How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit

You can't fool all the people all of the time. But in in T. Mills Kelly's class Lying About the Past, you can learn how to fool a lot of people once. Kelly is a history professor at George Mason University, and in this class, students learn how easily historical documents can be falsified, manipulated, and used to deceive the public.
The first time Kelly taught the course, in 2008, his students confected the life of Edward Owens, mixing together actual lives and events with brazen fabrications. They created YouTube videos, interviewed experts, scanned and transcribed primary documents, and built a Wikipedia page to honor Owens' memory. The romantic tale of a pirate plying his trade in the Chesapeake struck a chord, and quickly landed on USA Today's pop culture blog. When Kelly announced the hoax at the end of the semester, some were amused, applauding his pedagogical innovations. Many others were livid.

Critics decried the creation of a fake Wikipedia page as digital vandalism. "Things like that really, really, really annoy me," fumed founder Jimmy Wales, comparing it to dumping trash in the streets to test the willingness of a community to keep it clean. But the indignation may, in part, have been compounded by the weaknesses the project exposed. Wikipedia operates on a presumption of good will. Determined contributors, from public relations firms to activists to pranksters, often exploit that, inserting information they would like displayed. The sprawling scale of Wikipedia, with nearly four million English-language entries, ensures that even if overall quality remains high, many such efforts will prove successful.

Last January, as he prepared to offer the class again, Kelly put the Internet on notice. He posted his syllabus and announced that his new, larger class was likely to create two separate hoaxes. He told members of the public to "consider yourself warned--twice."

This time, the class decided not to create false Wikipedia entries. Instead, it used a slightly more insidious stratagem, creating or expanding Wikipedia articles on a strictly factual basis, and then using their own websites to stitch together these truthful claims into elaborate hoaxes.

The 2012 hoaxes didn't turn out so well, as one didn't gain much notice and the other one was posted on reddit, meaning that it gained more scrutiny than the perpetrators foresaw. The students learned a lot about the dynamics of the internet anyway. Read the entire story at The Atlantic. Link -via Metafilter

(Image credit: "Lisa Quinn")

Newest 2
Newest 2 Comments

"Wikipedia operates on a presumption of good will." Ha.. rubbish. I had my account "spam-me-harder" blocked this morning because its name was deemed "too confrontational". I'd only set up the account that morning and the edit I'd made? To update a page on influenza A to reflect there were now 17 not 16 discovered H factors, the most recent one having been found in fruit bats.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
wikipedia is, at its heart, a gesture of goodwill...but with so many people relying on it, it's easy to see it becoming potentially orwellian, changing facts at someones whim
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More