Since Ms. Palin described the ride last week while she was visiting Boston, Wikipedia’s Paul Revere article page has been the site of a mini “edit war.” And the page has gone from a little-visited one — 2,000 or so page views a day — to a more heavily trafficked one, with54,000 on Saturday when Ms. Palin’s comments were gaining the most news attention.
Over the course of the weekend, people added sentences to the Revere article that repeated Ms. Palin’s claims. It can be hard to discern motives for changes on Wikipedia, and in some cases people appeared to be attributing the claims to Ms. Palin in order to mock her.
One editor, Tomwsulcer, added the following sentence: “Accounts differ regarding the method of alerting the colonists; the generally accepted position is that the warnings were verbal in nature, although one disputed account suggested that Revere rang bells during his ride.”
When the discussion board for the Revere article was ringing with complaints that this was a lie, Tomwsulcer replied that it should be included as a theory because a prominent American politician, that is, Sarah Palin, had said it. “If you follow Wikipedia’s rules,” he wrote, “we must maintain a neutral position, representing the mainstream position as well as disputed versions.”
He lost the argument, but others have been searching history books to find evidence to support Ms. Palin’s claims.
One editor added the fact that the colonists on the eve of revolution were themselves British. That argument was included at the end of a passage stating that “Revere did not shout the phrase later attributed to him (‘The British are coming!’), largely because the mission depended on secrecy and the countryside was filled with British army patrols.”
By that logic, Revere did, as Ms. Palin put it, “warn the British” – namely, the rebel colonists who were still technically British subjects.
But the battles continue, and recent changes to the Revere article have used more facts to undercut the additions that seem to support Ms. Palin. For example, on Monday, one editor added, “Everything Revere told his British captors had a single goal, to move the soldiers away from Lexington, where he had left Hancock and Adams.”
As a result, the Revere article has become much longer, and much better sourced -– a version of what Wikipedia users call the “Streisand Effect,” which is described as when “an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.”
Ms. Palin’s supporters have made their mark on the Paul Revere article atConservapedia, a right-leaning version of a Wikipedia-like encyclopedia.
The piece has been edited to read as follows: “He is famous for riding from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts with William Dawes on the night of April 18, 1775 ringing bells to warn the British that colonists would exercise their natural rights to both bear arms and use them in an effort secede from the United Kingdom in response to Big Government bullying and interfering with Colony’s Rights.”