As far as crimes of vanity go, editing your own Wikipedia page is an extremely relatable one. After all, who doesn’t want some control over their public image? But if you’re hoping to be president of the USA, what at first seems like a slight misdeed becomes something more revealing (even if it pales in comparison to the known activities of the current president).
In this fascinating story from Slate, reporter Ashley Feinberg lays out the mystery of a Wikipedia user named “Streeling,” who appears to be an unusually close follower of Pete Buttigieg, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although the Buttigieg campaign denies all connection with “Streeling,” the account has edited the 37-year-old politician’s page consistently over the years, gently building his online profile.
There’s no smoking gun to prove that Streeling is Buttigieg, but Feinberg lays out a lot of evidence that whoever runs the account has some close connection with the politician and/or his campaign. This includes the following:
- The account’s username, “Streeling,” is an Old Irish word meaning “wandering,” appropriate for Buttigieg, son of a scholar who studied James Joyce.
- Streeling created the first Wikipedia entry for Buttigieg, uploading a photograph of the politician which Feinberg shows would be impossible to get without access to his campaign (or hacking their computers).
- Streeling has updated Buttigieg’s profile across Wikipedia, adding him to a list of “notable alumni” for his school as well as a list of “notable Buttigiegs.”
- Streeling has also edited Wikipedia pages with other connections to Buttigieg’s life, including the article for Buttigieg’s favorite watch brand and for the musician who played at his wedding.
As Feinberg concludes, “unless somebody repeatedly hacked into various Buttigieg campaign computers [...] Mayor Pete is, for whatever reason, trying to conceal the truth about his relationship to Wikipedia.” As we mentioned above, this is relatively light stuff in the current political climate, but it’s still potentially revealing about the type of campaign Buttigieg is running.
More broadly speaking, it also shows how digital paper trails can be used to track public figures through cyberspace. Feinberg is a master of this sort of work, previously revealing the secret Twitter accounts of Mitt Romney and James Comey. Just because you’re using a pseudonym online, doesn’t mean you’re anonymous.