Wikiality Check

The following is an article from Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader.

We live in an age when you can alter “reality” with the click of a button.


On a 2006 episode of the Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert made fun go the mainstream news outlets for using the online website Wikipedia as a research source. Colbert’s issue: The website allows anyone -expert or not- to edit any of its 22 million articles. “If everyone agrees that what’s in Wikipedia is true,” he said, “then anyone can change reality simply by editing Wikipedia.”

He called this new reality “wikiality” and suggested his viewers edit the Wikipedia article on elephants to read: “Elephant population in Africa has tripled over the past six months.” A fan complied. A Wikipedia staffer removed the line; another fan put it back. After this happened a few more times, Wikipedia “locked” the elephant article so no more edits could be made. Here are a few other instances of people creating their own wikialities.


In 2012 the former VP candidate was touring historic sites in Boston when she mentioned that on Paul Revere’s famous ride in 1775, he was “ringing’ those bells.” Palin’s history was off; Revere didn’t ring any bells. The press mocked her, but she stood by her version of the events. Meanwhile, one of her supporters edited the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to reflect Palin’s version. Wikipedia fixed the article and locked out any further changes. (Colbert later tried to “help” Palin by asking his viewers to change the entry on bells to include Palin’s account of Revere’s ride.)


In 2011, after jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spaulding won the Best New Artist Grammy over Bieber, his fans were upset. In the hours that followed, Spaulding’s Wikipedia entry was edited more than 90 times with such new “facts” as: “JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE!” Another disgruntled fan changed Spaulding’s middle name to Quesadilla.


An anonymous Wikipedia user named “Cii” added this quotation to Berry’s biography in 2006: “I’ve always loved to sing and this album will show people that I can do more than act.” Based on that, several news outlets, including the Washington Post, Rock & Roll Daily, and Rolling Stone magazine, reported that the Oscar winner was about to record a pop album. That prompted an official denial from Berry, who has no plans to become a singer.


In 2007, some joker deleted all of the text from the article on the Caped Crusader and replaced it with this:

(If you’re not familiar, those are the “lyrics” to the theme song of the campy 1960s Batman TV show.)


In the British House of Commons in 2009, Labour Party head Gordon Brown said during a speech that 16th-century Italian painter Titian died when he was 90. Conservative leader David Cameron later claimed that Titian died when he was 86… and then mocked Brown for his “lack of education.” Later that day, one of Cameron’s staffers called the BBC News and told them to go to Titian’s Wikipedia page… which proved that Cameron, not Brown, was correct. Suspicious, a BBC reporter discovered that Titian’s Wikipedia page had recently been changed to reflect Cameron’s version of the truth. When pressed, Cameron admitted that one of his staffers was responsible. (Titian’s actual birth date is unknown.)


* Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IA) deleted the fact that he broke with Democratic leadership on several budget issues to maintain his reputation as a more conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat.

* Vice President Joe Biden’s staffer removed references to alleged plagiarism in his speeches.

* Rep. John Mica (R-FL) quashed reports that he wore a toupee -rumors started by Stephen Colbert.


(Image credit: Curtis Palmer)

In 2005 an anonymous Wikipedia user created a fake page about NBC News journalist John Seigenthaler, claiming he was a suspect in the assassination of both John F. and Robert Kennedy and that he had lived in the Soviet Union from 1971 to 1984. None of it was remotely true, but somehow the hoax went unnoticed for more than four months. Wikipedia eventually tracked down the saboteur: Brian Chase, 38, a delivery service manager in Nashville. “It was just a joke,” Chase claimed, adding that he thought the site was “some sort of gag encyclopedia.” He was forced to resign from his job. Chase later called Seigenthaler to apologize, saying he didn’t think anyone would take it seriously.

The incident prompted Wikipedia to add more editorial oversight to its articles, which is why suspect entries have disclaimers at the top. The rules were changed so a person must register on the site before they can make any changes (but they don’t have to use their real name). In 2012 the company added new software that alerts a core group of trusted editors of article changes so that, if necessary, they can be fixed immediately. However, errant “facts” can still slip through the cracks. Seigenthaler summed up his experience in an editorial in USA Today: “We live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communication and research -but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects.”


This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fully Loaded Bathroom Reader.

Get ready to be thoroughly entertained while occupied on the throne. Uncle John has ruled the world of information and humor for 25 years, and the anniversary edition is the Fully Loaded Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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I have an idiot boss who likes to use the phrase "that wouldn't be prudent". Every once in a while me and my co-workers will go on to Wikipedia and change the picture on the entry for prudence to a picture of our boss. It gets changed back within a day, but it's always good for a laugh-filled afternoon!
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