Occupy Melbourne's official Wikipedia page was edited twice by a person using a City of Melbourne computer to remove contentious words in the lead-up to the re-election of lord mayor Robert Doyle last year.
The two edits, made on Sunday October 21, 2012 at 4.28pm and 4.32pm, removed the word "peacefully" to describe Occupy protesters and also removed reference to council's alleged involvement in shutting down the protest.
The edits were made just days before the October 27 Melbourne City Council elections, at which Robert Doyle was re-elected lord mayor. October 21 also marked one year since Occupy protesters were evicted by more than 100 police from City Square in 2011.
These screenshots show paragraphs on the Occupy Melbourne before and after the first edit to the page.
A computer within the City of Melbourne's network was linked to making the changes after activist website occupymelbourne.net discovered an IP address belonging to the council in Wikipedia's edit history log.
The City of Melbourne confirmed in a statement the IP address used to edit the Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page belonged to it. It said it was not aware of any authorisation to edit the page and pointed out that Wikipedia was an open-edit environment "where anyone can make changes to content".
"The City Of Melbourne is not aware of any motive for the changes," it said. "The City Of Melbourne permits limited personal use of council [computers]."
These screenshots show paragraphs on the Occupy Melbourne before and after the second edit to the page.
Cr Doyle said neither he nor any of his staff made the changes to the Wikipedia page.
''I stand by my decisions and my actions of the time, it was not a time I would want to see repeated again, but neither me, nor my office, nor anyone known to me made any alterations to that Wikipedia entry,'' he said.
''If I were going to make alterations I would probably make it to my own entry which has a particular view of those events as well, I haven't done that and that has been there for a very long time,'' he said.
The Occupy Melbourne protests to which the Wikipedia page refers. Photo: Justin McManus
Melbourne City Labor councillor Richard Foster said the Wikipedia editing was "deeply concerning" and lent itself to the suggestion "that a council staff member or somebody else within the council" made them.
Mr Foster had therefore made "some inquiries internally" to determine what computer made the changes. He hoped this would help identify the person who was using the computer.
"Clearly it's of deep concern that these things happen a week out from an election," Mr Foster said.
City of Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle. Photo: Penny Stephens
He said the changes were contentious and that Occupy protesters were peaceful. "I'd be quite comfortable, erring on the side of caution, saying that it was [peaceful] until there [is] evidence [saying otherwise]," he said.
Mr Foster said the editing which removed reference to council's alleged involvement in the shutting down of the protest was also a controversial change.
"Robert Doyle's actions at the time of the protest and indeed his attitude towards the bringing about of the end of the protest were seen as controversial at the time," Mr Foster said.
"Robert Doyle, the then-lord mayor and indeed the current lord mayor is on the record as having said that he wanted the protesters to move," Mr Foster said.
"I don't know what more you need to say that the council wanted to draw an end to the protest. He is the lord mayor and he's on the record saying he wanted the protest ended."
However, the lord mayor said the changes likely had little impact on the outcome of the election. ''It is pretty long bow to say that you can remove couple of words from a Wikipedia entry and that would have some sort of electoral effect, that is really stretching credibility a bit,'' he said.
Cr Doyle said the changes did not warrant an investigation at the council.
''I don't know why you would do it, have they committed a crime? That is the point of self-generated content, if people don't like it they can change it back and if it is disputed, Wikipedia will arbitrate that,'' he said.
''I really do think they're getting their knickers in a knot about something that is pretty low level." He said the City of Melbourne chief executive was likely to reiterate to staff equipment-use policies.
Mr Foster, however, suggested those seeking the re-election of Robert Doyle would've "rightly considered those events to be potentially harmful to him" and said perhaps one of Mr Doyle's staff tried to rewrite history.
"That is why I want to be sure who made the changes ... because those changes do stand the council and, by association, the lord mayor in a far more favourable stand in relation to that protest and what the comments previously lent themselves to," Mr Foster said.
Melbourne City Greens councillor Rohan Leppert also said the changes were questionable.
"I think the removal of the word 'peacefully' is obviously a political act and it's obviously an inappropriate thing for someone within council to [remove]," Mr Leppert said. "That's a highly inappropriate use of council resources."
He said the eviction of Occupy protesters remained "very controversial and confused", which was why he said his Greens colleague, councillor Cathy Oke, moved a motion a month after the Occupy eviction in November 2011 "to request a log of all decisions and actions taken by all staff and councillors in the lead up to the eviction".
"The lord mayor voted that down with his numbers and the whole motion didn't get through," Mr Leppert said.
"We're still calling for that information and I think the time is here again that we need to make that call again.
"We still don't know exactly what happened but we deserve to know."
It's not the first time changes to Wikipedia pages have been linked back to government organisations in Australia.
In August 2007 when John Howard was prime minister, Fairfax Media reported that staff in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were caught editing Wikipedia to remove details that might be damaging to the government.
ABC TV's Media Watch reported then that staff at several media organisations, including Fairfax Media, were found editing their own and others' Wikipedia pages, with some edits heaping abuse on rivals.
This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb
with Jason Dowling