POLITICS

Grant Shapps Accused Of Editing Wikipedia Pages Of Political Rivals

21/04/2015 22:45 BST | Updated 22/04/2015 11:59 BST

Who is Grant Shapps?

The Conservative Party chairman, who earlier in the year was unmasked as "get rich quick" author Michael Green, was accused on Tuesday of having yet another identity -- that of Wikipedia sock puppet Contribsx, who fluffed his own entry and vandalised those of political rivals.

Shapps denied the allegation, dismissing the Guardian story as "categorically false" on the BBC. He also suggested he might be the victim of dirty tricks by Labour after it was reported that an online account from which changes were also made regularly to Shapps' own page had been blocked by the site's administrators.

Shapps said that he was writing to Wikipedia over the fact that one anonymous editor was being reported as "speaking as if it's Wikipedia itself" and "being somebody who is with authority".

"You could make this kind of story up about anybody in absolutely any type of circumstance. There are 24 million people who actively edit Wikipedia. It could be anyone," he told the BBC.

When some of the edits in question were made he was "in a variety of different places - and public places - at the same time (so) it certainly wasn't me", he said, and had "asked absolutely everybody around me" if they were involved.

"I am satisfied that his has not come from my office or from someone close to me.

"It's pretty despicable that, 15 days before the election, the Labour-supporting Guardian machine and the Labour Party are trumping up something like this."

The Guardian said it was told the account was run either by Shapps directly or "under his clear direction" and was in contravention of rules against creating a fake identity to mislead other editors, so called "sock puppetry". But Shapps strongly denied any involvement in making the changes -- said to have centred on removing unfavourable parts of his own biography and inserting unhelpful entries to those of figures such as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Conservative election guru Lynton Crosby.

Most of those affected were said to have been involved in clashes with Shapps before the edits were made. "This Guardian smear is categorically false and defamatory," Shapps said. "It is untrue from start to finish, and was quite likely dreamt up by the Labour press office. Sadly it is typical of the smears coming from those who would rather not debate policy and substance."

Political rivals were quick to make capital from the claims, with the Liberal Democrats issuing a satirical response from campaign co-ordinator Lord Ashdown. "Grant is a wonderful guy -- he is a credit to the Conservative Party, a fine sportsman and reads a book a day. We could all learn a lot from him," it read. He has led the Tories with exemplary skill and if, like me, you have been lucky enough to meet him -- you know you have been touched by greatness. Quite simply, a colossus." In a nod to the name of the suspended account, it added: "This Press Release has been edited by Wikipedia user Contribsx."

A spokesman from Wikimedia UK, the UK charity that supports Wikipedia, told The Guardian: "We would welcome any MPs who choose to become editors, and are happy to provide training sessions to anyone who wants to learn. However, the Wikipedia project is founded on trust, and anyone who tries to deceive our volunteers and readers in order to further their own ends should think very carefully about the morality of what they're doing. Eventually, the public will find out."

Shapps was forced to admit in March that he worked as a "get rich quick" web marketer under the pseudonym "Michael Green" after entering parliament, telling the BBC he had "screwed up" and admitted he had "over firmly denied" the existence of his second job when pressed by the media.

Shapps used to run the HowToCorp website - a 'get-rich-quick' internet marketing guide.

Since finding himself at the centre of controversy previously over editing the Wikipedia entry about him to correct items, "I have never gone near it since", he said.

Asked when he last looked at it, he said: "Literally months ago. I don't look at it, I don't spend time on it."

At a press conference in central London, Mr Clegg said Mr Shapps has "fervently denied" involvement and he "does not have the time to edit his own Wikipedia entry".

He continued: "I'm prepared to believe it. It just could have been someone else - Michael Green, for instance. Boom, boom."

A spokesman from Wikimedia UK, the UK charity that supports Wikipedia, told The Guardian: "We would welcome any MPs who choose to become editors, and are happy to provide training sessions to anyone who wants to learn.

"However, the Wikipedia project is founded on trust, and anyone who tries to deceive our volunteers and readers in order to further their own ends should think very carefully about the morality of what they're doing. Eventually, the public will find out."

We await Shapps next incarnation, that of Banksy, Lord Lucan or Jimmy Hoffa.

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Sock Puppets