As the different factions active in war-torn Ukraine scrambled to assign blame following the Malaysian Airlines crash that killed 298 in the region this week, it appeared that someone at the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company was seeking a powerful ally: Wikipedia.
The Telegraph reports that @RuGovEdits, a Twitter bot that posts whenever it detects edits being made on Wikipedia from a Russian government IP address, was triggered by a change to pages that referenced Malaysian Airlines Flight 17—believed to have been shot down with a surface-to-air missile. The editor was in Kiev, employed by VGTRK, Russia’s state-controlled broadcast network.
Статья в Википедии Список авиационных катастроф в гражданской авиации была отредактирована ВГТРК http://t.co/peZ60q07Fj
— Госправки (@RuGovEdits) July 18, 2014
Previously, a sentence describing arms deals between Russia and separatists across the border had appeared in an article about aviation disasters: “[MH17] was shot down by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.” Afterward, it said something far different: “[MH17] was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.”
This tug-of-war is happening offline as well: Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that Ukraine alone bears responsibility for any plane fired upon in its airspace, while President Barack Obama took a more nuanced view:
Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine. … Over the last several weeks, Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia.
With governments around the world struggling to pull a coherent narrative from the ash and chaos of this horrendous event, it’s less than surprising that someone would want their version of the truth to stick where it matters most: online.