithanimals@gmail.com> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:46PM (#24813239) Homepage
      But the problem with that is some random jackass could see "Oh, so-and-so is PROBABLY going to be picked, so I'll edit it to say they were picked, since it's going to happen anyway."

      And that edit could get picked up by tons of people and spread around, even if it's not accurate.
      • by djcapelis (587616) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @06:30PM (#24813885) Homepage

        And that edit could get picked up by tons of people and spread around, even if it's not accurate.[citation needed]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fyoder (857358) *

        But the problem with that is some random jackass could see "Oh, so-and-so is PROBABLY going to be picked, so I'll edit it to say they were picked, since it's going to happen anyway."

        Aye. Had wikipedia existed back in 1948 someone might have written [wikipedia.org] "Dewey and Warren won a sweeping victory in the presidential election yesterday. The early returns showed the Republican ticket leading Truman and Barkley pretty consistently in the western and southern states."

    • by ericspinder (146776) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:53PM (#24814447) Journal
      I was one of the people who viewed (didn't edit) her page that morning, I did so, because I had heard that there was a private jet that had just landed in Dayton, OH, apparently under a great deal of secrecy, which had a fight plan from Alaska. That fact was replicated at the bottom of her wikipedia page. Otherwise the page looked like a fair, short, biography of the Governor. It even included information about her Troopergate scandal, however, it was just a short blurb. I didn't check the history page, one should always check the history page for a fast moving story.
    • and WTF where you doing watching Fox 'News' may i ask?

  • So basically, TFS says that wikipedia edits are made to a relevant article prior to an event, and therefore, these wikipedia articles were caused by the event.

    Come on! Some skepticism please. You need a lot bigger sample size than this to make any sort of statement in either direction.

    Oh, and yeah, cue jokes about wikipedia's supposed lack of skepticism.

    • by ptbarnett (159784) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:51PM (#24813267)

      So basically, TFS says that wikipedia edits are made to a relevant article prior to an event, and therefore, these wikipedia articles were caused by the event.

      The tip-off seems to be that the same people were editing both the Presidental and (eventual) Vice-Presidential candidate pages. The same pattern was observed with Obama/Biden.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MBCook (132727)

        So... people interested and informed in politics?

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        The tip-off seems to be that the same people were editing both the Presidental and (eventual) Vice-Presidential candidate pages. The same pattern was observed with Obama/Biden.

        And now we need someone to whois all the IPs that were doing the editing so that we can see just who had advance notice.

      • Biden was a much more predictable pick, so it's not surprising that his page got extra attention. He was one of three people commonly cited in the media as on being on Obama's shortlist. His trip to Georgia boosted his profile. Then the day before the announcement, it was leaked that neither Bayh nor Kaine were going to be the VP, leaving Biden as the obvious choice. (Chet Edwards not withstanding.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This whole thing is nonsensical. I did some research on this myself earlier in the day wading through hundreds of diffs.

      On the democrat side:
      We had a very good idea days before the official announcement it was Biden. Obamas people said their pick would be no surprise and it was common knowledge most of the other runner ups were not chosen essentially leading to Biden.

      On the republican side:
      There was a small edit war starting on the 28th for Palin someone kept writing it was her and other people changed it

  • by jadin (65295) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @04:52PM (#24813279) Homepage

    Hindsight is 20/20. Now try using this to _predict_ something correctly.

  • I'm seeing a very steep downward trend.
  • How many people do you think googled Sarah Palin after she was announced as McCains running mate? And how many of those people looked for a Wikipedia entry?

    Thats why it was edited. Cause no one knew who she was.
  • It's somewhat interesting that there was a spike in editing for Sarah Palin's wiki, but that information is hardly predictive of McCain's decision. Regardless of what everyone thought about the kind of VP she would make, the pick itself was a genuine surprise just about everyone including Palin herself. Personally, I had my bets on Lieberman and I still think he would have been made McCain the most competitive against Obama and Biden given the Republican base consists mostly of men.
    • by gd2shoe (747932)

      Ah, but it's not about the base. It's about the swing voters. In this case, stealing dissatisfied Clinton voters.

