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Chinese Housewife Implicated in 206 False Encyclopedia Articles: User Makes Shocking Discovery in Russian Entry

A housewife in China put the limits of Chinese Wikipedia to the test by writing more than 206 articles about medieval Russian history that were later found to be mostly fabricated. The woman, who went by the username Zhemao, pretended to be the daughter of a Chinese diplomat stationed in Moscow. She claimed on her profile that she had a Ph.D. in World History from Moscow State University and that she had married a Russian man, VICE News reported. Passing herself off as a historical expert on Russia, she wrote nearly 300 articles featuring imaginary states, wars and aristocrats, the outlet reported. “The content she wrote is of high quality and the entries were interconnected, creating a system that can exist on its own,” a Chinese Wikipedia user named John Yip told VICE. “Zhemao single-handedly invented a new way to undermine Wikipedia,” Yip said. One of Zhemao’s articles was nearly the size of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel “The Great Gatsby,” according to VICE. That article discussed three 17th-century Tartar uprisings that impacted Russia, with maps Zhemao herself made. Another major article she worked on was about the 1920s-30s deportation of Chinese people from the Soviet Union. Her work was later translated into English, Arabic and Russian, affecting Wikipedia websites in those nations. Zhemao’s elaborate scheme was discovered when Chinese fantasy novelist Yifan stumbled upon her articles when researching for a new book, Engadget reported. When Yifan dug through Zhemao’s articles, he found that Russian-language equivalents of the same Wikipedia article either were shorter or did not exist, Sixth Tone reported. A subsequent investigation by volunteer editors found that some of the sources Zhemao cited were fabricated or too unknown for volunteer fact-checkers to verify. “When surveying new content, we only check whether it is blatant plagiarism and if it has proper sources. She understood the format of Wikipedia very well and provided sources that were very difficult to verify,” Yeh Youchia, a volunteer editor, told VICE. Zhemao’s account was indefinitely suspended in response to the incident, and most of her articles were deleted, VICE reported. She apologized for pretending to be an expert in a letter posted to her profile. “I don’t actually know Russian and English, and my fiancé is not Russian but Chinese,” Zhemao wrote. “I was born in China, and I studied in high school and did not go to university.” “Volunteers are continuing to review additional articles that may have been affected,” a Wikimedia Foundation told VICE. “Wikipedia is not a reliable source for citations elsewhere on Wikipedia,” Wikipedia’s website states. “As a user-generated source, it can be edited by anyone at any time, and any information it contains at a particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or simply incorrect.” In 2020, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger wrote a blog post lamenting that Wikipedia has become “badly biased.” “There is a rewritten policy, but it endorses the utterly bankrupt canard of journalistic ‘false balance’ … [which is] directly contradictory to the original neutrality policy. As a result, even as journalists turn to opinion and activism, Wikipedia now touts controversial points of view on politics, religion, and science,” Sanger wrote. “Examples have become embarrassingly easy to find,” Sanger said. “Wikipedia can be counted on to cover not just political figures, but political issues as well from a liberal-left point of view.” This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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