Wikipedia entry no Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

An edit made to a Wikipedia entry on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster blamed the Ukrainian military for shooting down the plane; the computer used to make the edit was traced to the Russian government. (Anthony Russo / For The Times / July 21, 2014)

We’ve all heard the stories about Soviet-era officials who fell out of favor with the ruling elite and not only disappeared from the streets of Moscow but also from history.

Take Leon Trotsky, who was exiled, then assassinated in Mexico, and whose image was airbrushed from official Soviet photographs. Or Nikolai Yezhov, chief of the Soviet secret police who, after leading Stalin's 1930s purges for two years, got purged himself: He was executed, and removed from official photographs.

So there's a long history in Moscow of rewriting the past. But it looks as though the Russian government is trying to rewrite the present too. In the days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, a computer traced back to the Russian government edited a Wikipedia entry about the disaster to say that the plane was shot down by the Ukrainian military (changing wording that said the rocket was obtained from the Russian Federation, a detail suspected but not yet established).

This isn't the first time Russian government computers, traced by their IP addresses, have made ostensibly anonymous edits to Wikipedia entries. According to Global Voices, nearly 7,000 such edits have been made over the last 10 years. That's a lot of rewriting.

Of course, the Russians aren't the only ones trying to alter history, or the present. In fact, the Russians are relatively light editors compared with folks manning computers at the U.S. Congress. Jari Bakken, the Norwegian programmer who tracked the Russian edits, found nearly 9,500 Wikipedia edits from 2002-2010 traceable to computer IP addresses tied to congressional offices.

As Abraham Lincoln once famously said, "You can't trust everything you read on the Internet."

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle