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That was where things went awry

6But another, more compelling answer, has to do with trust. Kelly’s students, like all good con artists, built their stories out of small, compelling details to give them a veneer of veracity. Ultimately, though, they aimed to succeed less by assembling convincing stories than by exploiting the trust of their marks, inducing them to lower their guard. Most of us assess arguments, at least initially, by assessing those who make them. Kelly’s students built blogs with strong first-person voices, and hit back hard at skeptics. Those inclined to doubt the stories were forced to doubt their authors. They inserted articles into Wikipedia, trading on the credibility of that site. And they aimed at very specific communities: the “beer lovers of Baltimore” and Reddit.

That was where things went awry. If the beer lovers of Baltimore form a cohesive community, the class failed to reach it. And although most communities treat their members with gentle regard, Reddit prides itself on winnowing the wheat from the chaff. It relies on the collective judgment of its members, who click on arrows next to contributions, elevating insightful or interesting content, and demoting less worthy contributions. Even Mills says he was impressed by the way in which redditors “marshaled their collective bits of expert knowledge to arrive at a conclusion that was largely correct.” It’s tough to con Reddit.

The loose thread, of course, was the Wikipedia articles. The redditors didn’t initially clue in on their content, or identify any errors; they focused on their recent vintage. The whole thing started to look as if someone was trying too hard to garner attention. Kelly’s class used the imaginary Lisa Quinn to put a believable face on their fabrications. When Quinn herself started to seem suspicious, it didn’t take long for the whole con to unravel.

If there’s a simple lesson in all of this, it’s that hoaxes tend to thrive in communities which exhibit high levels of trust. But on the Internet, where identities are malleable and uncertain, we all might be well advised to err on the side of skepticism.

Sometimes even an apparent failure can mask an underlying success. The students may have failed to pull off a spectacular hoax, but they surely learned a tremendous amount in the process. “Why would I design a course,” Kelly asks on his syllabus, “that is both a study of historical hoaxes and then has the specific aim of promoting a lie (or two) about the past?” Kelly explains that he hopes to mold his students into “much better consumers of historical information,” and at the same time, “to lighten up a little” in contrast to “overly stuffy” approaches to the subject. He defends his creative approach to teaching the mechanics of the historian’s craft, and plans to convert the class from an experimental course into a regular offering.

There’s also an interesting coda to this convoluted tale. The group researching Brown’s Brewery discovered that the placard in front of the Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History lists an anachronistic name for the building in which it was sewn. They have written to the museum to correct the mistake. For those students, at least, falsifying the historical record may prove less rewarding than setting it straight.

How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit

4A 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.

Last January, as he prepared to offer the class again, Kelly put the Internet on notice. He posted his syllabus and announced that his new, larger class was likely to create two separate hoaxes. He told members of the public to “consider yourself warned–twice.”

This time, the class decided not to create false Wikipedia entries. Instead, it used a slightly more insidious stratagem, creating or expanding Wikipedia articles on a strictly factual basis, and then using their own websites to stitch together these truthful claims into elaborate hoaxes.

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, 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.


11Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970 at 13:13:00 CST and experienced an oxygen tank explosion on April 13 at 21:07:53 CST. It later returned safely to earth on April 17.[6][7]
On Friday, October 13, 1307, the arrest of the Knights Templar was ordered by Philip IV of France. While the number 13 was considered unlucky, Friday the 13th was not considered unlucky at the time. The incorrect idea that their arrest was related to the phobias surrounding Friday the 13th was invented early in the 21st century and popularized by the novel The Da Vinci Code.[8]
In 1881 an influential group of New Yorkers led by US Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler came together to put an end to this and other superstitions. They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club. At the first meeting, on Friday, January 13, 1881, at 8:13 p.m., thirteen people sat down to dine in Room 13 of the venue. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated among piles of spilled salt. Many Thirteen Clubs sprang up all over North America over the next 40 years. Their activities were regularly reported in leading newspapers, and their numbers included five future US presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Thirteen Clubs had various imitators, but they all gradually faded from interest.[9]
Vehicle registration plates in the Republic of Ireland are such that the first two digits represent the year of registration of the vehicle (i.e., 11 is a 2011 registered car, 12 is 2012, and so on). In 2012, there were concerns among members of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) that the prospect of having “13” registered vehicles might discourage motorists from buying new cars because of superstition surrounding the number thirteen, and that car sales and the motor industry (which was already ailing) would suffer as a result. The government, in consultation with SIMI, introduced a system whereby 2013 registered vehicles would have their registration plates’ age identifier string modified to read “131” for vehicles registered in the first six months of 2013 and “132” for those registered in the latter six months of the year.[10] The main reason for this however, is to increase the number of car sales in the latter months of the year. Even though 70% of new cars are bought during the first four months of the year, some consumers believe that it doesn’t accurately reflect the real age of a new car, since cars bought in January will most likely have been manufactured the previous year, while those bought later in the year will be actually made in the same year.[11] This system continued after 2013, with vehicles registered in the first half of 2014 labelled “141” rather than “14”.

