Consider this another cautionary tale against believing everything you read on Wikipedia, or the Internet in general.
Wikipedia’s volunteer editors recently removed an elaborate article that purported to describe the “Bicholim Conflict.” The 4,500-word article spoke of an undeclared war between colonial Portugal and India’s Maratha Empire that eventually ended in a peace treaty, laying the groundwork for the independent Indian state of Goa.
As the Daily Dot reports, that story is completely bogus. There was no Bicholim Conflict. The article’s footnotes cited books that don’t exist. And yet, the entry was labeled a “Good Article” by editors just two months after its creation in July 2007. It did fail to receive the coveted “Featured Article” status five years ago because of its reliance on a small number of weak sources, but that’s the closest editors came to raising a skeptical eyebrow until last month, when an editor named ShelfSkewed took a closer look at the article’s footnotes and found no real sources.
“After careful consideration and some research, I have come to the conclusion that this article is a hoax – a clever and elaborate hoax, but a hoax nonetheless,” ShelfSkewed wrote on December 29, 2012, nominating the article for deletion. Six other editors agreed, sealing the hoax’s fate.
Thanks to Wikipedia’s own list of hoaxes on Wikipedia, we know this isn’t the first bogus entry to evade detection for years, or even the longest-lasting one. An entry on Gaius Flavius Antoninus, a fabricated individual who supposedly helped assassinate Julius Caesar, holds the record for biggest Wikipedia hoax, lasting just over eight years before being deleted in July 2012. (That one’s particularly impressive because of the popularity of the topic; most of the hoaxes describe people, places or events with little basis in reality.)
While it’s tempting to scoff at Wikipedia – and user-generated content in general – for letting big hoaxes slip by, if anything these hoaxes should reinforce the number one piece of advice for users: Always check the sources. Articles that don’t link to any of their citations, and make assertions that can’t be found anywhere else on the Web, should always be treated with suspicion.
Also, let’s give those volunteer editors some credit: The 11 longest-lasting known hoaxes on Wikipedia were all discovered and deleted in 2012. You might even call it a crackdown.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.