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Tory strategist Lynton Crosby deletes criticism of Phillip Morris links from Wikipedia

Published time: August 14, 2014 16:18
Screenshot from wikipedia.org

Screenshot from wikipedia.org

The Conservatives’ election guru, Lynton Crosby, has allegedly been caught editing his own Wikipedia page to bury his links to the tobacco industry.

According to a report produced by Channel 4 News, information relating to the business affairs of Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist, had been removed by staff at his consultancy firm, Crosby Texor.

Details of the edit were found through a bot created by Channel 4, which automatically detects changes made to internet pages of politicians and high profile figures. Called @whitehalledits on Twitter, the bot was created after the TV company found that details of high-profile killings of individuals by UK authorities were being minimized by people working on government computers.

Channel 4 found edits were made to the Wikipedia profile page of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot and killed by metropolitan police in 2005, after being mistakenly identified as a terrorist.

Official government computers were also reportedly used to edit the Wikipedia pages on Damilola Taylor, a 10-year-old Nigerian schoolboy who was murdered in Britain in 2000, and Lee Rigby, the 25-year-old soldier killed in Woolwich by jihadist extremists in 2013.

Crosby Texor hit out at Channel 4’s claims, however, saying that they were simply removing inaccurate information from Crosby’s Wikipedia page, which can be openly accessed by millions worldwide.

"It's hardly surprising that any individual or company would want to correct inaccuracies and falsehoods on its Wikipedia page,” a spokesperson for Crosby Textor said.

Crosby was hired to work full-time for the Conservative Party in November 2013 in a deal worth some £500,000, and has been credited with “sharpening the campaign style” of the party, by directing its focus on the key issues of immigration and the economy.

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron delivers his keynote speech on the final day of the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester (Reuters / Phil Noble)

History of controversy

Crosby ran a successful campaign to get Conservative Boris Johnson elected as London mayor in 2010. He also ran the Conservatives’ unsuccessful general election campaign in 2005.

Following the recruitment of Crosby, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps told the Sunday Times that Crosby’s role would be to secure the Conservatives an electoral majority in the 2015 general election.

“This is about ensuring we have the best possible campaign team and operation in place to secure a Conservative win, in order that we can continue driving down the deficit, creating more jobs and cleaning up the mess left by years of Labour," he said.

However, Crosby has come under heavy criticism for his links to the tobacco industry, as well as for tax avoidance.

In July 2013, Crosby denied that he lobbied Prime Minister David Cameron to drop plans to remove branding from cigarette packets, despite his links to tobacco giant Phillip Morris. According to the Labour Party, Crosby had agreed to lobby for the company in exchange for around 6 million pounds.

Crosby has also came under fire for dismissing Muslim voters ahead of next year’s election, telling Cameron that he “could afford to lose the Muslim vote,” days after the UK’s first female Muslim cabinet minister, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, resigned over the Gaza offensive.

This isn’t the first instance in which Wikipedia edits have been conducted using government computers.

In April, the BBC found more than 100 instances in which insults and slurs were edited into Wikipedia posts from government computers, including one that said, “All Muslims are terrorists.”

Earlier this month, the Channel 4 bot also found that UK civil servants were editing the Wikipedia pages of Scottish footballers.

As a collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia can be edited by anyone in the world, although the information goes through a system of verification and oversight.

“While vandalism does occasionally happen we are grateful to the many thousands of volunteers who write, edit and organize the content," a Wikimedia UK spokesperson said.

Although in theory, pages can be edited by anyone, Wikipedia states in its rules that edits should not be made where there is an evident conflict of interest, or where “advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia.”

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