The 10 Best Wikipedia Hoaxes
In some ways, Wikipedia is the best thing the Internet could ever produce: a completely free and massively comprehensive crowd-sourced encyclopedia on everything from anime to important historical events that might have been referenced by anime. In other ways, Wikipedia is the ultimate source of misinformation, rumor, and straight-up hoaxes, since literally anyone can create and/or edit any article and it’s up to Wiki’s overworked volunteer corps of editors to hunt down every single instance of someone changing Abraham Lincoln’s page to claim that he had a fake leg full of whiskey. Here are the ten most convincing (or at least longest-lived) joke articles that fooled Wikipedia editors, taken from Wikipedia’s own “List of Wikipedia hoaxes” page.
OLIMAR THE WONDERCAT
A lot of wikihoaxes survive by being simple, short articles without pictures, links or detailed information, so it’s pretty amazing that the magical adventures of a British cat (featuring a title image in realistically muddy British video quality) survived for just a month shy of seven years. London neurologist Ed Wild later admitted to creating the article as a whimsical tribute to his late, presumably non-magical cat, disappointing hundreds of cat-obsessed Wikipedians eager to see Olimar and his ongoing battle against his Canadian nemesis Cello.
Citing no sources and linked to by no other Wikipedia article, this tiny item seems pretty obviously fake, given that it claims an ancient Australian Aboriginal god of “intelligence and victory” has a name that sure sounds like “Jared Owens.” That didn’t stop it from staying on Wikipedia for an incredible nine years and nine months before somebody finally figured out that this article—the only other submission from an anonymous Australian IP besides a similar entry for “Yohrmum”—might not have been on the level. Jar’Edo Wens even managed to be briefly cited in the book Atheism and the Case Against Christ, which probably doesn’t help that particular case.
Harvard University student Chen Fang had a weird hobby back in 2005: adding his name to various Wikipedia pages, usually as a minor political or business figure with no accompanying link. Dumb, but not as socially destructive as cow-tipping or boring as stamp collecting, so nobody paid much attention to it until Fang noticed four years later that one of the few full articles he wrote (naming himself as the mayor of Yinchuan, a Chinese city of two million people) was still active. Amused, he let the Harvard Guide to Using Sources know about the spurious entry, who subsequently used the article as an example of why not to trust Wikipedia, and that ended up being the only reason Wikipedia caught him out and deleted the article in 2012. To this day, wiki editors are still super-pissed that 1.) the Harvard Guide didn’t tell them directly about the article 2.) that the Harvard Guide used the article specifically to show why Wikipedia can kinda suck and 3.) that the Harvard Guide clearly had a bit of a point.
MILTON BRADLEY PLAYMATE
From 1969 to 1975, games company Milton Bradley was secretly developing the Playmate, a fully programmable robotic arm system capable of playing everything from Candyland to chess. There were only a few problems: 1.) the cheapest the system could be made was still over $5000, 2.) the computer necessary to control the arm and play the games was roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment, and 3.) everything about the Playmate was an elaborate lie. While Wikipedia often hangs on to hoax articles to use as an example of what editors should look for, they seem to have kicked the unusually detailed Playmate article down the memory hole after six and a half years on the site. The article can still be found on the Florida Tech Robotics Wiki, possibly because an alum first invented the remarkably convincing article and is still proud of it, or possibly because Florida Tech’s Robotics department ain’t so great.
SLOW BLIND DRIVEWAY
Although it only hung in there for two years and nine months, the page for legendary and fictional bluesman Clinton “Slow Blind Driveway” Driver still shows up on some sites full of copied Wiki content and occasionally gets referenced by music blogs. That might be because the page pretty perfectly satirizes the careers of dozens of blues musicians during the thirties: tales of hardship and woe, one-track song naming conventions, an encounter with real-life musicologist John Lomax, and an early death from heart failure. There’s even a real folk musician occasionally recording as Slow Blind Driveway, although this doesn’t seem to be connected to the hoax and is presumably because folk musicians don’t understand irony.
