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.
Except none of this ever actually happened.
What actually happened is that some anonymous person in July 2007 wrote an article on Wikipedia about it, complete with fake references. It was rated as a “good article”, and nearly became a featured article. And it was all fake.
The hoax was unmasked by another anonymous user in December 2012, who for some undisclosed reason started to verify the references, and found that none of them were real. He nominated it for deletion, six other random people agreed, and it was deleted. Which, somehow, is just as troubling as the manner in which it was created.
The Daily Dot also have another one. Wikipedia told us:
Gaius Flavius Antoninus
(88 BC – 44 BC) was a Roman general who helped in the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. He was later murdered by a male prostitute hired by Mark Antony.
This too is apparently a hoax. Deleted, therefore, based on … erm, some bunch of nobodies’ opinion that they don’t know for sure.
Now it would be easy to overreact. The criminal element is well and truly busy on the internet these days. Vandalism and hoaxes are normal now. Any crowd-sourced project must expect these, and must handle them.
But a delay of 6 years, before someone able to perform a 5 minute sanity check does so, just isn’t good enough. Wikipedia is too important a part of the web for this to be acceptable. In 2004, perhaps it would have been considered unavoidable. But now?
Wikipedia needs to have some professional reviewers. There seems no obvious reason why it couldn’t hire a few. Most journals manage to do this. But professionals would probably volunteer; except that they are treated like dirt if they do. At the moment any professional will find himself run out of the project by “Randy from Boise” or some other child. The project needs to create a cadre of contributors who are named, and known, and valued, and who have the backing of the Wikipedia board if they find themselves being harassed by Randy or his chums. It’s not hard to do this. But the will is lacking.