Is Grant Shapps being naughty on Wikipedia – or did a Lib Dem stitch him up?

Truth, lies and the website anyone can muck about with

Deleted everything? The internet never forgets, dear boy

It has subsequently emerged that Symonds has been deleting widespread evidence of his Lib Dem political activity. His Twitter bio described him as “Liberal Democrat to the last”. That’s now been deleted, though an archived copy is here. Symonds' Facebook likes and comments on Lib Dem posts have disappeared along with his Facebook account.

On 25 March, Symonds added a comment on YouTube under the Lib Dem campaign anthem UpTown Funk: “Please can we, as a party, just pretend this never happened”. Now the whole video, uploaded to YouTube by the official Lib Dem account, has disappeared from YouTube ("This video has been removed by the user. Sorry about that."), along with the comment by Symonds.

Symonds is not the only person at Wikimedia UK with Lib Dem party connections. According to her LinkedIn page, Katherine Bavage is a former "Vice President Liberal Youth" and "Secretary Leeds North West Liberal Democrat Executive”. Today, she’s Wikimedia UK's fundraising manager – a full time job.

More connections can be found without too much difficulty. A training company, Midas, provides services to both the Wikimedia Foundation and the Lib Dems. Aiden Piercy “trains and accredits trainers for Wikimedia UK's training programme and for the Liberal Democrats.”

Wikimedia UK trustee Chris Keating, a former Lib Dem council candidate in Lambeth, lists his affiliation as a Declared Interest.

So is Shapps guilty or innocent? Only with evidence do we know. That means requiring two sources, and requiring hard evidence rather than an uncorroborated allegation. Both of these are requirements that largely “define” journalism, which relies on something that has been corroborated, not taken on assurance.

The remarkable thing is that neither requirement was needed by the BBC, Channel 4, or other media when they raced each other to repeat the Wikipedia Shapps allegation. What is it with the BBC and Tory chairmen? The eagerness to get Lord McAlpine, former party chairman and treasurer, resulted in a BBC team suspending judgement over the quality of the evidence against him; it ended in catastrophe for the corporation. "Get Shapps" seems to have resulted in a similar suspension of rigour.

Fantasy Internet

Wikipedia does strange things to sensible people. They create child-like utopian fantasies about the internet and project them onto Wikipedia. We’ve encountered this already – with the belief that the “wisdom of the crowd” ensures errors are corrected – but the poor judgement doesn't end there.

Contributors are treated as high-minded, dispassionate individuals, with no more motive than seeking the truth and applying the rules fairly. Even if they’ve got ludicrous names such as ”Chase me ladies, I’m The Cavalry”.

Shapps has a well known history running an SEO business under the name “Michael Green”, which sold scraper software called Traffic Paymaster. His How To Corp promised it could show people how “to make $20,000 in 20 days guaranteed or your money back”.

Yet there’s a distinction between cheesy and sleazy, and last week’s story implied Shapps was engaged in character assassination – something much more serious. Apparently, the unchecked allegation of a Wikipedia administrator was enough to make the story run.

Not the finest hour for Her Majesty’s Press Corps. ®

Bootnote Shapps used IP address 217.55.38.72 to tidy up his own entry in 2008 and 2010.




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