An online battle has erupted over the Wikipedia page for Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., with a significant uptick in edits that reflects a pattern that's been seen ahead of past vice-presidential announcements and led Wikipedia to put the page under "discretionary sanctions."
The trend was first reported last week by The Intercept. According to the revision history of the Harris article on Wikipedia, there have been 500 revisions to the page since May 9, most of which have been made by one highly prolific editor.
That editor first started significantly changing the article in April, making additions that led another editor to say on the Kamala Harris "talk" page, "[y]ou seem to have gone through a database of press releases from Harris's office, cataloging every single one and adding it to the article. That is not how we write encyclopedic articles."
That user also removed information that was critical of Harris, with some other editors on the "talk" page objecting to changes regarding Harris' relationship with former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown that were allegedly made "without adequate justification." Users also objected to changes related to Harris' record as an aggressive prosecutor, with one editor making a change on July 2 -- after The Intercept published its story -- saying they were "restoring more scrubbed well-sourced content. Just because it may be 'unflattering' doesn't mean it needs to be censored."
The information added in that edit included a line on how Harris "appealed a judge's order to take over the prosecution of a high-profile mass murder case and to eject all 250 prosecutors from the Orange County District Attorney's office over allegations of misconduct by Republican D.A. Tony Rackauckas."
Ahead of their announcements as vice-presidential candidates, Sarah Palin in 2008 and Tim Kaine in 2016 each saw significant increases in their Wikipedia edits, the Intercept pointed out.
The user who made the contentious edits defended his actions, saying that he wanted to get rid of "misinformation" on the page.
"I'm not a Democratic operative, I do this for free because I'm sick of misinformation about Kamala Harris," he said on the Harris "talk" page.
He also made an edit on July 2 saying he was "adding Mnuchin and Orange County DA cases since people asked for it in the Talk Page."
One of the controversial entries involved Harris' decision as a prosecutor to not pursue action against a bank that now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin owned.
Wikipedia notes in the "talk" page that the Harris article is now under "discretionary sanctions," which it says is a "special system that creates an acceptable and collaborative editing environment for our most contentious and strife-torn articles."
Harris has widely been seen as one of the favorites to be the running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. But her record as a prosecutor, which dogged her during the initial stages of the Democratic presidential primary race last year, could be even more of a liability now as a wave of anti-police sentiment has swept the nation, especially among the left wing of the Democratic Party.
It's unclear that the edits to Harris' page, which have been much more frequent than those for other potential Democrats involved in the 2020 "veepstakes," signify anything more than one highly dedicated individual wanting to make the page reflect more positively on Harris. But the attention brought onto the issue by the media last week appears to have led other editors to place the page under more scrutiny, aiming to ensure that it includes both flattering and unflattering information on the senator.
Multiple editors on the "talk" page have argued that the one prolific editor should "recuse himself from editing the Kamala Harris page."
Another added: "I am concerned that Wikipedia not be turned into a campaign website for Kamala Harris."