A Chinese woman vandalized Wikipedia for 10 years because she was bored

A Chinese Wikipedia user has created or edited nearly 300 articles on Russian history. All these interventions on the online encyclopedia were false.

On Wikipedia, vandalism is, unfortunately, a fairly common thing. Whether it is to redact the pages of political personalities as the election approaches, to favor Éric Zemmour, to remove compromising information, or even to manipulate information according to a political vision, the pages of the online encyclopedia are regularly modified by malicious people.

It is rarer for falsified information to be added to Wikipedia out of boredom. However, this is what happened to Wikipedia in Chinese, and this since 2010, according to the site Sixth Tones. For more than 10 years, a user created 206 articles and edited about 100 others on Russian history, in which most of the information was completely made up, as Vice found out in an article published on July 13. An impressive work of fraud, which has long remained unnoticed, and which has even sometimes been rewarded.

Wikipedia in Chinese has been deceived for years // Source: Numerama

Fake battles and books that don’t exist

The deception was exposed by Yifan, a Chinese writer, in a post on Zhihu, a popular Chinese site similar to Quora — a post that was later spotted by Vice. Yifan became aware of the problem by chance while reading an article dedicated to a silver mine located in Russia, written by a certain Zhemao, while he was doing research for a book. Very interested in the subject, he mentioned the story to Russian-speaking acquaintances, who realized irregularities. Yifan later attempted to verify the sources of the article, only to realize that they had been made up.

A group of Chinese Wikipedia contributors then began investigating articles created or edited by Zhemao, and realized the extent of the manipulation. In all, Zhemao has contributed over 300 articles, some created from scratch. One of these larger articles details three Tartar uprisings, believed to have taken place in the 17th century, which would have had a very significant impact on Russia. The article even contains a map, entirely made by Zhemao.

Zhemao also edited an article on the deportation of Chinese people to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s — an article so comprehensive and accurate that it was translated into several other languages, such as English, Arabic and even Russian, thus disseminating the lies in other editions of Wikipedia.

Vandalism out of boredom

Zhemao allegedly used multiple accounts to make the changes, and posed as the daughter of a Chinese diplomat in Russia, married to a Russian, and holding a degree from a Moscow university. In reality, Zhemao is a Chinese housewife, she explained in a letter of apology after the revelations of her trickery.

She also explains that she started her activity in an almost innocent way: often alone at home, she would have tried to read articles on Russia in their original language, without understanding everything, and using an automatic translator. She would simply “fill in” the parts they didn’t understand by inventing events—an activity that led her to write tens of thousands of signs.

Screenshot 2022-07-14 at 15.25.50
Chinese Wikipedia’s Russia page — this page is not on Zhemao’s list of edited ones, yet // Source: Numerama screenshot

The damage done to the encyclopedia is enormous — and its extent is not yet fully clear, with administrators continuing to find articles that Zhemao or other accounts belonging to him may have altered. ” The content she wrote is of very good quality, and the pages were connected to each other, creating a whole independent ecosystem moderator Yip told Vice. In short ” Zhemao single-handedly found a new way to shake Wikipedia “.

Zhemao and all his other accounts have been banned, but their actions will certainly be felt for a long time to come, and the reputation of Chinese Wikipedia may suffer. The online encyclopedia has had serious handling problems in the past. In September 2021, it was revealed that a group of around 20 users and administrators had been permanently banned after an “infiltration attempt”. The group’s goal was to take control of the Chinese Wikipedia, and to promote the ideas, policies and actions of the People’s Republic of China, ” in every possible way “. However, the acts of vandalism carried out by Zhemao, which are not part of the political mission but which were carried out to escape boredom, are a first on the encyclopedia.

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