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Wikiwash by The Working Group

What We’ve Been Working On: WikiWash – A Free Public Tool for Uncovering Spin on Wikipedia

Journalists, citizens and activists now have a new tool to help them expose misinformation on Wikipedia.

WikiWash (Beta) is a prototype for a free public tool that allows journalists, citizens and activists to uncover spin and bias on Wikipedia by tracking page edits in real time. The platform aims to make political and corporate spin on Wikipedia more visible and discoverable, promoting accountability and transparency through crowdsourcing. 

Using this tool, data-driven journalists can uncover new story angles by:

  • Tracking edits to see what’s being removed and added in real time
  • Following breaking stories through the lens of their Wikipedia edits
  • Downloading the data so they can dive deeper

The idea for WikiWash was born at TechRaking Toronto, the conference for data in the newsroom organized by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), Google Canada and The Canadian Press. Journalists attending the event were invited to pitch their ideas for new software tools in front of a panel of expert judges: Aron PilhoferAndrew LundyJennifer LaFleurGlen McGregor and TWG’s own Dom Bortolussi. The prize: The chance to team up with The Working Group to turn the idea into a working prototype.

Journalists can use this free tool to find clues for future stories on any subject – the edits act as breadcrumbs that can lead to mistakes that were covered up or real data about companies that gets whitewashed. The tool has already been used to expose edit wars on the Alberta Education Minister’s Wikipedia page.

“Journalism has more to gain from technological innovation and deep community engagement than any other sector in the media. WikiWash captures the essence of designing around a need not yet being met, as well as the opportunity to engage the local community in improving journalism,” said Joaquin Alvarado, CIR’s chief executive officer.

Wikiwash by The Working Group

Wikiwash by The Working Group

Wikiwash by The Working Group

The winning team, all from Metro News Canada and led by data journalist Luke Simcoe, impressed judges with their plans to create a tool to scrape, compile and present the edit history of Wikipedia pages in a meaningful way.

“As more and more information becomes available online, the role of the reporter is changing. One used to — and still can — break news by pounding the pavement and cultivating sources, but today, some of the most relevant stories can only be told by poring over datasets and crunching numbers in Excel. As a result, it’s imperative reporters have tools to find the stories hidden in the data.

WikiWash is one of those tools. By revealing edits in a real-time, user-friendly fashion, it helps make political and corporate spin on Wikipedia discoverable. By making the tool available to their newsrooms — and to their audiences — journalists can break unique stories while also promoting accountability on one of the world’s most influential archives.

Taking part in TechRaking and partnering up with The Working Group gave us the confidence to know that when we commit the resources to experimenting with new ideas that it will really pay off.”

 – Luke Simcoe, Metro News Canada

The first iteration of WikiWash exists as a proof-of-concept and we’re excited to see how you will be using the tool. By putting it in the hands of real users, we’ll be able to gather feedback on how to improve and see what kinds of stories could be told using the technology. We can’t wait to team up with CIR again in the future to see what else we can create.

WikiWash is also open source. Our goal is to allow other socially-conscious programmers to edit, improve, and fix WikiWash to make it even more useful for everyone. To facilitate this, WikiWash has been built in Javascript, one of the most accessible and flexible programming languages popular today. Some of the web’s most popular new technologies were also used, including Node.js, Express.js, Angular.js and Socket.IO. WikiWash is a complex tool built to solve a very simple problem – viewing changes in Wikipedia, one of the world’s largest and most popular websites. We invite you to fork the project on Github to help us improve it.


Read more:

Introducing WikiWash: Luke Simcoe, Metro
How To Run Your Own WikiWash Searches: Andrew Fifield, Metro
The Origins of WikiWash: Andrew Fifield, Metro
WikiWash Shines Light on Wikipedia Edits in a Meaningful Way: Center for Investigative Reporting 

Get in touch: hello@twg.ca
Tweet: @twg
Visit WikiWash

Good People Crafting Great Software: About The Working Group  

The Working Group is one of North America’s leading design and development studios. Established in 2002, we work with leading brands and exciting startups to design and build market-defining software products.

We love what we do, and our approach is guided by our unwavering drive to solve problems for our clients. Pairing our domain expertise with yours, we collaborate to craft the right solution for your business.

About CIR

The Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation’s first independent, multiplatform investigative reporting organization. Devoted to holding powerful interests accountable to the public trust, CIR creatively employs cutting-edge technology and innovative storytelling to reveal injustice, spark change at all levels of society and influence public dialogue on critical issues. CIR produces high-impact reporting across print, video, TV, radio and online platforms and is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, winner of a 2013 Emmy Award and a 2014 George Foster Peabody Award, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012 (for local reporting) and 2013 (for public service).

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