March 14, 2015

NYPD editing Bell, Garner, Diallo Wikipedia pages

Courtesy of
Apparently the NYPD is tasking employees with editing Wikipedia pages concerning the killing of Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Amadou Diallo. According to an article by Capital, edits to these pages have been traced back to computers operating on the NYPD's network at One Police Plaza in NYC. The NYPD is supposedly looking into it, although, if the info concerning the network domain is accurate, then it's pretty cut and dried.

I am assuming that the allegations are true. Not so I can wag my finger and shake my head in consternation. At least not this time. There's nothing particularly shocking about a city agency trying to control the public narrative. Manipulating Wikipedia pages -- which readers ought to know often offer questionably accurate factual information -- is old hat. There's really no qualitative difference between massaging the adjectives and phrasing in Wiki entries for critical events in the NYPD's past, and the attempts by the NYPD and the City, through their supporters and various talking heads to shape the message back when these killings occurred. 

Bell and Diallo were gunned down by officers under circumstances indicating that some officers were guilty, at a minimum, of manslaughter, if not outright murder. The response to these killings, and many others, in NYC was outrage, as was the more recent response to the death of Eric Garner in police custody following the use of a long-banned choke hold. People on all sides of these events fought publicly and by proxy to dictate the parameters of the story, to control the message, if you will. 

So far, the apparent edits were not earth-shattering, although they may help subtly shift certain aspects of the discussion. For instance, according to the article:

On the evening of Dec. 3, hours after a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, a user on the 1 Police Plaza network made multiple edits, visible here and here, to the “Death of Eric Garner” Wikipedia entry. The edits, all concerning the actions of Eric Garner and the police officers involved in the confrontation, are as follows:
● “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.”
● “[P]ush Garner's face into the sidewalk” was changed to “push Garner's head down into the sidewalk.”
● “Use of the choke hold has been prohibited” was changed to “Use of the choke hold is legal, but has been prohibited.”
● The sentence, “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” was added to the description of the incident.
● Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock,” and once to “respiratory distress.”

But in the end, the only surprise would be if it turns out there aren't more substantive changes elsewhere. The fight over the public narrative is always ongoing. Wikipedia is particularly susceptible to such editorial influences, and there's nothing outrageous about a large public department attempting to "correct" the record. Just as there is nothing wrong with taking to social media to call out the NYPD for such manipulative actions in order to push back. And so the battle for hearts and minds continues.

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