Russian government caught editing Wikipedia pages about flight MH17

Who was responsible for the deadliest attack in the Ukrainian war? Depends who you ask.


Miles Klee

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 19, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 10:30 pm CDT

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

— 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.

H/T The Telegraph | Photo by Shawn Campbell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Share this article
*First Published: Jul 19, 2014, 4:55 pm CDT