One answer lies in the structure of the Internet

5The 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. Then, the class prepared to spring its surprise on an unsuspecting world. A student posing as Lisa Quinn logged into Reddit, the popular social news website, and posed an eye-catching question: “Opinions please, Reddit. Do you think my ‘Uncle’ Joe was just weird or possibly a serial killer?”

The post quickly gained an audience. Redditors dug up the victims’ Wikipedia articles, one of which recorded contemporary newspaper speculation that the murderer was the same man who had gone on a killing spree through London. “The day reddit caught Jack the Ripper,” a redditor exulted. “I want to see these cases busted wide open!” wrote another. “Yeah! Take that, Digg!” wrote a third.

But 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 did the hoaxes succeed in 2008 and not in 2012? If thousands of Internet users can be persuaded that Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook, surely the potential for viral hoaxes remains undiminished.

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.

Encyclopædia Britannica

9There are over five million articles in the English Wikipedia. These are the ones that Wikipedians have identified as being a bit unusual. These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something you would not expect to find in Encyclopædia Britannica. ia with these articles lest they make Wikipedia appear idiosyncratic. If you wish to add articles to this list, the article in question should preferably meet one or more of these criteria:
The article is something you would not expect to find in a standard encyclopedia.
The subject is an unusual combination of concepts, such as cosmic latte, death from laughter, etc.
The subject is an anomaly—something that defies common sense, common expectations or common knowledge, such as Bir Tawil, Märket, Phineas Gage, List of snow events in Florida, etc.
The subject is well-documented for unexpected notoriety or an unplanned cult following at extreme levels, such as Ampelmännchen or All your base are belong to us.
The subject is a notorious hoax, such as Sokal affair or Mary Toft.
The subject might be found amusing, though serious.
The article is a list or collection of articles or subjects meeting the criteria above.
This definition is not precise. Some articles may still be considered unusual even if they do not fit these guidelines.
To keep the list of interest to readers, each entry on this list should be an article on its own (not merely a section in a less unusual article) and of decent quality, in large meeting Wikipedia’s manual of style. For unusual contributions that are of greater levity, see Wikipedia:Silly Things. A star (Featured article) indicates a featured article. A plus () indicates a good article.

Swedish Wikipedia surpasses 1 million articles with aid of article creation bot

3Swedish Wikipedia hit one million articles, joining the club of English, Dutch, German, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish Wikipedias. The article that broke the barrier was the butterfly species Erysichton elaborata. There is, however, one fact that separates this million article milestone from almost all others.
The one milionth article was not manually created by a human, but written by a piece of software (a “bot”). The bot, in this case, Lsjbot, collects data from different sources, and then compiles the information into a format that fits Wikipedia. Lsjbot has to date created about 454,000 articles, almost half of the articles on Swedish Wikipedia.

Bot-created articles have led to some debate, both before Lsjbot started its run, and currently. First, there was a lengthy discussion on Swedish Wikipedia after the initial proposal by Lsjbot’s operator, science teacher Sverker Johansson. The Swedish Wikipedia community was wary, having learned the lessons from previous conflicts about article-creating bots, including rambot in 2002. But there was also curiosity, so a series of test runs was made to make sure that the articles were acceptable.
After review, the Swedish Wikipedia editor community said okay. Lsjbot started by creating articles about different species of animals and plants – articles that are largely uncontroversial and that can have a similar format without feeling mechanical.
Subsequent criticism has come from prolific article writer Achim Raschka on German Wikipedia’s Kurier. Here the main complaint was that article is short: only 4 sentences long. This is a valid complaint. Even if longer articles are not always better, they tend to contain more information.
Therein lies the rub. The bots use as many datasets as their operators can find, but many sources are behind paywalls or are incomplete across entire taxon (covering only selected species). The upside of this criticism is that each statement in articles created by bots is supported by references, something that doesn’t happen in many other articles. This means that more references are added to Wikipedia by bots than by humans. This is of course not in itself a sign of quality, but it is a start for human contributors to search for more information. As with any article in Wikipedia, the readers can also help make bot-created articles better.
Is this the future for Wikipedia, to let software create articles? With Wikidata, it is certainly becoming easier to use software to create articles, something that can benefit the smaller Wikipedias. But we still need more humans to help make the determination of which sources are high quality, what information is presented correctly and what qualifies as clear writing.

