May 7, 2009

Wikipedia Quote Revealed As Student Hoax, Social Experiment

A fake quote posted on the online Wikipedia encyclopedia has been published in obituaries worldwide, the Irish Times announced.

The false quotation was credited to French composer Maurice Jarre who passed away this March.

Shane Fitzgerald, 22, a sociology and economics senior at University College Dublin, stated to the newspaper that he added the quote to the website as part of a research project on globalization.

He falsely quoted Oscar-winning composer Jarre as saying, "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."

The hoax was engineered to demonstrate the consequences of using the Internet too much for information.

While Fitzgerald anticipated a few blogs and some small newspapers to pick up the quote, he did not anticipate major publications using Wikipedia without checking for accuracy.

"I was wrong. Quality newspapers in England, India, and America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre's death," Fitzgerald wrote in an article available in Thursday's Irish Times newspaper.

"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."

Fitzgerald noted that the deception continued for weeks until he e-mailed the newspapers revealing to them that they had used an inaccurate quote.

The Irish Times added that although a few newspapers took down the quote from their websites or published a correction, it stayed as it was on a lot of blogs, websites and newspapers.

"The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn't use information they find there if it can't be traced back to a reliable primary source," noted the Guardian's readers' editor Siobhain Butterworth.


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