Wikipedia is one of the world’s most visited websites and has earned its reputation as the 21st century’s most valuable fount of global knowledge. This week it celebrates its 15th birthday.
While the beloved Encyclopaedia Britannica has 32 volumes, Wikipedia is accessible on a smartphone and fits neatly in your pocket. However, unlike its paper predecessor, the user-curated, user-edited articles can sometimes be a little liberal when it comes to those all-important facts.
With more then five million individual articles that have been edited a total of 808 million times, it’s hardly surprising a few hoaxes and the occasional blunder have slipped through the cracks.
So, in true birthday party style, we’re going to take the opportunity to point out some of its most embarrassing moments.
Some are pretty entertaining, others are a little alarming:
1: If music be the food of love, make up a quote about it…
"One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear."
Isn’t that a lovely way to sum up one’s own life? Indeed, it appeared prominently in many notable obituaries for the late composer Maurice Jarre.
One snag. Jarre didn’t actually say it… a Dublin University student conducting an experiment inserted the false quote into Jarre’s Wikipedia page according to NBC News.
The edit stayed up for four months before Shane Fitzgerald took it down himself. Journalists: use Wikipedia as an encyclopaedia at your peril.
2: Kay Burley: Dog Whisperer
Sky News reporter Kay Burley fell victim to Wikipedia pranksters following the Paris terror attacks.
After this tweet:
Her Wikipedia page was edited to state that she “is widely known for her ability to read the innermost thoughts of Golden Retrievers.”
3: Tony Blair’s wrongly alleged teen idol
Blair’s good buddy George W. Bush may hold the record for the most-edited Wikipedia page, but the former Prime Minister was subject to one of the most notorious revisions. Back in 2006, his Wiki page was edited to claim he hung "posters of Adolf Hitler on his bedroom wall as a teenager." Unlike many falsifications on our list, this one came down in a hurry.
4: Death by dunking
American basketball player Jason Terry is alive and well, but those checking his Wikipedia page in early 2013 had reason to believe otherwise. According to a swiftly-deleted revision, Terry “died on March 13, 2013 due to being dunked on by LeBron James.”
You can see the savage ‘death’ below:
5: Hail, Jared, God of physical might!
While many Wikipedia hoaxes involve deliberate acts of vandalism to existing pages, some pages are just made up altogether.
One of the longest running hoaxes was an entry for Jar'Edo Wens, a purported Australian aboriginal deity, described on the page as a “god of earthly knowledge and physical might.”
The article remained unchallenged for a whopping nine years and ten months before someone reasoned it was probably just some guy called Jared Owens having a laugh.
6: Only Fools and… obituary writers
The embedded asset does not exist:
Asset Type: BTImage
Asset Id: 1364033585269
Messing with composers’ pages seems to be a recurring theme. More obituary writers were fooled into thinking famed BBC composer Ronnie Hazelhurst, who actually arranged the themes for Only Fools and Horses and Last of the Summer Wine, had also done the duties for the S Club 7 hit ‘Reach.’
7: Don Meme, mysterious musical mentor
OK, this hoax only stayed live on the site for eight years and three months. According to Wikipedia’s hoax log, Don Meme was a mythical wise guru from Puebla, Mexico, and a mentor to real-life bands. He was also “an entity that appears as soon as a bohemian party is summoned.”
Old Don sounds like he knows how to have a good time.
8: Dead Kennedys and the time the hoaxers went too far
Hoaxes aren’t always entertaining or harmless. This one actually implicated a real-life journalist as a suspect in two of the most notorious killings in American history.
A 2005 article wrongly claimed veteran USA Today reporter John Seigenthaler was investigated by the authorities following the murders of President John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
This hoax, which Seigenthaler described as “internet character assassination”, actually resulted in a change of procedure from Wikipedia, and the introduction of the Biography Of Living Persons policy.
9: The war on facts
Some Wikipedia pranks involve a simple, yet mischievous rewording here and there. Others require a little effort. One of the most elaborate hoaxes ever featured a 4,500-word essay about a 17th century war that never took place.
Chronicling the so-called Bicholim Conflict the article provided intimate details of ‘how colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire'. The piece was so convincing it earned the ‘good article’ distinction, reserved for only 0.5 per cent of all pages on the site according to the Daily Mail.
10: Brierfield, Lancashire was not the inspiration for Mordor
According to a Wikipedia assertion, which remained in place for more than six years, J.R.R. Tolkien gained his inspiration for the evil land of Mordor from a little-known town in Lancashire:
“At the time he was writing the book, Brierfield would have been covered by a large amount of thick, black smoke coming from the factory chimneys. Tolkien realised that this was how he envisaged Mordor, and therefore based it on Brierfield.”
This, like everything else on this list, was a load of rubbish.
Read more on Wikipedia’s dedicated hoax page.
Do you use Wikipedia? What do you think of it? Let us know in the Comments section below.