Last week, in a sequence that felt like it should have been soundtracked with “Yakety Sax,” Donald Trump announced Mike Pence as his vice-presidential pick, gifting the world with a slightly erotic campaign logo and a running mate with an odd distaste for the animated Disney classic Mulan. Hillary Clinton, days away from the Democratic National Convention, has not yet announced her number-two pick. Unless, maybe, you’re paying very close attention to Wikipedia edits.
Clinton’s campaign tweeted today that she would be announcing “soon,” and if you text their given number you’ll be the first to know. (And then they’ll also have your cell-phone number.) Several names have been bandied about over the last few months — Tom Vilsack, Cory Booker, Tim Kaine, Tom Perez, Elizabeth Warren — with that list dwindling down over the past few days. Kaine, a senator from Virginia, and the longtime front-runner, has emerged as the “likely” pick, according to sources close to the campaign.
But who needs secret sources and political connections when you have Wikipedia? The people’s encyclopedia. The free encyclopedia. The encyclopedia my teachers spent years telling me never to trust as a research source that I am now pointing to as intel for one of the country’s biggest questions.
As radio producer Nick Andersen notes on Twitter, taking a look at the edit history on the Wiki pages for potential VP picks is telling. Each page on Wikipedia shows how many updates have been made to it, who made them, and when. For example, if you look at Tom Vilsack’s page you’ll find about 40 edits since the beginning of July, from a number of different Wikipedia users. The bulk of those happened earlier this week, on July 20, the same day Vilsack was named, alongside Perez and Kaine, by the Associated Press as a top-three contender for the gig. Now, the edits have dropped off.
Meanwhile, on Tim Kaine’s Wikipedia page, edits abound. Roughly 100 changes have been made since Monday, over half of those on Friday alone.
Most of the edits come from a Wikipedia editor under the name “Neutrality,” an account responsible for making thousands of edits across the entire Wikipedia site. The account was awarded a Barnstar (Wikipedia awards for users who go above and beyond the nonexistent call of free-encyclopedia duty) for making numerous key edits to the Wikipedia page for the Republican National Convention earlier this week.
In 2008, the Washington Post reported that prior to John McCain announcing Sarah Palin as his running mate, her Wikipedia page saw a similar amount of editing activity. But back then, the same users editing Palin’s page were also simultaneously updated McCain’s, which isn’t the case with Kaine and Clinton, The Atlantic notes. The most likely explanation is that Wikipedia power-users are just prepping Kaine’s page following the breadcrumb trail left by media reports citing “Democrats close to Hillary Clinton” naming Kaine as the odds-on favorite — but we regard futures markets as reasonably accurate prediction models, and surely power-user edit triage is a sort of mangled futures market? That, or somebody just really wanted to make sure “Richmond” was spelled correctly in every paragraph.