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How pranks, hoaxes and manipulation undermine the reliability of Wikipedia

By Andreas Kolbe

On Reddit last week, an anonymous user said, It’s time for the truth to come out. The post, made in the AdviceAnimals subreddit and garnering over 2,700 upvotes, linked to the following memegenerator image:

Me and my friend used to make fun of an Arabic classmate called Azid. We edited the Wikipedia page for Chicken Korma so that his name would appear as an alternate name for the dish or an optional ingredient. Four years on, it has been cited by many cooking sites and publications.

It turned out that it wasn’t quite four years ago that the edit was made, but otherwise, the poster’s claims were found to be correct. A Wikipedian checking the history of the Korma article in the world’s foremost reference source traced the first insertion of the term Azid to this edit made on May 8, 2012. The change attracted no attention from other volunteer editors whatsoever, and there was no further activity in the article until over a month later.

The rise of Azid

Over time, editors apparently innocent of any involvement in the joke ensured that the spurious term Azid made it into the lead sentence of the article where it was listed as a synonym for Korma. The edit that moved the term into the lead section was made in August 2013 by a ten-year veteran of Wikipedia, an editor who has made close to 20,000 contributions to the site; in this edit, the Wikipedian added etymological detail about the word “Korma” to the article, citing no lesser authority than the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as a reference for the term Azid: a post on an amateur cookery blog named namitaskitchen.com which had copied the vandalised paragraph from Wikipedia.

This is

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