Dyer bio takes center stage in cyberduel
Mark Schlueb | Sentinel Staff Writer
(published) August 30, 2007
There's a war over Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's biography, and it's being fought in cyberspace.
On Wikipedia, to be exact.
The online encyclopedia allows anyone with Internet access to edit entries, including Dyer's critics.
So, despite his having logged 15 years in state and local politics, about half of Dyer's biographical Wikipedia entry is about Orlando's controversial ban on feeding the homeless in city parks.
But someone at City Hall didn't take the matter lying down.
According to a new Web site that allows users to track changes to Wikipedia entries, the city's computer network was used to delete the negative information last month.
"I think it's a pretty poor use of taxpayers' money to use city workers to edit Wikipedia entries," said Ben Markeson, the homeless-rights activist who authored the offending section. "They've attempted to make changes to certain information that they find embarrassing."
It's the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations for politicians and corporations since a 24-year-old graduate student launched WikiScanner (wikiscanner.virgil.gr), the program that identifies the anonymous authors of changes to Wikipedia. It works by searching Internet Protocol addresses attached to the computer networks of government agencies and corporations.
Since the program went online, users have discovered, for instance, that a passage about Wal-Mart wages being "about 20 percent less" than those of competitors was changed by someone on a Wal-Mart network computer to say the retailer's average wage "is almost double the federal minimum wage."
Members of the group Orlando Food Not Bombs have been a thorn in Dyer's side since the city passed an ordinance last year that restricts homeless-aid groups from feeding groups larger than 25 people in city parks. Some members have defied the ordinance and challenged it in federal court.
In June, six members were arrested for violating the noise ordinance by banging on drums outside a fundraiser for Dyer's re-election campaign.
Meanwhile, Dyer's Wikipedia entry includes only two outdated and incomplete sentences about the downtown venues approved last month, and one short paragraph about his arrest on an election-law violation and subsequent return to office after being cleared.
But, thanks to Markeson, it now contains a much lengthier section on the homeless feeding controversy and the ensuing protests.
The section was added July 7. On July 11, someone using a City Hall computer anonymously deleted the entire section. On Sunday, Markeson put it back.
Carson Chandler, Dyer's spokesman, said there's no way to tell who edited the mayor's entry. But doing so wouldn't violate city policy because staffers are allowed to browse the Web while on their lunch hour or break as long as they don't visit objectionable sites, he said.
"It could have come from anyone on a city computer," Chandler said. "It wasn't the mayor -- I can say that with certainty."
Mark Schlueb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5417.
BREAKING FREAKING NEWS!!!!! CITY COMPUTER USED TO ALTER BUDDY DYER'S WIKIPEDIA PAGE!!!!
So remember a few weeks back when something called WikiScanner was all the rage for like 28 minutes because it allowed you to find out who was altering Wikipedia pages, which are of course totally reliable. The fun part was that we all found out that government and media officials have way too much time on their hands, and busied themselves by using the Internet to trash competitors (Fox News), delete scandals (Diebold) or otherwise better their online reputations (the CIA).
Apparently, some brown-noser down at Orlando's City Hall is no different. According to WikiScanner, on July 11, at 5:40 p.m. - 40 minutes after close of business, so I suppose not on city time - someone from IP address 184.108.40.206 altered Buddy Dyer's Wikipedia entry; basically it removed a long-winded rant by Orlando's Favorite Anarchist™ Ben Markeson on how Buddy hates homeless people and how the brave young souls of are protesting a lot and getting arrested. Of course, Ben's tirade was like six paragraphs longer than the bit about the venues or Buddy's 2005 arrest - you know, the unimportant shit - but whatever, this is the Internet, where any dipshit with a modem gets to add to the historical record.
Anyway, Mr. or Mrs. IP address 220.127.116.11 went online and erased that section, which actually made the Buddy Wiki that much more readable. But as it turns out, Mr. or Mrs. IP address 18.104.22.168 actually belongs to City of Orlando, Information Services, according to whois.com.
"I think it's like something out of 1984 and I find it disturbing that they
eliminate information they find embarrassing or inconvenient," Ben tells us. He put the disputed section back up, and it's there today (as of this writing).