THE REAL (FAKE) AMELIA BEDELIA
Few wikihoaxes have been as successful as a January 2009 edit to an article on children’s character Amelia Bedelia, consisting of two added sentences implying that the character was based on a wacky Cameroonian maid who had difficulties with English. The spurious origin has been repeated by websites, books, English language courses, and even the current author of Amelia Bedelia stories, the nephew of the original author and someone presumably in a position to know whether his aunt had any zany foreign domestic servants. The Bedelia Affair only came to a head last year, after the original prankster (EJ Dickson, now a blogger for the Daily Dot) came across a reference to the story on Twitter and was mortified to discover that something he was fairly sure he wrote while stoned was now being taken as true fact.
THE BICHOLIM CONFLICT
The 4500-word Wikipedia article on the 1640 war between colonial Portuguese forces and warriors of the Maratha Empire in the Bicholim region is so heavily footnoted and neatly laid out that it almost merited a spot as a front-page featured article just a few months after its creation. Editors eventually passed on it due to its apparent reliance on a few obscure sources, which was a pretty smart decision given that those few obscure sources were completely imaginary. Five years afterwards, tireless digging by a few dedicated editors showed that despite the meticulous citations provided for nearly every line of the article, none of the books cited were actually real, and the entire article was proven to be a particularly elaborate and subtle bullshit job. The Bicholim Conflict is one of the handful of hoax articles preserved today by Wikipedia as a sort of object lesson to editors as to what to watch out for (or for hoaxsters as to what works).
THE BALDOCK BEER DISASTER
Wikipedia’s “Did you know…” sidebar on the main page is a frequent jumping-off point for aimless wandering through random articles and while it’s not as prestigious as being a featured article it’s arguably a sort of honor. The Baldock Beer Disaster, supposedly a 1904 accident where a collapsing brewery floor flooded the town of Baldock with fresh ale and free kegs, earned a spot on the front page shortly after its creation in November 2005 and lasted two years until a number of Baldock citizens (including local historian Vivian Crellin, cited by the article’s creator) stepped up to say, “hey, none of this is actually true.” The Baldock Disaster probably survived scrutiny if only because it mimicked a real and infamous beer flood in London in 1814, and it stands to reason that if one town could be menaced by beer-drowning, others might as well.
THE COHEN-CRUSE RUSE
Screwing around is the base motivation for something like 99% of all Wikipedia hoaxes, so the rare cases where something else seems to be the explanation people get interested in a hurry. That’s why a small group of editors spent years trying to untangle what user Vivisel started calling “the Cohen-Cruse Ruse,” a collection of detailed fake articles and plausible edits to real articles made by a number of different anonymous users, all centered around two fictional (?) Jewish families of noble wine merchants. Spreaders of the Ruse created pages, pictures, and even fake documents, all apparently to create the impression of a Cohen-Cruse dynasty reaching back to medieval France, heir to baronies in England and establish synagogues in the American colonies. The motive? Apparently somebody (presumably either a Cohen or a Cruse) wanted to establish a fake noble heritage and had an enormous amount of time and help to do so. It took two and a half years to track down all the weird twists and turns of what was in the end a totally boring and obscure hoax.
HONORABLE MENTION: THE STRANGE TALE OF BRIAN REDDYB
Rednex is a Swedish novelty pop/techno group best known for its nineties-era covers of folk songs like “Cotton Eyed Joe” and is the reason why a US Navy carrier group is posted off the coast of Sweden, prepared at any time to strike against any Swedish music producer attempting to release a dubsteb cover of “Turkey in the Straw.” On Wikipedia, however, Rednex is known to editors as the subject of a deranged editing war / vandalism campaign lasting some twenty months, all because of a user named Brian Reddyb and his insistence that he was one of Rednex’s founding members. If you’re thinking it’s weird to call an argument with a crazy person that lasts nearly two years a “hoax,” you need to check out the article’s epic discussion page to discover an entirely new definition of what weird means. Reddyb invented dozens of fake accounts, battled ceaselessly against reverts, and was so completely bonkers in general that the debate was only truly resolved when one of the actual members of Rednex took off his fake hillbilly beard to say that he’d never heard of Reddyb before in his life and would Wikipedia please prevent this clearly insane person from defacing an important resource for Rednex fans. Reddyb went on to claim that he (as Briyan al-Reddyb) was one of Saddam Hussein’s co-conspirators in his 1968 coup before being banned from Wikipedia for life.