You’re going to want to hear this.
A housewife has been exposed after 12 years of publishing fake Chinese and Russian history on Wikipedia. Using four accounts that added credibility to each other, she wrote millions of words across hundreds of articles. And she might’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for the fantasy novelist Yifan.
In a search for inspiration, Yifan became captivated by the Wikipedia entries relating to a great silver mine in Russia. After hours of reading and checking citations, red flags began to pop up. Sounding the alarm, an investigation was launched by Wikipedia which lead to the fake history being unmasked in June 2022.
The forger has since issued a public apology (translated to English), saying:
“…in order to tell a lie, you must tell more lies. I was reluctant to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I wrote, but as a result, I wound up losing millions of words, and a circle of academic friends collapsed … The trouble I’ve caused is hard to make up for, so maybe a permanent ban is the only option. My current knowledge is not enough to make a living, so in the future I will learn a craft, work honestly, and not do nebulous things like this any more.”
The responses to her actions have been mixed. Some people have praised her efforts and encouraged her to become a novelist. Others have warned that her actions have damaged the credibility of Wikipedia.
But how credible is Wikipedia to begin with?
In 2012, an expert in the history of the 1886 Haymarket Riot attempted to update some false information on the Wikipedia page for this event. Over the course of about two years, he cited verifiable evidence and scholarship to support his revisions but they were denied three times.[3, p.24] The reasoning behind these denials was that:
“…Wikipedia was not “truth”. … If, for example, a consensus among sources was that the sky was green in 1888, the Wikipedia article would state that the sky was green in 1888. If a single historian argued the sky was blue in 1888, that would not merit inclusion in the article, as it would not reflect a consensus of reputable sources.”[3, p.25]
That example and quote are from Jason Steinhauer’s book History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past. You can find his book on Amazon, linked in the description (https://amzn.to/3yRahpW).
People writing fake history and trying to pass it off as the real deal is a practice that goes back to time immemorial, but the moral of the story here is “don’t believe everything you read on the internet”. Also, credibility is only one of 5 main things people use to judge whether something is true or not. Learn about the other four in this next video.
 – Peiyue, Wu. “She Spent a Decade Writing Fake Russian History. Wikipedia Just Noticed.” (Sixth Tone, 29 Jun. 2022). https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1010653/She. Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.
 – Wikipedia. “维基百科:2022年歷史相關條目偽造事件”. https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:2022%E5%B9%B4%E6%AD%B7%E5%8F%B2%E7%9B%B8%E9%97%9C%E6%A2%9D%E7%9B%AE%E5%81%BD%E9%80%A0%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6. Accessed 8 Jul. 2022.
 – Steinhauer, Jason. “History Disrupted: How Social Media and the World Wide Web Have Changed the Past” (2021). Accessed 8 Jul 2022.
Why is the internet being singled out? ‘Don’t believe everything you read in academic textbooks’ is my motto. As for Wiki, the moral of the story is surely that while an ingenious and indefatigable faker can post up apparently pointless things about apparently not very important matters, even s/he will be found out in reasonably short order.
I have my own beefs with Wiki and the way it is moderated but that does not stop me using it all the time because it is far and away the best general encyclopedia out there.
because it happened on the internet
That is facile. The complete quote is “People writing fake history and trying to pass it off as the real deal is a practice that goes back to time immemorial, but the moral of the story here is “don’t believe everything you read on the internet”. Time immemorial refers to a time when there wasn’t an internet. The internet is only a medium. Wiki would be the same if it was biked round to you
every morning updated overnight.
The moral of the story is that it is easy to make anything seem authoritative, and that applies to people who believe they are authorities. It is too easy. They think citing other authorities makes it authoritative. In fact they think only if you are citing authorities, will it be authoritative. The connection with truth gets lost along the way. Deliberate fakes are a very minor genre.