Hoax article detailing fake war stayed up on Wikipedia for five years

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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For the last five years, those who spend their time procrastinating on Wikipedia could read up on a 17th century war between colonial Portugal and India’s Maratham Empire known as the “Bicholim Conflict.”

The problem is that Bicholim Conflict never happened, and that the entire 4,500-word article on the war was nothing more than an elaborate joke.

The Daily Dot, which previously reported on the hoax, says that the writer of the article still hasn’t been identified. But whoever it is, he or she did an outstanding job of fooling the online encyclopedia into believing the “research” was genuine.

It was voted a “good article” by Wikipedia’s readers, and at one point was even nominated to be a “featured article” that would be prominently displayed on the site’s homepage.

“’Featured Article’ status is a bit of a badge of honor on Wikipedia, a recognition bestowed to only the highest quality pieces on the site,” the Daily Dot notes. “Out of more than 4 million English Wikipedia articles, only 3,772 are ‘featured.’”

For whatever reason, Missouri-based Wikipedia user ShelfSkewed decided to investigate the article last December, and in the process found that it had been totally fabricated.

“After careful consideration and some research, I have come to the conclusion that this article is a hoax—a clever and elaborate hoax, but a hoax nonetheless,” ShelfSkewed wrote in a post recommending that the article be deleted. “An online search for ‘Bicholim conflict’ or for many of the article’s purported sources produces only results that can be traced back to the article itself.”

The article detailed the supposed conflict between Portugal and Maratham Empire from 1640-1641. According to the article, the brief war ended with few casualties and a “peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.”

“The conflict was fairly brief and its impact in terms of casualties and damage was minimal,” the article stated. “For this reason, it has not become much of a talking point amongst filmmakers and bookwriters.”

Wikipedia owned up to the hoax after it was brought to their attention by ShelfSkewed on Dec. 29, and quickly deleted the piece.

This was not the first time that Wikipedia has been fooled by a hoax. Last July, an article on Gaius Flavius Antoninus — who purportedly conspired in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar — had to be purged after someone noticed it was a work of fiction.

“Unfortunately, hoaxes on Wikipedia are nothing new, and the craftier they are, the more difficult it is to catch them,” one Wikipedia consultant told Yahoo News.

“Anyone who’s clever enough to make up convincing sources and motivated enough to spend the time and skilled enough to write a plausible article can deceive whole Internet—at least for awhile.”

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