Wikipedia hoax shames major publishers
10th May 2009 | 04:22
Fake obituary quotes part of student's social experiment
It's not often that student pranks make headlines across the world, but the rise of the internet has helped one 22-year-old do exactly that.
Shane Fitzgerald, a sociology and economics student at University College Dublin, thought he'd conduct a little experiment on Wikipedia by falsifying an entry and waiting to see who noticed.
Music plays on
In March he seized his chance - when legendary French composer Maurice Jarre died Fitzgerald added fictional quotes to Jarre's Wikpiedia entry and stood back aghast as newspapers worldwide copied his quotes word for word and attributed them to the musician.
Reputable sources had Jarre stating: "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."
As a flowery quote goes, it seems somehow apposite for the composer of music for films from Doctor Zhivago to Dead Poets Society, in spite of the fact that Fitzgerald made it up.
Some publications, such as the Guardian, later corrected their errors, but the cat was out of the bag and red-faced journalists everywhere had to rethink their research strategies.
What else is false?
An amazed Fitzgerald commented: "Quality newspapers in England, India, America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre's death."
Closing his follow-up report in last Thursday's Irish Times, Fitzgerald raised a worrying question: "If I could so easily falsify the news across the globe, even to this small extent, then it is unnerving to think about what other false information may be reported in the press."