Wikipedia may be a quick and easy way to find information for a school paper, or research project, but it may not be quite as reliable as you had hoped. In fact, according to research done by the Public Relations Journal in 2012, as many as one in six Wikipedia articles could contain factual errors, or misleading information. These errors are largely due to the collaborative nature of the site, which allows users to add and edit articles at will.
Errors on Wikipedia vary from small mistakes to intentional alteration of an article’s text. When an article is intentionally altered it is known as “wiki vandalism.” In this article we will share some of the biggest wikipedia blunders of all time. From false death reports, to altered biographies, here are all the reasons that you should NOT quote Wikipedia in your next paper.
By: calmdownlove, Sept 14, 2009
In early september of 2010 a fake news report was released stating that Miley Cyrus had been killed in a tragic car accident on her way to the Hannah Montana set. The article was later used to update her Wikipedia page, which helped the rumor spread even further. Miley was, in fact, not dead, and performed in a concert just hours after initial reports began to spread.
United States Congress Image
After Senior Senator Ted Kennedy had a seizure at President Obama’s inaugural luncheon, his Wikipedia article was edited to say that he was “removed (from the room) in a wheelchair, and died shortly after.” Senator Byrd of West Virginia, who was also at the luncheon, was reported to have collapsed and died upon witnessing the death of his friend Ted. In reality neither man had died, though Kennedy did indeed have a seizure. Both entries were corrected after just a few minutes, but for that short bit, it sounded like President Obama’s inaugural luncheon was one killer party.
Author: Thomas Atilla Lewis July 14, 2011
Paul Reiser, star of Whiplash, Mad About You, and Aliens, was reported dead on Wikipedia on December 27th 2008. According to the post, Reiser died while fly fishing on the Squallahassee river, and no foul play was suspected. On top of being incorrect about Reiser’s death, this writer created a river that doesn’t even exist.
Author: Jerry Crawford, June 5, 2008
The comedian and actor Sinbad found out that he had been reported dead on Wikipedia when his daughter called him to check if he was okay. The article had falsely stated that Sinbad had died of a heart attack days earlier. The article was then forwarded to hundreds of people before being removed.
Author: Michael Spiller, May 20, 2007
Vernon Kay is a popular TV personality in Britain; he hosts a variety of high rated shows. In 2008, his Wikipedia page was altered to say that he tragically drowned in a yachting accident. The page even listed details about when and where Kay’s funeral was to be held. The post alarmed so many people, that Kay was forced to reassure relatives and family that he was in fact not dead.
Author: Gennaro Masi, October 7, 2012
After getting dunked on, hard, by Deandre Jordan and Lebron James respectively in 2013, NBA players Brandon Knight and Jason Terry were both reported dead by Wikipedia. Cause of death— vicious dunking. Clearly a hoax, this Wikipedia edit quickly spread far and wide on social media.
Author: Munich Security Conference, January 31, 2014
According to Wikipedia, Tony Blair hung up “posters of Adolf Hitler on his wall as a teenager.” Blair’s page was frequently vandalized following his decision to support President George W. Bush in his invasion of Iraq. These vandalisms were taken very seriously by Wikipedia, who launched a full scale investigation on the matter.
Author: United States Congress, June 4, 2010
From a number of homophobic and hateful remarks, to stating that “Italians drink children’s blood,” Nancy Pelosi’s wikipedia page has seen its fair share of Wikipedia vandalism.
Author: Keith Allison, October 8, 2008
Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller sued after finding out that a Miami law firm had posted on his Wikipedia page, saying that he was hooked on alcohol and prescription drugs, in addition to being a wife and child beater.
Author: James Duncan Davidson, 2005
Even the cofounder of Google himself is not safe from Wikipedia vandalism. The most serious offenses to Sergey Brin include edits proposing that he was an admitted homosexual dating Jimmy Wales. On another occasion his Wiki page said he was discovered dead in Moscow.
Author: Curtis Palmer, October 16 2005
For over 130 days John Seigenthaler Sr.’s Wikipedia page stated that he was “directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby.” Seigenthaler, who served as Robert Kennedy’s assistant in the early 1960’s was deeply offended by the remarks, but Wikipedia was unable to track down the author of the comments.
Author: Bearcat201, July 7, 2011
Nancy Zimpher was president at the University of Cincinnati in the early 2000s, and evidently she made some enemies during her time there. At one point her Wikipedia entry was edited to say that she was a prostitute who practiced black magic.
