Between 3:24 p.m. on April 27 and 5:24 a.m. on April 28 — or a total of 14 hours — a so-called editing war erupted on the Wikipedia page of Vice President Leni Robredo. A Wikipedia editor using the name Spidermonk3y888 inserted the following lie into “Line 113” of the page: “She currently has an affair with Congressman Bolet Banal, a married man. She has not denied the relationship.” This is a double lie: It is not true, and Robredo did in fact deny having any such relationship. Worse, the scurrilous statement was inserted with a misleading source—that is to say, a real source that did not in fact support the lie. Another contributor, with only an IP address as identification, then added a word to Line 34: “Amazing!”
Pushback came within minutes. First, an automated computer program called “ClueBot NG” alerted the “Amazing” contributor that “one or more of your recent edits to Leni Robredo has been undone.” Then, at 3:36 p.m., a mere 12 minutes after Spidermonk3y888 did his monkey business, ERAMnc cleaned up the page, with a polite note: “Nowhere in the reference [does it state] that Leni Robredo is having an affair with a local legislator. Furthermore, BLP issue.” BLP is short for “biography of living persons”—and Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia, has specific conditions for writing BLPs.
Over those 14 hours, the page was edited 57 times. Much of the exchange involved the Line 113 insertion, but there were other changes as well; anti-Robredo editors Spidermonk3y888 and others using only their IP addresses (for instance, “184.108.40.206”) pushed falsehood after deliberate falsehood, only to face pushback from other editors, who reverted the page to what it was before, then flagged the insertions for what Wikipedia calls vandalism, then finally, at 4:59 a.m., were joined by an administrator who “protected” the page for seven days — that is, stopped further changes, because of “persistent disruptive editing.”
At 7:01 a.m., another Wikipedia administrator blocked Spidermonk3y888 for an indefinite period. Reason: “violations of the biographies of living persons policy.” He, or she, remains suspended.
It was not the first time that the canard about the VP and the congressman who is one of several who assist her in her work saw publication. As if in compensation for the unapologetic adultery of President Duterte, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and other administration officials and allies, a group of persons fabricated the scandal over Robredo’s alleged indiscretion several months ago. I know that this group consists mainly of allies and supporters of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who lost the vice presidential contest to Robredo; I can also recognize the pattern of pro-Duterte influencers and sites amplifying the lie, for their own purposes.
The April skirmish on Wikipedia was only one small part of the elaborate plot to unseat Robredo. Wikipedia, a true online success story, is one of the biggest draws on the internet: fifth most visited site in the world, sixth in the United States, 10th in the Philippines. Some of its pages, rigorously patrolled by civic-minded editors, offer information unavailable elsewhere. My favorite example: The best source of Philippine election data going all the way back to 1907 is in Wikipedia.
The April 27-28 “edit war” was an attempt to undermine Robredo’s moral standing. Even the most prejudiced members of the Supreme Court acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal know that Robredo, a public interest lawyer, has led a simple, honorable life. And even the lawyers representing Marcos before the PET know that the odds, and the evidence, are in Robredo’s favor. (Read the transcript of the first PET hearing again, where for lack of a better strategy Marcos sought to invalidate the entire election, including Mr. Duterte’s undoubted victory. With allies like those, who needs enemies?) The editing war included the insertion of the word “fake” before the title of vice president—a much more obvious attempt to condition the public mind.
But the attempt to rewrite Robredo’s Wikipedia page forms part of a larger pattern. The tabloids also ran stories about the alleged affair, as well as similar stories about alleged cheating uncovered by the PET (again, fabricated).
Belatedly, like the class or company idiot who did not hear the news the first time and then, upon finally hearing it, repeats the news as loudly as he can, to pretend he is in the know, the former communist and former journalist Bobi Tiglao splashed the lie on the front page. Did he know that on the same day, May 21, the tabloids People’s Journal, People’s Tonight, Remate, and Police Files! Tonite ran exactly the same fabricated story on alleged cheating? Talk about a united front.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
Note. This column has been edited, to remove the user name of a Wikipedia editor mistakenly included in a listing of anti-Robredo contributors. Mr. Nery apologizes for the mistake.