Digital Vandalism and Online Communities

Today, while doing some research on Wikipedia vandalism I discovered this article: Applebaum, Yoni (2012). How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit. The Atlantic, May 15, 2012.

Applebaum details the hoaxes of George Mason University students in T. Mills Kelly course in Lying about the Past. In the unit the students are asked to create false histories. In 2008 they had a major success on the Wikipedia:

confected the life of Edward Owens, mixing together actual lives and events with brazen fabrications. They created YouTube videos, interviewed experts, scanned and transcribed primary documents, and built a Wikipedia page to honor Owens’ memory. The romantic tale of a pirate plying his trade in the Chesapeake struck a chord, and quickly landed on USA Today’s pop culture blog.

In 2011 when the student’s attempted a hoax on Reddit around a factious serial killer it took a mere “twenty-six minutes for a redditor to call foul.”

Applebaum (2012) goes on to discuss why the hoax worked on the Wikipedia, but not on Reddit. The difference, he argues, turns on the structure of the platforms, the robustness of the communities and the nature of online trust.

Insightful, informative and entertaining.


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