On November 29, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s Wikipedia page was edited 34 separate times. Most of the traffic involved minor adds or corrections, but some of it was aimed at turning the page into campaign propaganda — and counter-efforts to restore content removed or altered by the propagandists.
The lead actor in this one-day drama was “Alaenahunt.” The AH account on Wikipedia was created at 3:41 p.m. on November 29. AH made eight edits to Gray’s Wikipage between 4:12 and 7:35 p.m., and has done nothing since then. “Alaenahunt” is presumably a pseudonym; editors can post biographical information but they don’t have to, and AH didn’t. But it’s obvious that AH is either a very staunch Gray supporter or a member of her campaign team. AH’s deletions involved potentially controversial material; additions read as though they were lifted straight from Gray campaign material.
This sort of thing has happened before. In 2016, when former state Senator Peter Galbraith made a doomed run for governor, an editor named “Devotedamerican” repeatedly added positive material and deleted negative stuff from Galbraith’s Wikipage. That editor was repeatedly upbraided by other Wikifolk for obvious shilling.
On three days in May 2012, when then-attorney general Bill Sorrell faced a challenge from then-Chittenden County state’s attorney (and current AG) TJ Donovan, there was a torrent of activity on Sorrell’s Wikipage. Until then it had been a stub with very little information. Suddenly, an anonymous user started adding whole chunks of favorable material and deleting the unfavorable. It basically turned the page into a campaign ad for Sorrell.
Wikipedia has rules about such things; you’re not supposed to engage in advocacy, opinion, scandal mongering, self-promotion or advertising/PR. But it happens.
Now, let’s follow the Molly Gray Wikitrail.
At 4:12 on November 29, Alaenahunt added very friendly material about Gray’s childhood that, I swear, was taken practically word-for-word from her campaign kickoff video (which was released one week later.) AH also, curiously, removed a bunch of biographical material about Gray’s parents and uncle. No longer was father Bob credited with being a two-time Olympian. No longer was mother Kim listed as an ill-timed injury away from being and Olympian herself. Everything about uncle William was excised, including his time as Vermont’s U.S. Attorney. The folksy stuff about her family — growing up on a farm, etc. — remained.
I can only assume this was meant to highlight Gray’s accomplishments by moving her relatives off to the side.
One minute later, editor Greyjoy added back the stuff about Gray’s parents. Greyjoy is a frequent Wikipedia editor and contributor. I assume Wiki’s inner editorial circle can get alerts when pages are changed and reverse them if need be. This happens a lot in the Battle for Molly Gray’s Wikipage.
At 4:18, AH struck again, adding in folksy material about working weekends at the family farmstead before signing on to Peter Welch’s initial campaign for Congress in 2006. AH also fluffed up the passage about Gray joining the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Three minutes later longtime Wikieditor HaeB undid those changes, citing “WP:PROMO,” Wikipedia’s prohibition on advocacy, self-promotion and all that.
AH returned at 5:08, fluffing up a passage about Gray deciding to go to law school: “After years of working with lawyers and elected officials to advance humanitarian aid she decided it was time to work toward a law degree herself, and as a proud product of Vermont schools, Molly returned home to attend [[Vermont Law School]].”
Note the obvious fluffery. AH’s work is all about that kind of stuff. AH also fluffed Gray’s work on creating a Code of Conduct for private security service providers, and really inflated Gray’s tenure as assistant attorney general under Donovan.
Together, these changes drew a narrative through-line in Gray’s adult years, making each move look like a logical extension of what she did before and making her Congressional candidacy seem like the natural culmination of her work.
But that’s not all. AH also deleted a passage about the controversies over Gray’s voting record and in-state residency that surfaced during the 2020 LG campaign.
AH came back three times in the following hour and a half to make minor corrections. For instance, AH changed a reference to Gray as Vermont’s “83rd lieutenant governor” to “82rd (sic) lieutenant governor.” Oopsie.
At 7:03, an editor named Bill McKern entered the fray. McKern is a resident of Barre with interests in military and political history. He’s a frequent editor on Wikipedia and also contributes to FindaGrave.com, among other things. McKern eliminated AH’s friendly 5:08 additions about Gray’s political and international career.
Four minutes later, McKern restored the deleted material about the voting record and residency controversies. Two minutes after that, McKern restored a deleted reference to Gray’s admission to the bar in 2017. Presumably AH thought the date made Gray look too inexperienced.
McKern made several more edits over the ensuing 15-ish minutes, mainly typos and links to reference material. For example, he changed “82rd” to “82nd”. AH did the same fix at the same moment. After that, AH disappears from our narrative.
The following day, another first-time-last-time editor chimed in, using the IP address 18.104.22.168 as their nom de plume. That address is from a user in Burlington. Good ol’ 162 again removed the material on the controversies over Gray’s voting record and residency. That’s the last we hear from 162.
A minute later, that material was restored by frequent Wiki watchdog “MyPantsMetal,” self-described as an editor who mainly undoes Wiki “vandalism.”
There was a flurry of edits on December 6, the day Gray announced her candidacy. Some were tweaks, and McKern added a section on Gray’s run for Congress. (There was also a brief back-and-forth about Gray’s middle name Rose. “Thomascampbell123” removed it, and McKern restored it. There were three minor edits on December 7, which brings us to the present.
The charitable interpretation is that AH and 162 are simply Molly Gray fans who got a little overzealous. I hope that they weren’t Gray campaign staffers or Gray herself. That wouldn’t be illegal or anything, but there’d be an unpleasant ethical odor about it.
One more note. If a zealous political reporter wanted to get a leg up on potential candidates, they could do worse than monitor the relevant Wikipedia edit trails. If someone had spotted all that activity on November 29, Gray’s candidacy would have been pretty damn obvious.
Note. I first learned of this burst of attempted Graywashing from the Twitter account of Matt Moore, one of the members of The Rake Vermont, a Burlington-based, worker-owned media outlet. When I went to write, I couldn’t recall the source. The going through the Wiki edit history, that was all me.