Wikipedia has discovered that a contributor had been falsifying the history of the Qing Dynasty and the history of Russia on its Chinese-language site.
An investigation by the online encyclopedia revealed that since 2010, the contributor used at least four puppet accounts to compose a fictional history of Russia by creating 206 fake articles and contributing to hundreds more.
All of the fake accounts, which supported one another’s credibility, have been banned from Chinese Wikipedia.
In one of the now-deleted profiles, the user claimed to be Zhemao, the daughter of a diplomat stationed in Russia. The user also claimed to have a degree in Russian history and Russian citizenship after marrying a local.
Zhemao created well-detailed war stories and economic narratives that tie into real events in the country.
The user started writing fake Wikipedia entries in 2010 with made-up stories about the real figure of Heshen, a notoriously corrupt official from the Qing Dynasty.
In 2012, Zhemao began falsifying Russian history by editing existing articles on Czar Alexander I of Russia. Eventually, the user went on to fabricate stories about Russian history throughout Chinese Wikipedia.
A fantasy novelist named Yifan was among the first Wikipedia users to notice something suspicious about the entries. On an open platform Chinese site, Yifan wrote, as translated by SixthTone:
“Chinese Wikipedia entries that are more detailed than English Wikipedia and even Russian Wikipedia are all over the place. Characters that don’t exist in the English-Russian Wiki appear in the Chinese Wiki, and these characters are mixed together with real historical figures so that there’s no telling the real from the fake.”
Following an investigation conducted by Wikipedia, Zhemao published an open letter on her English Wikipedia account, writing that she is actually a housewife who only finished high school.
“As the saying goes, in order to tell a lie, you must tell more lies,” she wrote. “I was reluctant to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I wrote, but as a result, I wound up losing millions of words, and a circle of academic friends collapsed.”
“The trouble I’ve caused is hard to make up for, so maybe a permanent ban is the only option. My current knowledge is not enough to make a living, so in the future I will learn a craft, work honestly, and not do nebulous things like this any more,” she continued.
According to Wikipedia, most of the fictitious entries written by Zhemao on Chinese Wikipedia have been deleted, while her edits on other existing entries have been withdrawn. Some entries were kept after being improved upon by other contributors.
All language editions of Wikipedia were banned
in China in 2019, while the Chinese-language Wikipedia has been banned
since June 2015.