If you edit without signing in to an account, your IP address (the unique identifier of your Internet connection) is exposed for all to see. You can avoid this by signing up for an account.
Wikipedia does not require people to have an account to edit, but doing so can help you in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives you extra access to “semi-protected” pages, which unregistered editors can’t change. (Pages are usually protected in this manner temporarily, after a spate of vandalism by an unregistered editor). Secondly, it means there’s a place where people can leave messages — including replies to any questions you may ask — that’s just for you. Having an account enables you see your editing history, so that you can more easily return to something you worked on weeks or months ago. And it means that you can “watchlist” (or “favourite”) articles, and be notified when they change
You can sign up here — once you have an account, it will work across all Wikimedia Foundation projects. Remember that your account is personal to you, not your employer, and goes with you when you change jobs, so don’t name it “Bill Smith MP’s office”.
Declaration of interest
The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the non-profit body which keeps Wikipedia’s infrastructure running, has a “bright line” rule that any paid editing (that’s paid with money or in kind) must be declared. While you can do so on an edit-by-edit basis, the easiest way one you’ve signed up, is to put a note on your “user” or profile page, such as “I work for Bill Smith MP”, “I am an employee of the X party”, or “I work for the House of Commons”. Then you are always covered.
It is permissible to operate two accounts; one for your work, and one in your leisure time, and only have the declaration on the former, so long as the other account never edits topics covered by the declaration, and the two never participate in a discussion to support each other. Wikipedians have ways of finding out if you attempt to do so surreptitiously!
Removing vandalism and libel
Even where you have an unambiguous conflict of interest, you’re encouraged to remove outright vandalism (the replacement of article content with random gibberish; or blatant swearing or abuse), and clearly untrue and defamatory statements, such as claims that your MP “can be bribed by anyone” or, as sadly happens from time to time, that someone has died when they have not. However, you should not remove true but embarrassing statements, such as that your MP was reprimanded over their expense claims, demoted in reshuffle, or was criticised by someone else.
If your MP becomes a cabinet minister, you won’t need to update Wikipedia — it will happen very soon anyway. But you may make uncontroversial changes, which might otherwise take a while to surface. For instance, you can mention that they got married, or resigned a directorship, so long as you cite a reliable and independent source, such as a mainstream, non-tabloid, newspaper or news website. But err on the side of caution. Consider whether you’d want to see a headline about you making the edit you’re about to make.
Don’t try to add a long list of an MP’s minor achievements. Wikipedia wants balanced and accurate coverage, not a hagiography. Nor does it need to cover every minor negative detail about a subject. Just as it does not need a list of everyone your MP has ever met, there is no need for it to list every minor indiscretion in their past, If, say, they were given a police caution for being drunk and disorderly when they were 18, that’s unlikely to warrant a mention. Context is also important: an MP’s speeding ticket may be relevant, if the MP was in a transport-related ministerial position at the time of the offence. But, as an individual with a conflict of interest, these are not usually your calls to make.
If you think something in the Wikipedia article about the MP you work for is given undue prominence, or is wrong, but you aren’t sure that it unambiguously falls under the categories of vandalism or libel, you should ask someone else to remove it. The same goes for omissions of important points which you feel should be added. The first place to do so is the talk page of the article. Look at the tabs across the top of the Wikipedia page. The first is labelled “article”, but to the right of it is one labelled “talk”. Select that, then select “new section”, and type your comment or request. End with a space followed by four tilde characters “~~~~”) to create a signature (a link to your user page, and a time stamp) and hit “save”.
If, after a few days (or hours if it’s really pressing), you have not received an answer, or your request has been declined for no good reason (or if there is a persistent issue with malicious edits to the biography), you can raise the matter on the “Biography of Living Persons noticeboard“. The procedure is similar, but you use the “Project Page” tab, not the talk tab.
The principles discussed above apply to other pages which mention an MP. This might include a page about their constituency or a project based there, their company, or a political campaign or other hot topic in which they have been involved. You should not try to aggrandise a politician by adding their name to everything with which they have only a tangential connection. Similarly, you should not be making negative edits to pages about an MP’s opponent, on the opponent’s biography or other pages.
Andy Mabbett, FRSA, (ORCID: 0000-0001-5882-6823) is a consultant who specialises in advising organisations about Wikipedia and its sister projects, and training people to edit Wikipedia. He has worked as a “Wikimedian in Residence” for a number of museums, art galleries and learned societies.