      You use scare tactics to get the base out to vote (convince them that they really don't want Obama) and you use appeasement to get the swing voters to vote for you (oh, a woman).

      I'm not saying she wont make a good candidate; we'll see when the dirt gets dug up. It would be fun for the Republicans to get a woman in the white house before the Democrats do. I think it's a nice touch, even if it

      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:19PM (#24814683)
        Ah, but it's not about the base. It's about the swing voters. In this case, stealing dissatisfied Clinton voters.

        If that is the strategy, I don't think that it is going to work particularly well. Sure, Sarah Palin is a woman, but that's where the resemblance to Hillary Clinton starts and ends. She's an evangelical Christian who thinks that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the classroom. She says she's not convinced that global warming is the result of human activity. She opposes abortion even in the case of incest or rape. When the environment and industry are at odds, she's squarely on the side of industry. She does have good qualities, but she actually pushes the ticket to the right in terms of values and issues. As a centrist Democrat, the chances of me voting for McCain have just gone from slim to none.

        Of course, that may be intentional: McCain may be trying to shore up his support on the right. If so, then that's a bad sign. The Democrats are enthusiastic and Obama has built a powerful political machine; that McCain is still trying to figure out how to generate enthusiasm this late in the game is not a good sign.

        • by ricegf (1059658) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:22PM (#24815425) Journal

          that McCain is still trying to figure out how to generate enthusiasm this late in the game is not a good sign.

          Perhaps, although his campaign raised $4 million over the Internet [reuters.com] in the 24 hours after the announcement. Their previous single-day fund-raising record was under a million. So at least he seems to have figured it out. :-)

        • by will_die (586523)
          The election is not until November and most people are not even that much interested in it until a month or so out. That McCain is generating enthusiasm is the exact same thing the Democrats did with their convention and what the Republicans will be doing at their convention.
          As for Democrats voting for McCain because of the sex of his Vice it will happen and as evidence just look a the various Republicans the Obama camp has brought out who say they are voting for him because of his race. Also if you go
    • by pcolaman (1208838) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:56PM (#24813641)
      Even as a registered Republican, I think the world (mostly) of Lieberman (the only thing I dislike about him is his stance on censoring games, but then again most senators and representatives are for this) but think that his choice would've sealed the deal for Obama. Many of McCain's own constituents don't want to see a Pro-Choice ticket, and with Lieberman on the ticket they would be more likely to just stay at home on Nov. 4. It was a very smart strategic play by McCain to pick Palin for several reasons. She's not establishment, which is a stigma that I'm surprised the Obama camp hasn't tried to label McCain with more. She's a mother of 5, including a special needs child, so if Biden hammers her too hard in the VP debates it could appear to some that he's picking on a woman and therefore create an image of someone who's cold and hard. This is definitely not the image I'd want to paint if I was a Democratic candidate, since they are supposed to be the party of the common man (bullcrap IMO, I actually think the party system should be abolished, but that's just my view). She also gives McCain someone who is strong on reform issues and is a whistle blower, something that you can hardly say about Romney or Pawlenty. Personally I think it was a good choice, as all anyone was talking about yesterday was her, not Obama's speech. Stole some of his thunder. Whether it works for McCain in the end has yet to be seen, but it will be certainly interesting to watch the Biden Palin debate, whereas I think I would have just watched something else rather than Biden v. Romney or Biden v. Pawlenty. They both would've been boring choices indeed. Whatever happens, it's going to be a fairly close election, although not as close as 2000.
      • by ricegf (1059658)

