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January 19, 2009

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Actually it wasn't Wikipedia that was at fault at all - the current entry for Masal Bugdav was created on January 16, if you look at the article's history, four days after the Times article. And it deals entirely with the hoax rather than treating him as a real player.

There did exist a hoax article about the player, but it was created on July 21, 2008, and deleted just a day later according to the logs by an eagle-eyed editor. So in this case Wikipedia's fact-checking was far superior to The Times's.

As Gary at Soccerlens found out, most of the false information was on forums and blogs, rather than Wikipedia, which eventually spread to publications like Goal.com and The Times.

[Disclosure - I'm a Wikipedia admin and spend a lot of my time cleaning up rubbish like this, although I had no involvement in this particular case]

You should also talk about the art of not getting things deleted from Wikipedia. The community behind the site are amazingly diligent. Anything salesy, irrelevant or poorly researched, will quickly get zapped.

As the author of the Soccerlens article uncovering the Masal Bugduv hoax (I'm not called Gary, though...), allow me to clear this up.

The first mention of Masal Bugduv on the web was in an edit on the Wikipedia entry for the Moldovan national football team made in July 2008. The prankster added some "info" about Bugduv to the opening paragraphs and added Bugduv's name to the squad list. This remained for almost six months (until, in fact, just a few hours before I got wind of the hoax) with a "citation needed" tag added along the way. (That, too, remained for several months.)

The hoaxer did indeed spread the word through fake news stories posted in message boards and blog comment sections in dozens of places around the web. But the Wikipedia vandalism was, I feel, key in underpinning the joke, given how so many people (including me) instinctively head for Wikipedia when looking for information on something.

My theory is that the journalists who got fooled into reporting on this non-existent player would have searched Wikipedia for "Masal Bugduv". Had there been no mention of him, they would surely have become suspicious and done some basic Googling which would have uncovered what it took me minutes to find. Or, at least, they would have erred on the side of caution and not reported on Masal Bugduv as if he were real.

As for "the art of not getting deleted", I guess that part of it is targeting some part of Wikipedia that is rarely visited or tended, such as the entry for the Moldovan national team. Wikipedia is so vast that there must be thousands of such pages. If you wanted to convince someone of the existence of a fictitious footballer, you're not going to get very far by editing, say, the page for the Brazilian team or Real Madrid.

I certainly wouldn't use any of this as any kind of definitive proof of unreliability on Wikipedia's part, not least because, in the grand scheme of things, this was a relatively harmless novelty story. And, as I say, I visit it regularly myself and find it a most helpful resource. However, it does remind us that you have to keep your wits about you when consulting it (this doesn't just apply to Wikipedia, of course).

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