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Biography to ‘advertisement’: Elizabeth Cannon’s Wikipedia page makeover

By Jason Herring, February 2 2018 —

The Wikipedia article about Elizabeth Cannon might show you why professors don’t want their students citing the online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia.

The page, which when accessed on Feb. 2 describes Cannon in its first paragraph as “the leader of one of Canada’s top research universities” and “a passionate advocate of higher education to drive innovation, leadership and community engagement.” It also apparently violates Wikipedia’s standards of neutrality and fairness for biographies of living persons — the website describes Cannon’s page as an “advertisement.”


Above: Cannon’s Wikipedia page as it appeared on Feb. 2.

The architects of the page’s current content are the users behind the IP addresses, and, whose geolocations place them on the same subnet within the University of Calgary’s internet service provider. Shortly before edits from within the U of C started, Cannon’s page was a biography adhering to Wikipedia standards that also included information on the Enbridge scandal and the U of C’s lawsuit with the Students’ Union over ownership of MacHall.

On Dec. 22, 2015, a user with a U of C IP address altered information in the paragraphs about Enbridge and MacHall to include updates sourced and copied verbatim from the U of C’s in-house UToday publication.

On Jan. 4, 2016, a user with a U of C IP address deleted all reference to the Enbridge scandal and the MacHall lawsuit, with a comment on the edit saying that “findings of the independent review affirm President Elizabeth Cannon acted with integrity in all matters related to the Centre for Corporate Sustainability,” verbatim with a statement released weeks earlier by the U of C Board of Governors vice-chair Gord Ritchie


Above: A selection of edits to Cannon’s Wikipedia page by U of C IP addresses.

Cannon’s page went through a complete overhaul one week later on Jan. 11, 2016, when the biographical elements of the page were replaced by content heavily focusing on Cannon’s achievements.

The page has since remained largely the same, with a few attempts by non-Calgary Wikipedia users to alter the article. One user removed some of the article, commenting that “several paragraphs of superfluous praise for Dr. Cannon were removed in order to make the article more objective and less opinionated.” Another removed almost all of the article, citing its similarity to the school’s official biography of Cannon on its website. In the second instance, which took place on Oct. 6, 2017, a user with a U of C IP address restored the contents of the article twice.


Above: A revision to Cannon’s Wikipedia page by a U of C IP address that removes reference to the MacHall lawsuit and the Enbridge scandal.

Cannon’s current Wikipedia article, as of Feb. 2, contains a disclaimer that it “contains content that is written like an advertisement,” calling for users to improve it. On the article’s discussion page, one user notes that mention of the Enbridge scandal “seems to have been wiped from Wikipedia entirely.”

The U of C did not comment by press time.

A full revision history of Cannon’s Wikipedia page can be found here.

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