When an article by Mediapart questioned, on May 5, Patricia Mirallès for the use of her mandate expenses envelope for personal purposes, the deputy (Territoires de progress) of the first constituency of Hérault said on Twitter: ” I have nothing to hide. At the same time, in the shadows, his parliamentary team is busy modifying his Wikipedia page, which already mentions these embarrassing revelations. “Pmiralles34”, a user registered for the occasion on the encyclopedia, strives to erase the incriminating passage to replace it with a report of the parliamentary activity of Ms. Mirallès during the year 2021. An operation – a little too visible – concealment? “No, replies to Le Monde one of his collaborators in the Assembly. There were modifications to the page, which in our opinion was biased, because it was incomplete. »

The small digital crusade of the parliamentary team of the deputy is nothing exceptional. The contributors to the encyclopedia are well aware of this: highly visible and well referenced in search engine results, Wikipedia pages represent an important communication issue for MPs. According to the count of Le Monde, based on Wikipedia modification histories, more than 50% of the pages of the deputies of the outgoing legislature (2017-2022) have been modified at least once by the elected representative himself or by a member. close entourage – a parliamentary assistant, in most cases. Behavior that contradicts the rules of the online encyclopedia.

Some deputies revise the article concerning them by adding many details magnifying their parliamentary action. In April 2022, the page of Bérangère Couillard, deputy La République en Marche (LRM) for the 7th constituency of Gironde, was thus embellished by her team with several sentences on her political career, full of details on her participation in parliamentary delegations or on the organization of public meetings. In February, a parliamentary assistant tried to draw an extensive assessment of the mandate of his deputy, the socialist Alain David (Gironde), campaigning for his re-election. A few months earlier, it was the page of the deputy of La France insoumise (LFI) Michel Larivé (Ariège) who had suffered a major ripolinage: his intern collaborator had endeavored to detail the content of his written questions, amendments and proposals of law.

During their terms of office, at least 131 deputies have inflated their Wikipedia page by providing sometimes dispensable details, such as the description of the “small student jobs” of Adrien Quatennens (LFI), the complete list of friendship groups to which participated Alexandra Valetta-Ardisson (LRM) or the “humanist and progressive” sensibility of Audrey Dufeu-Schubert (LRM).

Erase controversies and “bad buzz”

While some assistants are busy making their MP’s page shine – to the point that it looks more like a curriculum vitae than an encyclopedic article – others have taken the opposite route, working to remove any unfavorable material, snipping out the text, erasing anything that might look like controversy or negative word-of-mouth.

In September 2017, a parliamentary assistant wanted to put an end to the attack with a helmet on a Socialist Party executive by her employer, the deputy (ex-LRM) M’jid El Guerrab, arguing that the information had no no place on Wikipedia since “the investigation is ongoing” – the chosen one has since been sentenced to three years in prison and two years of ineligibility and has appealed. Between October 2021 and March 2022, Pierre Cabaré’s parliamentary team (LRM) is trying, with at least two accounts, to delete several paragraphs on the accusations of sexual harassment and assault against him and his court convictions.

More innocuous in appearance, certain attempts at redaction illustrate the relentlessness of certain parliamentary teams to smooth the digital profile of their deputy. As when the user “AFBrunet” erases a paragraph on the poor “managerial qualities” of the deputy Anne-France Brunet vis-à-vis her collaborators reported by the press, qualified as “passage to charge”. Or when the assistant of Sébastien Chenu (National Rally, RN) erases the criticisms of those who, within his own party, portray the deputy in Rastignac of Marine Le Pen.

Some deletions border on insignificance: Raphaël Gauvain (LRM) erases his family relationship with his father-in-law, the former Minister of Justice Dominique Perben (the MP claims that he “does not know why [his collaborator] would have wanted remove that”); a contributor close to deputy Jean-René Cazeneuve (LRM) erases the politico-economic career of the daughter of the elected official, adviser to Emmanuel Macron; Stanislas Guerini’s assistant erases the fact that Ismaël Emelien, a former adviser to the Elysée, witnessed his marriage…

“Point of View Neutrality” at Wikipedia

Outrageous or more discreet, these many alterations “are fair war”, believes Fabricio Cardenas, librarian by trade, and one of the main contributors to the encyclopedia in French. “Communicators seek to highlight the MP,” he observes. This phenomenon seems to particularly affect Macronist deputies, of whom at least 63% have given in to the temptation to modify their own page. Much more than the Socialists or the Republicans, who are only 29% to have done so in an obvious way. A trend that can be explained by “the absence of historical activists” within the presidential party, advances Authueil, a particularly active contributor to the encyclopedia. “If LRM’s parliamentary aides don’t maintain their MPs’ pages, who will?” asks this former parliamentary assistant.