How to Successfully Submit Your Article to Wikipedia

2The following sources are not considered reliable and independent:

press releases, press kits, or similar works;
self-published materials;
any material written or published by the organization, its members, or sources closely associated with it, such as company newsletters;
advertising and marketing materials by, about, or on behalf of the organization;
corporate websites or other websites written, published, or controlled by the organization;
patents, whether pending or granted;
other works in which the brand talks about itself—whether published by the brand, or re-printed by other people.
Depth of Coverage

Trivial or incidental coverage in a source is not sufficient: It isn’t enough to just be mentioned a couple times. The coverage must provide information that can be used to add depth to a brand’s Wikipedia article. If the depth of coverage in a particular source is not substantial, then you must cite multiple sources. Trivial or incidental coverage of a subject is not sufficient to establish notability.

Sources containing information considered to be trivial/incidental include:

sources that simply report meeting times, shopping hours or event schedules,
the publications of telephone numbers, addresses, and directions in business directories,
inclusion in lists of similar organizations,
the season schedule or final score from sporting events,
routine communiqués announcing such matters as the hiring or departure of personnel,
brief announcements of mergers or sales of part of the business,
simple statements that a product line is being sold, changed, or discontinued,
routine notices of facility openings or closings (e.g., closure for a holiday or the end of the regular season),
routine notices of the opening or closing of local branches, franchises, or shops,
quotations from an organization’s personnel as story sources, or
passing mention, such as identifying a quoted person as working for an organization.
Options for Getting Your Article in Wikipedia

If there are multiple sources about your brand that carry more than incidental coverage, congratulations! Your brand may qualify for an article. Unfortunately, being eligible for an article does not make it magically appear; somebody has to write it.

There are several options for making that happen: You can ask a member of the Wikipedia community to write it for you, you can hire a service to write it for you, or you can write it yourself. There are also other options that I recommend against, which I’ll identify later on.

Do It Yourself

Mellified man

8Honey has been used in funerary practices in many different cultures. Burmese priests have the custom of preserving their chief abbots in coffins full of honey.[4] Its reputation both for medicinal uses and durability is long established. For at least 2,700 years, honey has been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Because of its unique composition and the complex processing of nectar by the bees which changes its chemical properties, honey is suitable for long-term storage and is easily assimilated even after long preservation. History knows examples of honey preservation for decades, centuries and even millennia.[5]
Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, hydrogen peroxide effect,[6] and high acidity.[7] The combination of high acidity, hygroscopic, and antibacterial effects have led to honey’s reputation as a plausible way to mummify a human cadaver, despite lack of concrete evidence.
Similar medicine practices
Both European and Chinese pharmacopeias employed medicines of human origin such as urine therapy, or even other medicinal uses for breast milk. In her book, Roach says the medicinal use of mummies, and the sale of fake ones, is “well documented” in chemistry books of 16th to 18th centuries in Europe, “but nowhere outside Arabia were the corpses volunteers”.[8][9][10][11]
Mummies were a common ingredient in the Middle Ages until at least the eighteenth century, and not only as medicine, but as fertilizers and even as paint. The use of corpses and body parts as medicine goes far back—in the Roman Empire the blood of dead gladiators was used as treatment for epilepsy.[12]
In his book, Bernard Read suggests a connection between the European medieval practices and those of the Middle East and China:
The underlying theories which sustained the use of human remedies, find a great deal in common between the Arabs as represented by Avicenna, and China through the [Bencao]. Body humors, vital air, the circulations, and numerous things are more clearly understood if an extended study be made of Avicenna or the Europeans who based their writings on Arabic medicine. The various uses given in many cases common throughout the civilized world, [Nicholas] Lemery also recommended woman’s milk for inflamed eyes, feces were applied to sores, and the human skull, brain, blood, nails and “all the parts of man”, were used in sixteenth-century Europe.[3]

How to Develop a Wikipedia Page that Sails Through the Approval Process

1When I first decided to create a Wikipedia page for my client’s technology, I had no idea what I was in for. I had made simple updates to existing pages, so how hard could it be to create a new page?

