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Wikipedia credentials put to the test

One of the top administrators at Wikipedia has been exposed as a fraud. In an article for the New Yorker, Ryan Jordan (username Essjay) was described as “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.”, he is actually twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and has never taught.

It seems a fairly elaborate identity that Ryan created, with references littered over the Wikipedia, often used to bolster his authority in discussions or arbitrations. My favourite has to be this one:

The text offers a Nihil Obstat from the Rev. Daniel J. Mahan, STB, STL, Censor Librorum, and an Imprimatur from the Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, Vicar General. This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it’s credibility

It even got to the stage when he wrote an open letter to University academics, as a “tenured professor of theology”, to implore them to take the acedemic credentials of the Wikipedia more seriously

Wikipedia is not intended as a stand-alone reference; it is imperative that information gleaned from Wikipedia be checked for accuracy, just as information gleaned from any other source. (I for one would not accept the authenticity of a given statement based on a single source; I expect my students to check their facts, regardless of where they originate.)

Unfortunately he seems to have started believing the identity to the extent that he felt comfortable talking to the press. Daniel Brant (well known foil-hat wearer in SEO circles but admittedly nailed it on this occasion) exposed him after the publication of the New Yorker article.

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia seems to be backing Ryan, saying “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.” Wales then moved to promote Ryan to a full time and paid position at the Wikia Foundation. However the community discussion shows more than a few members are less than happy.

Update: Ah folks, that screeching noise is the sound of Jimmy Wales furiously back-peddling to contain this PR disaster. He’s now released a statement, explaining that he was away from his computer and didn’t realise the extent of the SNAFU.

Update: Andrew Lih has a very good write up on this story, illustrating how Ryan(?) seems to have got himself into even more hot water with his libelous comments about the New Yorker journalist Stacy Schiff.

According to the wikinews article. He is no longer working at Wikia and has resigned his position.

Nick Wilsdon is the Head of Content and Media at iProspect UK, part of the Densu Aegis Network. He manages online campaigns for the UK's leading telecom, finance and FMCG brands.

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