The partiality of these many contributors, whose activity fluctuates according to the political adventures of their elected representative, contravenes one of the founding principles of the online encyclopedia: neutrality of point of view. “Writing about yourself while remaining neutral is very difficult, if not impossible, explains Jules*, one of the administrators of the French Wikipedia. Neutrality imposes articles which must make a synthesis of quality sources. “A principle despised by Esteve Vaills, close collaborator of the deputy (LRM) of the Pyrénées-Orientales, Romain Grau: “Mr. Grau’s page is made for Parisians in the press, believes this former journalist who has become a communicator. A Wikipedia page is necessarily advertising. »

This desire to maintain control over their digital image rarely goes unnoticed. The collaborative online encyclopedia is based on a community of volunteer contributors, who can become patrollers to monitor the activity of other Wikipedia users, with particular attention to political pages. They ensure, in particular with the approach of the legislative elections, the good performance of the articles of the deputies, supposed to keep an encyclopedic tone and avoid formulas (too) complacent. “[The contributor] had turned the Wikipedia page into a political tract,” laments a scathing Wikipedian, slashing a flattering paragraph added to a member’s page. “We only look at the changes, not the person. From the moment the information is not distorted, where the facts have not been chosen in a biased way, we keep, ”wishes to emphasize Authueil.

If the article is not impartial, the patrollers of Wikipedia have several weapons. They can undo a user’s changes to revert to the previous version of the page, negating the work of a parliamentary assistant in a few clicks. They can also affix a large colored banner at the top of the article to warn the reader of the laudatory nature of the article, or even – ultimate weapon – block any modification of the page to avoid untimely edits for a certain time.

The hunt for manipulation

Most partisan edits come under scrutiny, but some slip through the cracks. This is, for example, the case of the page of MP Jacques Marilossian (LRM): its content, written by one of his parliamentary collaborators, details in detail the positions taken by the MP. As of the date of publication, the article seems quite far from the encyclopedic and synthetic goal that Wikipedia usually imposes on its contributors.

As Jules* points out, these biased contributions are still “less embarrassing when it’s transparent.” Some assistants, good students, sign their contributions by specifying that they come from “the parliamentary team” or the “collaborator of the deputy”. But transparency is not always required on Wikipedia, where anyone can modify an encyclopedic article with one click, without having to identify themselves. If the site has made it mandatory to identify remunerated accounts (under penalty of ending up blocked), it is not uncommon for parliamentary teams to ignore this rule by hiding.

Thus, the team of Karine Lebon, deputy (various left) of Reunion, made use of several accounts with sibylline names (Snow974, Skeptic974, etc.), which correspond perfectly to the Wikipedia definition of “false noses”, these multiple accounts run by the same user to circumvent blocks and “trick the community”. On the page of deputy (LFI) Loïc Prud’homme, four pseudonymous accounts sharing the same IP address (an identifier that refers to the geographical location of the connection) “inserted several paragraphs which are not of an encyclopedic nature”, before to be detected by a fussy administrator.

Countless changes also come from totally anonymous accounts, identified by their IP address alone, and therefore impossible to link to an elected official. Le Monde, however, counted a hundred pages of deputies modified by an anonymous account from the address… which corresponds to the premises of the National Assembly. This is how in February 2021 a user installed in an office at the Palais-Bourbon surreptitiously tried to erase the qualification of “extreme right” attached to the Ligue du Sud, the party of the Vaucluse deputy Marie-France Lorho .

Is redacting political pages after all just an amateur sport, practiced by collaborators with easy-to-thwart tactics? Not necessarily, warn Wikipedia administrators, who warn of the existence of communication agencies specializing in digital reputation, very skilled at acting while remaining under the radar. “Some really know it. And when they come into play, it’s much harder to detect them,” explains Jules*. A few have been spotted over time: three accounts linked to the Gantzer Agency, founded by the eponymous communications adviser of François Hollande, were spotted while they were modifying the article of the deputy (LRM) of Val- de-Marne, Laurent Saint-Martin. However, this hunt for manipulation is becoming more and more complex, because “com agencies are improving greatly and are very aware of how Wikipedia works”, admits librarian Fabricio Cardenas, before reassuring himself about the ability of politicians to disguise Wikipedia’s encyclopedic intention: “In general, there is still an education to be done on the digital world: the politicians are completely dropped. »