An Irish college student has proven that journalists are using Wikipedia as a primary – and indeed only – source for their stories, without doing any fact checking whatsoever. By inserting and then tracking a fake quote in the Wikipedia entry for French composer Maurice Jarre, who died in March, 22-year old Shane Fitzgerald determined that even such august media outlets as the BBC are susceptible to the “it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true” fallacy.
Fitzgerald inserted the fictitious quote, attributed to Maurice Jarre, but actually entirely made up by Fitzgerald himself, the evening that Jarre passed away. “I saw it on breaking news and thought if I was going to do something I should do it quickly. I knew journalists wouldn’t be looking at it until the morning,” explained Fitzgerald.
“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear,” Fitzgerald penned, adding it as a quote to Jarre’s Wikipedia entry.
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It’s important to understand that at this point in time, the only place that this “quote” existed was inside Fitzgerald’s head, and, then, in the Wikipedia entry in which Jarre had inserted it.
Sure enough, around the world obituaries for Jarre included the bogus quote, incuding in newspapers in India, Australia, and Britain (and including British newspapers The Guardian and The London Independent, and on the BBC Music Magazine website.
While this was Fitzgerald’s experiment, even he was surprised at how quickly the fake quote spread, and how far. “I didn’t expect it to go that far. I expected it to be in blogs and sites, but on mainstream quality papers? I was very surprised about that,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald eventually contacted the major papers and sites, letting them know that they were attributing a fictitious quote to Jarre. Many, such as The Guardian, the BBC Music Magazine, and the Daily Mail, have since removed the quote; however the quote remains on many other sites.
Concluded Fitzgerald, “I don’t think it would have been found out unless I had told them so.”
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