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Sanitizing the Past

Two items in current news are raising questions of how to preserve historical truths in a digital age.

The Lowell Sun in Massachusetts reports that the staff of U.S. Rep Marty Meehan “wiped out references to his broken term-limits pledge as well as information about his huge campaign war chest in an independent biography of the Lowell Democrat” on Wikipedia.

It’s worth noting that the references in question — Meehan’s breaking of his pledge not to run for more than four terms — have been restored to the page. There are likely to be a lot more Wikipedians who are willing to keep this up to date than congressional staff members who want to alter history.

Meanwhile, as political blogger Josh Marshall has reported, photos of President Bush and lobbying criminal Jack Abramoff have been expunged from public availability by a company that does “grip and grin” photo shoots for Republican politicians. If anyone has one of these pictures, he or she should make them public.

(Disclosure: I am an investor in a new company founded by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder. He is a member of the Center for Citizen Media’s board of advisors.)

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