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Chinese woman has been writing nonsense on Wikipedia for years

Bored Chinese housewife caught writing fake Russian history on Wikipedia for years

WITH MORE THAN 200 INTERRELATED ITEMS FROM HER IMAGINATION, THIS CHINESE IS IN THE STORY OF THE SITE’S LARGEST MOST BRIDGES. PHOTO: SHATTERSTOCK

Claiming to be a scientist, the Chinese woman has been writing alternative descriptions of medieval Russian history on the Chinese Wikipedia for many years. From page to page, imaginary states, battles, and aristocrats arose, evolving into what is now considered one of the biggest hoaxes hosted on an open source platform.

The scam was exposed last month by Chinese writer Yifan. The latter was doing research for his book when he came across an article about the Kashinsky silver mine.

According to the article in question, the mine was opened by Russian peasants in 1344 and mobilized over 40,000 slaves and freedmen, constituting a remarkable source of wealth for the Russian principality of Tver in the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as in subsequent years. diets. The article describes in detail the geological composition of the soil, the structure of the mine, and even the processing process.

Yifan, who thought he had found interesting material for his novel there, was far from suspecting that he had jumped with both feet into the fictional universe directly from the brain of the user known as Chzemao. The article about the mine was part of a list of 206 others written on the Chinese Wikipedia since 2019. For years, she has been able to nonchalantly mix fact and fiction in a complex diagram without arousing the slightest suspicion or concern, testing the limitations of crowdsourced platforms regarding information verification and their ability to force out unscrupulous players.

“The content she wrote is of high quality, and the inputs were interconnected, which allowed her to create a self-sustaining system that can exist on its own,” said John Yip, one of the oldest Chinese Wikipedians. “Zhamao single-handedly invented a new way to subvert Wikipedia and play on the platform.”

Yifan realized the deception when the Russian speakers read the story of the silver mine and checked the sources Chzemao referred to. He then discovered that the pages or versions of the books she was quoting simply did not exist. The people he consulted also pointed out to him that his lengthy articles on ancient conflicts between the Slavic states were not to be found in the Russian historical archives. “They were so rich in detail that they put the Russian and English versions of Wikipedia to shame,” Yifan told Zhihua Chinese site similar to Quora, where he shared his discovery and made a splash.

SCREENSHOT OF A ZHEMAO POST WHICH WAS REMOVED FROM WIKIPEDIA

SCREENSHOT OF A ZHEMAO POST WHICH WAS REMOVED FROM WIKIPEDIA

One of his most complete articles was nearly as long as The Great Gatsby. With the encyclopedia’s formal and authoritative tone, three Tatar uprisings in the 17th century that had a lasting impact on Russia are detailed in paragraphs, with a map drawn by him. In another post, she shared rare photographs of ancient coins that she says were obtained thanks to a group of Russian archaeologists.

One article she produced detailed the deportation of Chinese to the Soviet Union between the 1920s and 1930s. The article was so well written that it was chosen as a star and translated into other languages, including English, Arabic and Russian. wreaking havoc on other language editions of Wikipedia.

Being one of the first users to interact with him, Yip had a hard time recovering from this discovery. Like many others, he was impressed by Zhemao’s knowledge of this dark subject, not to mention her remarkable dedication, since the girl made corrections and clarifications to the article almost a day later.

“His notes seemed to be complete, with correct references, but it turned out that some of them were made up and others referred to inappropriate page numbers,” Yip said. For example, she frequently cited The History of Russia from Ancient Times, a colossal 29-volume work by renowned Russian historian Sergei Solovyov. The Chinese translation she quoted was actually a forgery.

Ye Yuchia is a volunteer writer who patrols the pages and checks information. According to him, Wikipedia editors usually assume that authors contribute in good faith. By discovering the deception, he helped limit the catastrophic effects of the prank.

“When we review new content, we only check to see if it is clearly plagiarized and check the credibility of the sources. Zhemao understood the format and operation of Wikipedia very well, she provided sources that were very difficult to verify,” said Ye.

But content is only one aspect of his invention.

To become even more authoritative in the eyes of the community, Zhemao has created a solid user profile. She describes herself as the daughter of a Chinese diplomat in Russia who would marry a Russian, and lists her diplomas. Among them is a doctoral degree in world history from Moscow State University. She recently added that she is a pacifist and attached a petition allegedly signed by her husband to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although Chaemao sometimes feigned resignation and expressed disgust at this “intellectual handjob game online”, the investigation also revealed that she controlled at least four puppet accounts, alternate profiles she used to give herself the illusion of support. “Please don’t call me boss, I’m just an ordinary student,” Chamao wrote back to one of them.

On another occasion, she introduced herself as a world history doctoral student at Peking University who had studied in Russia and claimed to know Chamao in real life. Although this account has been active since 2010, an investigation suggests that she only took control of it in 2019. Zhemao’s persuasive character as a humble scholar earned her the trust of the community.

“It was a rare talent in my opinion because the site lacked authors familiar with medieval Russia,” Eric Liu, a history student who has been a Wikipedia contributor since 2015, tells us. Earlier that year, he even awarded her a barnstar, Wikipedia. a star who thanks her for her contributions.

“I deeply regret that I did not understand that she was mocking us. And to think that I even supported him… It seems to me that I was involved in this deception,” Liu said. According to him, the incident dealt a blow to the already declining authority of the site, and many users are paranoid about possible fraud.

As punishment, Zhemao and his partner accounts were permanently banned. By common agreement of the community, most of his articles have been removed. Some Wikipedians even turned to experts for help, wanting to know what to keep and what to throw away.

“Volunteers are still busy reviewing additional articles that may have been affected,” a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation told us via email.

“Obviously, from time to time Wikipedia can be vandalized or have other negative behavior. The same goes for any online platform to which anyone is free to contribute. However, this particular type of practice is not common on Wikipedia,” he added.

But who is hiding behind Zhemao? AT letter of apology posted last month on her Wikipedia page, the user admits. She speaks neither English nor Russian, she is a housewife and has only a secondary education.

His clever hoax would have begun with good intentions. Unable to understand scientific papers in their original language, she reportedly pieced together sentence fragments with a translation tool and then filled in the gaps with her own imagination. “As they say, to defend a lie, another lie must be told,” she wrote. In a short time, her inventions coalesced into tens of thousands of characters, weaving an all-encompassing story that she increasingly hesitated to hide.

The alternate accounts mentioned above were imaginary friends she “cosplayed” because since her husband was mostly away and she had no friends, she was bored and very lonely. She also apologized to real experts in Russia, with whom she tried to make friends, and then pretended to be someone else.

“The knowledge I have at the moment is not enough to make a living. In the future, I will master the profession, I will work conscientiously and will no longer do such useless things, ”she added.

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