        I think your analysis is spot on, even though I'm decidedly not a registered Republican. If only 5% of Hillary's supporters were so based primarily on her gender, McCain would still pull 2% from the Democratic base. That's could easily be enough to sway the election (they've been really close lately, if you haven't been watching). And yes, I just pulled those numbers out of my hat; it's political debate. :-)

        Palin has the "maverick" image that McCain has made central to his campaign, while simultaneously

        • Was that not the blatant plan?
          1) Hillary fails to sell Obama to her supporters (how hard would it have been to say "i did some silly things when i thought i was the best candidate, but now i realise...")
          2) McCain suddenly announces a female VP who he barely knows.

          had hillary sold obama to her supporters (or just been less of a bitch in her campaign trail) then there is no way McCain would have gone with palin.

      • if Biden hammers her too hard in the VP debates it could appear to some that he's picking on a woman and therefore create an image of someone who's cold and hard.

        I dunno. I don't think someone as chatty as Biden can seem cold and hard. Those two traits go along with aloofness, which he doesn't seem to have.

    • by ricegf (1059658)

      given the Republican base consists mostly of men

      Cite, please? The current polls [rasmussenreports.com] don't appear to back up your claim.

      Obama currently leads by thirteen points among women while McCain leads by six among men. Among white women, the candidates are essentially even while McCain holds a substantial lead among white men (see other recent demographic observations).

      Democrats are a bit stronger among women overall, and Republicans among men, but it sounds a lot more complex than your overly simplistic "mostly men"

    • by ncc74656 (45571) *

      Personally, I had my bets on Lieberman and I still think he would have been made McCain the most competitive against Obama and Biden given the Republican base consists mostly of men.

      You must not be a Republican; if you were, you would've known better than to make that assertion. McCain was in the doghouse with the base over his "maverickyness" (for lack of a better word). If he'd picked a lib like Lieberman (or Tom Ridge, for that matter), he would only have driven more Republicans to stay home. Instea

  • by fermion (181285) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:11PM (#24813383) Homepage Journal
    When working at various companies, I always monitored the stock price. Invariably, the few days prior to major announcement the stock volumes would go crazy.

    Invariably someone will slip up and do something to give the game away and such traffic analysis will give the game away. All that is required is that someone look.

    This is especially true for government conspiracy. For the most part, too many people have to be involved, and too many people are looking.

    • by pcolaman (1208838)
      Which they better hope is not caught onto by the SEC, insider trading is a serious crime. When I worked for a major ISP, we were specifically barred from buying or selling stock shares within about a 3 day window before or after a major transaction or announcement.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:26PM (#24813467)
    campaign organizations, as a whole, are still idiots.
  • Too late (Score:5, Funny)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @05:30PM (#24813487)
    Too late, the elections are already decided http://www.theonion.com/content/video/diebold_accidentally_leaks [theonion.com]
    • by pcolaman (1208838)
      Well perhaps we can finally start watching the news again.
      • Not lately. Besides the endless election coverage there is all this "OMG a hurricane!!!!11!1!!1" talk going on that anything dealing with it gets breaking news status.
  • If you don't want to put up with listening to audio:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94118849 [npr.org]
    It's not as complete as the WP story though.

  • by Bert64 (520050) <[moc.eeznerif.todhsals] [ta] [treb]> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @06:09PM (#24813763) Homepage

    I get lots of hits from cyveillance addresses to my web servers, and the hits from the cyveilance robot are masquerading as IE users, and they don't even bother to try and retrieve robots.txt...

    If you contact them about it they will offer to remove your address range from the spider, but this is also a lie, after contacting them and supplying address ranges for them to stop spidering they simply started spidering from a different source address, this time the whois record for the ipblock shows nothing unless you directly query cogent's whois server which again reveals the ranges are registered to cyveillance. This looks like a very poor attempt to hide their actions. Their spider also has a very recognizable pattern, so it would be easy to pick up anyway.

    When i attempted to contact them again, they simply ignored all of my mails.
    Incidentally, after being explicitly told their company has no permission to access my web servers, their continued attempts amount to unauthorized access.

