Student's Wikipedia hoax quote used worldwide in newspaper obituaries


A WIKIPEDIA hoax by a 22-year-old Dublin student resulted in a fake quote being published in newspaper obituaries around the world.

The quote was attributed to French composer Maurice Jarre who died at the end of March.

It was posted on the online encyclopedia shortly after his death and later appeared in obituaries published in the Guardian, the London Independent, on the BBC Music Magazine website and in Indian and Australian newspapers.

“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear,” Jarre was quoted as saying.

However, these words were not uttered by the Oscar-winning composer but written by Shane Fitzgerald, a final-year undergraduate student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin.

Mr Fitzgerald said he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

He wanted to show how journalists use the internet as a primary source and how people are connected especially through the internet, he said.

He picked Wikipedia because it was something a lot of journalists look at and it can be edited by anyone, he told The Irish Times.

Fitzgerald posted the quote on Wikipedia late at night after news of Jarre’s death broke. “I saw it on breaking news and thought if I was going to do something I should do it quickly. I knew journalists wouldn’t be looking at it until the morning,” he said

The quote had no referenced sources and was therefore taken down by moderators of Wikipedia within minutes. However, Fitzgerald put it back a few more times until it was finally left up on the site for more than 24 hours.

While he was wary about the ethical implications of using someone’s death as a social experiment, he had carefully generated the quote so as not to distort or taint Jarre’s life, he said.

Fitzgerald was shocked by the result of his experiment.

“I didn’t expect it to go that far. I expected it to be in blogs and sites, but on mainstream quality papers? I was very surprised about,” he said.

However, the hoax remained undiscovered for weeks until Fitzgerald e-mailed offending newspapers to tell them that they had published an inaccurate quote.

“I don’t think it would have been found out unless I had told them so,” Fitzgerald said yesterday. In recent days the Guardianprinted a correction and an article about the hoax.

Fitzgerald admits that he is not a sophisticated hacker or technology junkie. “I’m capable of using a computer but I’m not a whizz. Anyone can go in and edit anonymously,” he said.

While the quote is no longer part of the Wikipedia article, evidence of edits of the quote in the Maurice Jarre article from a Dublin-based computer at the end of March can be seen in the Wikipedia edit history.

Despite having been removed from Wikipedia, BBC Music Magazine and Daily Mailwebsites and corrected by the Guardian, the quote last night remained intact on dozens of blogs, websites and newspapers.