Auckland City councillor Aaron Bhatnagar has been caught doctoring the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to paint his opponents in a bad light at last year's local body elections.
Using the alias of Barzini _ a power-hungry psychopath from Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather _ Mr Bhatnagar created entries for his Action Hobson opponents in the Hobson ward and made unflattering changes to the entry for Mayor Dick Hubbard.
After winning a council seat and watching Action Hobson councillors Christine Caughey and Richard Simpson go down to a C&R rout in Hobson, Mr Bhatnagar tried to remove the Wikipedia entries for his opponents at 3am the following morning.
An unrepentant Mr Bhatnagar yesterday admitted setting up and editing entries against his opponents on Wikipedia, but claimed everything he said was true, such as broken promises on rates. He said Wikipedia was self-regulating and a community where everyone could have a say. There were mechanisms to delete or rewrite entries.
"Anyone can make a comment on Wikipedia and if someone doesn't like something that they see it is very easy to change it. I think it is all a bit of a storm in a tea cup," he said.
He said it was a case of Dutch knowledge and "probably not necessary" to try to delete the entry of his opponents in the early hours.
The trail of entries, editing and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to remove the online material was uncovered by media commentator and computer writer Russell Brown.
He found that Mr Bhatnagar removed a reference to Christine Caughey being named Metro magazine's Aucklander of the Year and re-inserted an unflattering description of Mr Hubbard's mayoralty he had earlier put in.
Mr Bhatnagar was "strategic adviser" to John Banks during his comeback bid for the mayoralty.
Mr Brown yesterday said anyone could edit an entry in Wikipedia, but the main barrier was ethical. There was a Wikipedia rule that stated it should not be used as a soapbox. "I think his behaviour is incredibly inappropriate. It was really the wrong thing to do," Mr Brown said.
Mr Simpson said using the name of a psychopath in a clandestine way was disturbing and not the way to use a trusted resource like Wikipedia.
"His actions have displayed cyber-bullying, corrupting public knowledge to manipulate the minds of voters. It is not the means, nor the forum for political debate," he said.
Christine Caughey, in a submission to the justice and electoral select committee's review of the 2007 local body election, raised concerns about the inappropriate political use of Wikipedia and the lack of structures to monitor and control abuse of the system. Her views were subsequently criticised by Mr Bhatnagar.
Last year, an Air NZ computer was used to sanitise a Wikipedia article to make the airline look less culpable for its part in the 1979 Erebus crash.