Shane Fitzgerald said one of his University College Dublin classes was exploring how quickly information was transmitted around the globe. His private concern was that, under pressure to produce news instantly, media outlets were increasingly relying on Internet sources — none more ubiquitous than the publicly edited Wikipedia.
When he saw British 24-hour news channels reporting the death of the triple Oscar-winning composer [Maurice Jarre], Fitzgerald sensed what he called "a golden opportunity" for an experiment on media use of Wikipedia.
He said it took him less than 15 minutes to fabricate and place a quote calculated to appeal to obituary writers without distorting Jarre's actual life experiences.
If anything, Fitzgerald said, he expected newspapers to avoid his quote because it had no link to a source — and even might trigger alarms as "too good to be true." But many blogs and several newspapers used the quotes at the start or finish of their obituaries.
Wikipedia spokesman Jay Walsh said he appreciated the Dublin student's point, and said he agreed it was "distressing so see how quickly journalists would descend on that information without double-checking it."
"We always tell people: If you see that quote on Wikipedia, find it somewhere else too. He's identified a flaw," Walsh said in a telephone interview from Wikipedia's San Francisco base.
See previous posts from IPBiz, including
On the reliability of Wikipedia for prior art in patent analyses
Did Wikipedia "sikahema" its entry on Joe Biden?