Hahahahaha. I’m here to tell you it was incredibly difficult. Writing for Wikipedia is akin to writing a college term paper — you can’t get by with just creating easy, breezy marketing copy for this type of project.

But, the effort was worth it. My client’s industry-changing technology — which their founder invented — is now an official part of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page tells the story of the technology and includes photos of my client’s product. Most importantly, the page generates traffic to my client’s site.

Reasons to create a Wikipedia page

Wikipedia is a living, breathing encyclopedia where anyone can add their own pages, articles, and knowledge. Topics cover just about anything: Green Day (the band), pinball, carbon black and, yes, even content marketing.

Should you create a Wikipedia page? Here are a few indicators that this type of content may meet your needs:

You have an industry-changing technology that your company invented or developed. This technology can be anything from mechanical to chemical to musical (e.g., iTunes).
Your founder or company is “notable.” Wikipedia editors apply a “notability” test to determine if your subject warrants a Wikipedia page. If your company has invented something or if your founder is a person-of-note (e.g., a famous author, the first person to row a boat across the ocean), then your company or founder might be a good candidate.
You can’t find any information about your technology or topic in Wikipedia. This is what prompted me to suggest creating a Wiki page for my client’s technology.
To learn more about what topics Wikipedia considers notable and worthy of inclusion, read Wikipedia’s article on Notability first.

Steps to creating a Wikipedia page

The steps outlined below provide a brief overview of the Wikipedia page creation process. You’ll find much more detailed information on Wikipedia’s Help pages as well in the articles and guides mentioned below.

1. Do your research first. Before creating any content on Wikipedia, learn about the Wikipedia community and how it works. Learning the ins and outs of being a good Wikipedia citizen will help ensure your page won’t be deleted or challenged after you’ve submitted it for review. I read a number of articles before creating my client’s page, including How to Game Wikipedia, by BNet, and MarketingSherpa’s, How to Get Your Company Listed on Wikipedia, Part I. I also found Eloqua’s, The Grande Guide to Wikipedia, very helpful.

2. Create an account. You must be a registered user to make changes to existing Wikipedia pages and articles, as well as to create your own. Creating an account is pretty straightforward. I advise using your real name and email address.

3. Start small. It pays to start by making small edits to existing pages to test your skills before trying to create new content. I started with pages with which I was already familiar. My son’s fencing coach, for example, is an Olympic medalist and has a Wikipedia page. I updated it by adding some biographical information I found on the internet and added a link back to his fan club’s website.

How To Get Your Article Approved By Wikipedia

7I am often asked the question how to get an article approved by Wikipedia. While I understand the spirit of the question, many people who ask it do not. As such, I thought I would take the time to explain the real “approval” process of Wikipedia and why so many people are misinformed by Wikipedia’s article for creation process. After all, there is no real “approval” process on Wikipedia, only formalities created by the volunteer bureaucracy that currently runs the site.

I have run a professional Wikipedia writing service for a few years now. Based on my six plus years experience on Wikipedia, I have seen many guidelines created that have hindered people from editing Wikipedia. However, none have been as confusing to new editors as the article for creation process. Article for creation (Often referred to as AfC) is a way for users to submit new articles to Wikipedia and have confused many to believe that it is an approval process. This is far from what it actually is and here is why.

What is articles for creation on Wikipedia?

Articles for creation is a project of Wikipedia set up with the purpose of allowing people to submit articles for peer review and movement to the main space of Wikipedia.

People can use the article creation wizard to walk them through the process of how to create an article and then submit such for a review by Wikipedia editors. Volunteer editors will review the submission and if they feel it meets Wikipedia guidelines, move the article to the main space as a live article.

This is Wikipedia’s version of a Wikipedia writing service, only you create the article and submit it to the site for editors to review it for adherence to guidelines. This makes it closer to a “peer review” than any type of real approval process.

How the articles for creation process really works:

What AfC really does is create article delays. Those with great articles often submit them for review and they end up sitting there for months. Even Wikipedia acknowledges that it will take “weeks even months” to review submissions (see image below). So even if you have a great article that clearly passes Wikipedia guidelines, the AfC process will delay it going live for quite some time.