> A woman opens an old steamer trunk and discovers tantalizing clues that a long-dead relative may actually have been a serial killer, stalking the streets of New York in the closing years of the nineteenth century. A beer enthusiast is presented by his neighbor with the original recipe for Brown's Ale, salvaged decades before from the wreckage of the old brewery--the very building where the Star-Spangled Banner was sewn in 1813. A student buys a sandwich called the Last American Pirate and unearths the long-forgotten tale of Edward Owens, who terrorized the Chesapeake Bay in the 1870s.
> These stories have two things in common. They are all tailor-made for viral success on the internet. And they are all lies.
> Each tale was carefully fabricated by undergraduates at George Mason University who were enrolled in T. Mills Kelly's course, Lying About the Past. Their escapades not only went unpunished, they were actually encouraged by their professor. Four years ago, students created a Wikipedia page detailing the exploits of Edward Owens, successfully fooling Wikipedia's community of editors. This year, though, one group of students made the mistake of launching their hoax on Reddit. What they learned in the process provides a valuable lesson for anyone who turns to the Internet for information.
> The first time Kelly taught the course, in 2008, his students confected the life of Edward Owens, mixing together actual lives and events with brazen fabrications. They created YouTube videos, interviewed experts, scanned and transcribed primary documents, and built a Wikipedia page to honor Owens' memory. The romantic tale of a pirate plying his trade in the Chesapeake struck a chord, and quickly landed on USA Today's pop culture blog. When Kelly announced the hoax at the end of the semester, some were amused, applauding his pedagogical innovations. Many others were livid.
> 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.
> One group took its inspiration from the fact that the original Star-Spangled Banner had been sewn on the floor of Brown's Brewery in Baltimore. The group decided that a story that good deserved a beer of its own. They crafted a tale of discovering the old recipe used by Brown's to make its brews, registered BeerOf1812.com, built a Wikipedia page for the brewery, and tweeted out the tale on their Twitter feed. No one suspected a thing. In fact, hardly anyone even noticed. They did manage to fool one well-meaning DJ in Washington, DC, but the hoax was otherwise a dud. The second group settled on the story of serial killer Joe Scafe. Using newspaper databases, they identified four actual women murdered in New York City from 1895 to 1897, victims of broadly similar crimes. They created Wikipedia articles for the victims, carefully following the rules of the site. They concocted an elaborate story of discovery, and fabricated images of the trunk's contents.
> ...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.
> Why...One answer lies in the structure of the Internet's various communities. Wikipedia has a weak community, but centralizes the exchange of information. It has a small number of extremely active editors, but participation is declining, and most users feel little ownership of the content. And although everyone views the same information, edits take place on a separate page, and discussions of reliability on another, insulating ordinary users from any doubts that might be expressed. Facebook, where the Lincoln hoax took flight, has strong communities but decentralizes the exchange of information. Friends are quite likely to share content and to correct mistakes, but those corrections won't reach other users sharing or viewing the same content. Reddit, by contrast, builds its strong community around the centralized exchange of information. Discussion isn't a separate activity but the sine qua non of the site. When one user voiced doubts, others saw the comment and quickly piled on.
Indeed. Why *are* the skeptical geeks now on Reddit and not Wikipedia?
Brian McNeil's productive work in Edinburgh. I particularly like the
idea of recruiting newbies at libraries - with all those lovely old
printed references right there to hand. Get those library computers
being used for more than webmail. This could work anywhere.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 22 May 2012 13:03
Subject: [Wikimediauk-l] Lum Hats in Paradise
Hola! From a non-Wikipedian Wikimedian - in Edinburgh - who is delighted
with the response from some tentative outreach work.
I spend around an hour this morning touring Edingburgh's Central Library
with Fiona Myles, took around 150 photos of the interior of the
building, and _hope_ I've laid the groundwork for us to work far more
closely in future.
I have, dependent on copyright, a verbal agreement to get high-res scans
of the plans of the building (A Carnegie Library), a keen interest to
have librarians briefed on Wikipedia - if not outright encouraged to
contribute, and the possibility of running recruitment/induction
sessions in Edinburgh. Which, for the unwashed masses, is a UNESCO City
Given the piss-poor representation up here in Scotland, I think that's a
major win. My next job, as interim 'cowboy liasion' between Wikimedia UK
and Museums Galleries Scotland is to get a few councillors calling for
all publicly funded publications to be under a CC-BY license.
Any, and all, encouragement welcome. Any Englandshire Wikimedians wh
plan to visit Edingburgh in the next 6-12 months, please feel free to
drop me a mail. If I can get you meetings with people, or privileged
access for photography, I will.
Fun and frivolity aside, with limited Internet access I've come to the
conclusion that public libraries are the way to recruit. Brief the staff
of what makes a good Wikipedia article - half of them know already -
then a simple static display may encourage locals to try their hand.
Here in Edinburgh I suspect I can, without too many problems, get
articles put into about a half-dozen languages with keen help from
And this message's title? Purloined from a book on the city's libraries.
Wikinews, Accredited Reporter. Personal: brian.mcneil(a)o2.co.uk
"Facts don't cease to be facts, but news ceases to be news."
Wikimedia UK mailing list
Dear English speaking Wikipedia users,
Sjarlot Stal and Nick Geurts, both Master students at Tilburg University, would like to gather more insight in the motives of your Wikipedia behaviour.