Hoaxes & Pranks
Author: Montclair Film Fest, November 21, 2014
In 2006, Stephen Colbert urged his audience to go onto Wikipedia and edit any article about elephants. In all, over 20 articles were edited. Colbert himself made an edit to the page, saying that the population of elephants had tripled over the past six months. Stephen Colbert was subsequently banned from Wikipedia.
Author: Marie-Lan Nguyen, September 16, 2009
You may know Plato as a famous philosopher and writer, but did you also know that he was “an ancient hawaiian weather man and surfer, writer of Cosmo Girls,” and studied under “Barney the Purple Dinosaur?” If you didn’t, I guess you better start checking Wikipedia more often.
MillitaryPro- Own work, October 9, 2005
For over two years, call center worker Alan Mcilwraith maintained a secret identity through Wikipedia. According to his page, Mcilwraith was a decorated war hero, who was well known for being willing to “risk his own life to protect that of his men.” Mcilwraith was eventually outed by a colleague from the call center that he worked at who saw Mcilwraith’s image on a tabloid magazine.
Author: Comedy Partners, September 6, 2013
Similar to Stephen Colbert, Daniel Tosh urged his fans to go onto Wikipedia and make edits. Unlike Colbert however, Tosh urged his fans to edit his personal Wikipedia page. This resulted in numerous edits to Tosh’s page including details about his past occupation as an adult film star, and his graduation from astronaut high school.
There really isn’t much you can say about this Wikipedia edit, and evidently there isn’t much to say about batman either.
Death in the Afternoon
Author: Lloyd Arnold, December 31, 1938
Death in the Afternoon is a nonfiction book about bullfighting, written by acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway. Its Wikipedia listing, however, was updated to say it was “a nonfiction book by Ernest Hemingway about the ceremony and traditions of Spanish whores.” The entry was later corrected.
Author: Paul Anderson, October 29, 2006
The Village of Denshaw is a quiet town of just 500 people nestled just North of Manchester, England. Anyone reading their Wikipedia page in 2008 was getting a much different story; according to the page, Denshaw only receives four hours of sunlight a day due to the complex hill formations surrounding the city. It also has an obese population, and has not been visited much by outsiders since its tapeworm outbreak in 1998.
Author: ger1axg own work, June 6, 2006
In 2006, David Beckham’s Wikipedia page was edited to list him as an 18th century Chinese goalkeeper. David Beckham is in actuality British, and plays midfield. But hey, at least it was still the right sport right?
Author: Sam Hughes, September 13, 2011
You may know Gary Oldman from his role as Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films, but did you know that Gary was actually born a giraffe? According to his Wikipedia page, the doctor originally declared Gary a girl, but “then looked closer and then declared Gary a giraffe.” The entry went on to say that the confusion about Gary’s true identity led to a tragic murder suicide at the Oldman residence.
Author: Essjay, February 5, 2007
By lying about being a professor of theology, Ryan Jordan, a college dropout, was able to edit thousands of articles on the Wikipedia site. Through his falsified credentials Ryan was even promoted to arbitrator and was being paid by Wikipedia for his work. When Wikipedia finally discovered his identity, Ryan was stripped of his position.
Author: Anthony Benis, September 19, 2014
NPA Theory attempts to describe personality as a factor of three human traits; narcissism, perfectionism, and aggression. An article about this theory was posted on Wikipedia in 2006, by the creator of the theory himself. After several months the page was deemed to be a vanity article as the only person who was consistently editing it was the creator himself.
Author: Chris Litherland, February 14, 2012
For ten years, a completely fictitious article stated that Jack Robichaux was a 19th century cereal rapist who preyed on overweight women in New Orleans. The article was finally found to be false in September of 2015.
Author: Fritz Siebel, July 11, 2005
If you’ve heard that the inspiration for the popular children’s book series character Amelia Bedelia was a real life maid from Cameroon with a large collection of hats, then think again. For five years the Wikipedia page for Amelia Bedelia listed this false origin story, but in July of 2014 it was finally revealed to be a hoax performed by a couple of college students.
While Wikipedia certainly does have a lot of valuable information on it, it is best to use it with caution. Wikipedia can be a good starting point for research, but further sources should be checked in order to verify the information. Wikipedia has certainly improved its information vetting and regulation procedures, but no public source system will ever be perfect.