A 17th Century international conflict has finally been laid to rest, nearly 400 years after it never happened. Wait a second. Are you feeling confused?
A fascinating new story in the Daily Dot chronicles how for more than five years, rogue editors on Wikipedia perpetuated a hoax about the “Bicholim Conflict,” a purely fictional historical event.
Before its eventual deletion, the 4,500-word page read in part:
“From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.”
Amazingly, the article was even nominated for the site’s Featured Article of the Day, a Wikipedia stable that highlights some of the site’s best-researched and written articles.
The actual writer of the Wikipedia article is still unknown, but members of the Wikipedia community have narrowed down at least one suspect.
“Unfortunately, hoaxes on Wikipedia are nothing new, and the craftier they are, the more difficult it is to catch them,” William Beutler, president of Beutler Wiki Relations, a Wikipedia consulting firm, told Yahoo News. “Anyone who's clever enough to make up convincing sources and motivated enough to spend the time and skilled enough to write a plausible article can deceive whole Internet—at least for awhile.”
A December 2012 poll by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that Google and Wikipedia were the top two research tools used by U.S. middle and high school students.
To its credit, Wikipedia has its own page devoted to Wikipedia hoaxes. Some of the more noteworthy attempts include a page on a fictional conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar, a false claim of inspiration in the “Lord of the Rings” novels and a former Harvard student who for eight years successfully operated a Wikipedia page claiming he was the mayor of a small Chinese town.
Beutler, a longtime Wikipedia community editor himself, says he once helped remove a hoax article after its author contacted him in an attempt to boast of their prank.
And as Beutler notes, in many ways, Wikipedia is no different than the professional journalism world from which it culls so much of its source material. No single source is infallible, even to the watchful and detail oriented community of Wikpedia editors.
“There are the outliers in each: Jayson Blair for the New York Times, the ‘Bicholim conflict’ author on Wikipedia,” Beutler said. “Stephen Glass would have been a terrific Wikipedia hoaxer.”
Even stranger, while the fake article itself has been deleted, the Bicholim Conflict continues to haunt the halls of the Internet at large.
As the Daily Dot notes, several references to the Bicholim Conflict continue to exist online, with other web sites having copied and pasted the text verbatim.
There’s even a book version of the fraudulent article available for sale on the Barnes and Noble website for $20 and credited to “authors” Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn. As the product’s one reviewer notes in their comment, “A copy of a hoax Wikipedia article (which you could have read for free) in printed form.”