This survey will be spread among the various Wikipedia sites of several cultures. The duration of the survey will be approximately 5-10 minutes. Participation is fully voluntarily and you are free to stop your participation at any time.
Your information will be processed strictly confidential and will not be passed on to other people.
By clicking on the following link, you will be directed to the survey:
If you have any questions you can contact either
s.stal(a)uvt.nl or n.j.l.geurts(a)uvt.nl. If you wish to receive a copy of the whole research you can leave your e-mailaddress at the end of the survey.
We would like to thank you in advance!
On 5/21/2012 12:33 PM, Carcharoth wrote:
>> one was a link to a find-a-grave page with a photo of the
>> subject (unneeded because we already had a photo of the subject)
> That is arguable. It depends whether it is the same photo at the same
> time of life or not. If the only free photo of someone shows them in
> old age, a link to a site legally hosting a picture of them in their
> youth would be relevant and should be kept in the external links
> section as something that readers would likely want to follow. (It
> also betrays an attitude of: we have one image, we don't need any
> more, as opposed to curating a visual record of the topic).
Actually, the reverse was true: the picture we had was her official
photograph from her tenure in congress (1960-1975), and the picture from
find-a-grave, which is not dated, is obviously a picture of a
substantially older woman. As she lived for another 13 years after
retiring from congress, it is likely that the picture was taken during
that period. And yes, the photo we are using is PD (as are all
Congressional portraits), which is likely why that is the photo used in
> This leads me on to one of the big gripes I have about Wikipedia and
> its use of images. Because of the free-content model that Wikipedia is
> based on, the image use in articles tends to be skewed towards public
> domain and freely licensed images. For many subjects, this is not a
> problem, but for some subjects to get a balanced *visual* record of a
> topic, you need to use (or refer in the text to) non-free images as
> well, or if fair use is not possible, to link to a site that legally
> hosts such images.
I don't get involved in the image wars. I tend to look for PD images
simply because they aren't going to be entangled in those wars, but I
don't have the absolutist mentality of "only PD images" or "all of the
images possible, copyrights be damned" that we see all too often here.
> The 'ideal' encyclopedia would use these images (and likely have to
> pay to use them), but Wikipedia seems to think that it is possible to
> have encyclopedia articles that use free images only, and still
> maintain NPOV in terms of the images used. I actually think that in
> some cases the use of only PD or free sources skews the visual
> presentation, and badly so.
> What I tend to do in such cases is link to places where the reader can
> view such images. I can provide some examples if anyone wishes to
> discuss this.
As I noted (in the edit summary, and in my discussion here), the link
was of limited utility, as it's simply a black-and-white photo of the
subject, with absolutely no information (date, copyright, etc.), and was
probably taken after her congressional career ended, after which her
profile was substantially lower. I don't see how (in this case, at
least) the removal of the link unbalances the article in any way.
FWIW, the article in question is [[Julia Butler Hansen]], so you can
look at the article and assess whether the removal of the link was damaging.
Just wondering if there is any published analysis from the "Page
ratings" widget that appears on every page. My subjective impression
is that the ratings data is pretty bad, but I'd be interested to read
On Sat, 19 May 2012 09:22:23 -0400, Horologium wrote:
> I have seen pages with endless external links, and in those, there
> seems to be an equal number of spam links at the top and the
> bottom of the list. Usually the links in the middle are the best,
> but of course, YMMV.
That might be an interesting thing to study... the more simpleminded
spammers (like the more simpleminded among "marketing types" in
general) would probably be inclined to put their spam links first in
the list; they're not into any sort of subtlety or cleverness, just
shoving in everybody's faces the stuff they're trying to promote. A
slightly more devious spammer might realize that people will be
looking for spam links at the top due to mindsets like that, so
they'll put their links on the bottom so they won't be noticed as
much by spam-fighters (even if they're also not noticed as much by
normal readers). Then, if spam-fighters notice this and start
defeating it by looking at the bottom too, the next stage would be to
insert the links in the middle of a long list, where it would be
least likely to be noticed. (Though, if the list has some sort of
internal organization, such as alphabetical or chronological, then a
misplaced link might still stand out to the sort of geeks who
obsessive-compulsively maintain such lists.)
== Dan ==
Dan's Mail Format Site: http://mailformat.dan.info/
Dan's Web Tips: http://webtips.dan.info/
Dan's Domain Site: http://domains.dan.info/
On 5/19/2012 8:00 AM, Andrew Grey wrote:
>> I just went through 19 random pages (9 of them didn't have any ELs, so I
>> didn't count them, and I found three articles in which the last EL was not a
>> useful link. One of them was a spam link to a (non-WMF) wikiproject, one was
> Did you test first links, incidentally? My anecdotal experience has
> been that someone adding a spammy link is more likely to add it to the
> top of the list than someone adding a non-spammy one would be...
Actually, I did look at all of the links in each article, and it was
coincidental that in each case, the only low-utility links were the
last. None of the 19 random articles I checked had more than four
external links (only one of those), and it looked like only one was a
spam-like link, which was added apparently in good-faith by an
infrequent contributor who also contributes to the other project. I have
seen pages with endless external links, and in those, there seems to be
an equal number of spam links at the top and the bottom of the list.
Usually the links in the middle are the best, but of course, YMMV.