Feeds

Bogus Wikipedia Prof. was blessed then promoted

The Counterfactual History Man

Boost IT visibility and business value

It's been a busy week for the pipeline that connects the consensus-reality wonderland of Wikipedia with Planet Earth.

You won't believe what's just tumbled out at this end.

Wikipedia's Maximum Leader Jimmy Wales, it transpires, has blessed an identity fraudster who bamboozled journalists last year, by rewarding him with a full-time job and promotion to Wikipedia's politburo. Wales said he had no qualms with the deception. His comments follow an apology issued by The New Yorker magazine this week, after a bogus Professor who claimed to have four degrees, tricked a Pulitizer Prize winning journalist commissioned by the publication.

In her glowing feature about Wikipedia published last year for the weekly magazine, Stacy Schiff failed to check the credentials of one her sources. Schiff reported that a Wikipedia contributor who identified himself as "Essjay" was a "tenured professor of religion at a private university in the eastern United States" - as he claimed on his user page - who taught "both undergraduate and graduate theology".

He claimed to have a BA and MA in Religious Studies, and Doctorates in Law and Philosophy, and used the fictional credentials to pimp up his reputation, and intimidate adversaries.

But the Walter Mitty character turned out to be 24-year old Ryan Jordan, who had no such credentials.

That's par for the course for the site where truth is decided by a show of hands, and most contributors cloak their identities. It would have served as a minor cautionary tale for journalists who let their evangelical inclinations get the better of them; many articles about the phenomenon are little more than puff pieces. Both Schiff, and New Yorker fact-checker Jessica Rosenberg - daughter of Harvard's new President, apparently - took the Wikipedian at face value.

Catch as Catch Can

Even Jordan himself professed to astonishment at Schiff and Rosenberg's credulity:

"Actually, I did six hours of interviews with the reporter, and two with a fact checker, but I was really surprised that they were willing to do an interview with someone who they couldn't confirm; I can only assume that it is proof I was doing a good job playing the part," he wrote.

(This and more Jordan quotes were culled from the site by Wikipedia Watch, and can be found here.)

In all likelihood, the story would have been quickly forgotten, had it not been for the reaction of Wikipedia's figurehead and uber-leader Jimmy Wales.

Wales not only defended the identity fraudster, but promoted him to a salaried position on Wikia. Wikia Inc. is the corporation co-founded by Wales, which has to date received $14m of investment capital from a VC firm and Amazon.com. Wales also promoted Jordan to the creepy sounding "ArbComm", or Arbitration Committee, which is the next-to-final adjudication panel at Wikipedia. (The final panel consists of the Maximum Leader himself).

"I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it," Wales told the New Yorker.

Wales' insouciance left onlookers amazed.

"It does make you wonder about what else happens at Wikipedia that Jimmy Wales doesn't have a problem with," wrote author Stephen Dubner.

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger correctly describes it as an 'identity fraud'. And quite brilliantly, Sanger also gets to the core of the problem - the alternative reality, created by the Wikipedians cult-like devotion to the cause. (As with many cults, failings are attributed to outsiders).

"Wikipedians have plainly become a very insular group: they have their own mores and requirements, which are completely independent of the real world," writes Sanger.  "Indeed, that's what this story is about, after all: real-world identities and credentials are rejected as unnecessary by Wikipedia.  How could Wikipedia fail to become insular with that attitude? "

When your reporter first started to chronicle Wikipedia, it was because it so perfectly embodied so many utopian aspects of technology discourse. But perhaps we missed the biggest: its ability to generate an alternative reality, something that strongly characterized the "Net Neutrality" debate.

If this was a movie, it would be a very modern comedy. ®

Bootnote Once again credit goes to Daniel Brandt for uncovering the scandal. Brandt was responsible for discovering the identity of John Seigenthaler's defamer, after Wikipedia administrators declined to get involved. Watch how this story unfolded in the days after Jordan was appointed to WIkia, on January 11 this year, here - it's a fascinating read.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Fast And Furious 6 cammer thrown in slammer for nearly three years
Man jailed for dodgy cinema recording of Hollywood movie
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Barnes & Noble: Swallow a Samsung Nook tablet, please ... pretty please
Novelslab finally on sale with ($199 - $20) price tag
Ballmer leaves Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media
Yanked footage featured British-accented attacker and US journo James Foley
Assange™: Hey world, I'M STILL HERE, ignore that Snowden guy
Press conference: ME ME ME ME ME ME ME (cont'd pg 94)
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?