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Wikipedia’s Longest-running Hoax

According to his Wikipedia entry, Jack Robichaux was a 19th-century New Orleans jazz musician, highly regarded until he was exposed as a serial rapist. The source cited was a printed book. Except there was never a case of serial rape in New Orleans involving Jack Robichaux. In fact, there never was such a person. The entry was added to Wikipedia in 2005 and uncovered in 2015, making it the site’s longest hoax yet.

The entry was an “orphan,” meaning it didn’t have any links coming into it, and very few links in the article itself, so it drew little attention. Since the person didn’t exist, no one came looking for information on him. But Wikipedia now has 3,000 “very active editors” and ten times as many “active editors” who are on the lookout for ways to improve the site. That included editor Calamondin12, who knew the entry was suspicious as soon as he saw it.  

Calamondin12 had no doubt after seeing "Jack Robichaux" that it was a hoax. On August 27, 2015, at 4:11 p.m. the user flagged the post: “long-lived hoax; no references found for this case; not found in book cited; not to be confused with actual jazz musician John Robichaux.”

That same afternoon, user Swister Twister sat down at his computer and set about his usual routine: Scan categories of articles for any suspicious activity. When checking the "suspected hoaxes" section, he was excited to see the newly flagged post from Calamondin12.

SwisterTwister did some searching of his own and also turned up no evidence of a real-life Jack Robichaux. At 5 pm he posted his verdict: "All signs suggest this is fabricated with my searches finding nothing but mirrors and no connection at all with the book. What's more is this sparsely edited article has existed since July 2005 when it was started by an IP from Los Angeles who also made a few edits to Theta Xi and not only are the majority of editors IPs, there hasn't even been much change since 2005 which is another serious sign. Yet another interesting tidbit is that the article has never gotten Louisiana attention and is orphaned from any other articles."

Editors not only revealed the entry to be a hoax, they also found out who did it and when. The story of how Jack Robichaux came to be reveals the early weaknesses of Wikipedia, the length some people will go to exploit them, and how volunteer editors work together to enforce quality control over the free encyclopedia. -via Digg


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I joined Wikipedia a few months ago to correct the spelling of my name. I've made very few edits, but just this morning I found Neatorama spelled wrong and had to correct it. It was "Neutorama." Yikes!
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