Civil servants set Wikipedia straight on sexual positions, hockey

Documents obtained under access to information legislation shed light on how the federal government investigates inappropriate and embarrassing edits to Wikipedia entries.

Civil servants are permitted to edit Wikipedia entries on job if pages are 'work related'

Someone working at the Department of National Defence used a government IP address when they anonymously edited the Wikipedia page for the Winnipeg Jets. It wasn't the first time a federal servant has strayed from official tasks. (CBC)

Among the Wikipedia edits completed by staff at Environment and Climate Change Canada are modifications to the entries on rainbows, fog mist and, quite unexpectedly, a photograph depicting a sexual position. 

Last Saturday afternoon, someone using an Environment Canada computer or IP address edited the description of a high-resolution photograph of a sex act on Wikipedia's visual media site Wikimedia.

"This is not doggy style," noted the keen-eyed editor, before changing the description to "women in cowboy position."

It's yet another edit in a string of embarrassing online encyclopedia changes made by federal employees during the work day. All the edits are documented by the Twitter account @gccaedits, which tracks changes made from government IP addresses. 

A quick survey of these entries suggests employees at Shared Services Canada and the departments of Environment and National Defence are among the most prolific government editors of the online encyclopedia.

CBC News recently asked Shared Services Canada to reveal what efforts were being made to identify people using government computers and resources to make anonymous edits.

Documents obtained under access to information legislation shed light on how the department investigates such abuses, but only after they come to the attention of the general public.

The 'poopitch' incident

In one case from last year, the Ottawa Citizen reported that someone using a Shared Services IP address edited a Wikipedia article about Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic to say the hockey player's last name was pronounced "poopitch."

"On an urgent basis, can you please trace back the IP in the article below?" the employee asked according to the documents. "For some reason media lines were created stating this is an SSC employee and now I must validate that this is the case."

The investigator conducted a number of tests to understand the Wikipedia editing process by making his or her own edits to the entry for "carrot."

The result was hardly conclusive.

"Based on the results of the testing done; although there were multiple visits of the Milan Lucic Wikipedia page ... I cannot confirm that this edit was done by a SSC/PWGSC employee.

Investigators finally hit pay dirt once a "firewall" team performed an expedited log search. They found that while the IP address is managed by Shared Services, the edit was made from a workstation at Infrastructure Canada.

"This user name may correspond to INFC Senior Analyst [redacted]," read the email.

Media lines were prepared and approved by the former president of Shared Services Liseanne Forand, even though it appears media interest had already faded by the time investigators concluded their work.

The Rush incident

Yet just a few months later, those media lines came in handy.

"This is a similar case to the 'Pootchie' case. Do you know who I can reach out to, to find out the same info we found out before," asked Shared Service's deputy departmental security officer on Dec. 11, 2015.

The query was in response to a request from the CBC Radio show As it Happens, while following up on a CBC News story about edits to a number of entries on the band Rush by someone using a Shared Services computer or IP address.

"Is the minister a Rush fan herself?" asked the producer. "Is it government policy to promote accuracy in online postings about Canadian prog rock icons?"

The cheeky questions led to a deadpan response. The department said it was "investigating the current situation" and that government policy permits employees to "read, contribute to, or edit articles in work-related wikis, online forums or discussion groups."

Environment Canada said in an email statement that its "employees are informed of their obligations regarding use of electronic networks and an electronic signature indicating agreement with the terms is required from employees in order to access the networks."

"[Environment and Climate Change Canada] takes this matter seriously and is looking into it," spokesman Pierre Manoni said.

As such, unless the environment employee who edited that "women in cowboy position" photo can make a link to something such as a high humidex warning, it is likely that person will soon feel a different kind of heat.