How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit
“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.”
“The post quickly gained an audience. Redditors dug up the victims’ Wikipedia articles, one of which recorded contemporary newspaper speculation that the murderer was the same man who had gone on a killing spree through London. “The day reddit caught Jack the Ripper,” a redditor exulted. “I want to see these cases busted wide open!” wrote another. “Yeah! Take that, Digg!” wrote a third.
But it took just twenty-six minutes for a redditor to call foul, noting the Wikipedia entries’ recent vintage. Others were quick to pile on, deconstructing the entire tale. The faded newspaper pages looked artificially aged. The Wikipedia articles had been posted and edited by a small group of new users. Finding documents in an old steamer trunk sounded too convenient. And why had Lisa been savvy enough to ask Reddit, but not enough to Google the names and find the Wikipedia entries on her own? The hoax took months to plan but just minutes to fail.”