Anyway, we called city spokesgal Heather Allebaugh for comment, and she said she didn't know anything about that and had only recently discovered that Wikipedia entries can in fact be altered by anyone, and thus are not quite impervious to chicanery. "When we saw it [the WikiScanner story] nationally, I thought, 'Thank God we've never done anything like that," Allebaugh says.
Or not. Anyway, Mr. or Mrs. IP address 22.214.171.124 is apparently a pretty avid Wiki editor, and has altered entries on everything from Major League Soccer's expansion draft (Dec. 1, 2006, 2:55 pm; that's within business hours) to "List of Student Newspapers" (July 19, 2006, 7:55 pm) to "International Accounting Standards Board" (March 14, 3:34 pm) among a bunch of others.
We've put in a public records request to find out where exactly IP address 126.96.36.199 is located. We'll keep you posted.
Note by Ben: What i wrote isn't a "rant." It's actually pretty even-handed in explaining why some people support the ordinance and is factual throughout. And i expanded the section on Dyer's arrest for campaign-law violations.
Here's the section in question:
He was re-elected in 2004 in a regular election, narrowly avoiding a runoff with challenger Ken Mulvaney. Mulvaney subsequently alleged election fraud by Dyer. An investigation into the matter by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement led a grand jury to bring charges against the mayor, his campaign manager, and an election consultant for paying someone to gather absentee ballots in Orlando's African American community. Such payments are illegal under Florida law. In March 2005 Dyer was suspended by Governor Jeb Bush in accordance with the Florida Constitution. In April 2005 the charges were dismissed and he was reinstated as mayor.
One controversial issue that Dyer has faced during his tenure as mayor has been his support for an Orlando ordinance (passed in July 2006) that, essentially, bans the sharing of food with groups of 25 or more people inside more than three dozen downtown parks.
Proponents of the "large group feedings" ordinance, including elected officials such as Dyer and District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, contend that the measure is necessary to reduce the crime they say is caused by the presence of large numbers of homeless individuals in the downtown area and to protect the quality of life, including the ability to enjoy public parks, of residents in downtown neighborhoods. Opponents of the ordinance contend that it criminalizes compassion by stopping groups from sharing food with the homeless inside city parks, discriminates against the homeless based upon their socio-economic status, and does not do anything to address the root causes of homelessness--such as the lack of affordable housing and the lack of enough shelter beds and mental-health and substance-abuse treatment.
One of the groups that has been most active and outspoken in its opposition to the ordinance and Dyer is Orlando Food Not Bombs (OFNB), which has shared food inside Lake Eola Park for more than two years. An OFNB member, Eric Montanez, became, on April 4, 2007, the first person arrested under the ordinance, which is a misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. His trial will start on Sept. 10, 2007. The group is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit (filed in October 2006) that challenges the constitutionality of the ordinance. On May 16, 2007, more than 50 OFNB members and allies staged a protest against Dyer while he held a campaign fundraiser at the Urban Think! Bookstore, which is only a few hundred yards from the Lake Eola Park picnic area. On June 27, 2007, six members of OFNB--Jonathan Giralt, Ryan Hutchinson, Bryan Jones, Brett Mason, Eric Montanez, and Will Vertlieb--were arrested for allegedly violating a noise ordinance during a protest held outside of a downtown restaurant hosting a Dyer campiagn fund-raiser. The charge against Giralt, a juvenile, was dropped by the Orange-Osceola State Attorney at his initial court appearance on July 27. The other five arrestees, all adults, will be tried by the City Prosecutor, although a trial date has not been set.
OFNB is also a coalition member of S.T.O.P.--Stop the Ordinance Partnership, a group formed to engage in political advocacy on issues of homelessness in Central Florida. On Dec. 5, 2006 S.T.O.P. members protested inside a Christmas event sponsored by Dyer at Orlando City Hall. A S.T.O.P. member dressed as Santa Claus [Ben Markeson] handed out fliers criticizing the mayor and several city commissioners for their support of the anti-homeless feeding ordinance.
Evidence recently has come to light that strongly suggests that the Dyer administration has been using paid City employees to edit this entry regularly to eliminate the information about the "large group feedings" ordinance and Orlando Food Not Bombs. Apparently the Mayor considers this information to be politically embarassing.