    • by droopycom (470921)

      You have no persmission to read my comments.

      Since you are still reading this comment, this is unauthorized access! Sue You!!

      • by 4D6963 (933028)
        Hey, who gave you the permission to reply to that guy's comments? Back on topic, does the GP's robots.txt have a "User-agent: cyveillance" entry? Can Cyveillance expect anyone to have such an entry?
        • by isorox (205688)

          They don't download robots.txt, so how would they know. A Robot should also pay attention to User-agent: * as well. Finally, the robot masquerades as Internet Explorer.

          Blocking the IP range would seem to be the best solution.

          • by Bert64 (520050)

            Yes, masquerading as a legitimate client is completely underhanded... None of the big search engines do that, and they all honor robots.txt.

            I did block the ip range, but note the original post where they just came back from a new range some time later. I have no idea how many ranges they have, and they seem to change their spidering ranges all the time.

    • So, firewall all traffic coming from their IP addresses, and publish your blacklist so that others may do the same.

      • by Bert64 (520050)

        Other people have already blacklisted cyveillance, and they know this, which is why they have connectivity through multiple ISPs and a number of different address ranges, which get changed on a regular basis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      Incidentally, after being explicitly told their company has no permission to access my web servers, their continued attempts amount to unauthorized access.

      Bullshit. If the web were to work that way, it would kill it.
      You don't want them spidering your public website, then don't make it public.

      If I were you, I would fuck with them. Pollute their data. You've obviously been able to figure out which accesses are there's - use that knowledge to feed them disinformation. If you are lucky, you might even able to manipulate their clients in a way that can end indirectly making you money.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:21PM (#24814213) Homepage
    They say prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Yahoo has a "political dashboard" [yahoo.com] (flash app) that tries various things to predict the outcome of the presidential race. One technique they use is prediction markets [wikipedia.org], which are sort of similar to this thing about the wikipedia edits: instead of asking people their opinions, you watch their actions. In the yahoo dashboard app, you can click to switch between a map based on opinion polls and one based on prediction markets. One interesting thing is that the polls show Ohio leaning to McCain, but the prediction markets show it going to Obama. One thing that's really tough about predicting this election is that historically, racist white people have often lied to pollsters about their race-related opinions. Even though Obama is ahead in the polls, I'm kind of expecting that McCain will win, simply because the polls are likely to have this systematic error in them. OTOH, some people say that this racism-hiding effect in polls is no longer as strong as it used to be. The February Scientific American had an article [sciam.com] that treated prediction markets with skepticism. Some of the evidence that people have been quoting in favor of prediction markets is apparently bogus, and nobody has the faintest clue how they really work.
    • Wait.. what kind of F'd up white racism would lead you to *claim* you're voting for the white candidate, then actually vote for the non-white one?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      The February Scientific American had an article [sciam.com] that treated prediction markets with skepticism. Some of the evidence that people have been quoting in favor of prediction markets is apparently bogus, and nobody has the faintest clue how they really work.

      Well the basic idea behind the Iowa Electronic Markets is that people, anyone, can bet money (a limited amount) on who they think will win an election. Basically, polls ask people who they want to vote for, but arguably you'd have a better idea of the outcome of an election if you ask people not who they want to vote for but who they think will win. It's called the wisdom of crowds. Show a certain amount of people a jar full of pickles and they'll tell you about how many pickles are in, the more people you

    • Racist black people can lie to pollsters
      about race-related opinions.

  • by ricegf (1059658) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:06PM (#24814557) Journal
    Looks like McCain just wrapped up the election this year. I mean, he has all of Alaska's electors in the bag!
  • For some reason this kind of politically-motivated editing reminds me of the words "he who controls the past, controls the future".

  • "Open source" is not a synonym for "public records!"

    WikiCourthouse, the public filings that anybody can edit!

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