Media outlets (and Wikipedia) fooled by Irishman

A 22-year-old student posts a phony quote on Wikipedia purporting to be from deceased composer Maurice Jarre. He claims it was part of a sociology project. The media believes it's a real quote.

If any of you have ever studied sociology, you'll know that it largely consists of making stuff up about society and pretending that you've discovered an astonishing truth.

This might be at least the acorn for an oak of explanation as to why an Irish sociology student named Shane Fitzgerald decided to make up a quote and slip it into a Wikipedia entry.

Fitzgerald chose the Wikipedia entry of recently deceased French composer Maurice Jarre, who wrote the music for films such as "Doctor Zhivago," "Dead Poets Society," and "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo."

He inserted his poetry into the dead man's mouth, only to see Wikipedia's incisive editors excise it.

He tried again. Within 6 minutes, Wikipedia's editors flicked it off as if it were a defecating fly. However, the third time he tried, the editors were, perhaps, drinking a little herbal tea or copulating in a virtual broom cupboard, because the quote stayed up for 25 hours.

This Irish bog pony appeared in Dead Poets Society. CC Jim Linwood/Flickr

This was enough time for the Guardian, the Independent, and many other newspapers and blogs to insert it in their obituaries of Jarre.

Fitzgerald is not without guile. He made sure that his quotes were just intelligent enough not to be jarring. One read: "My life has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life."

This lyrical masterpiece was followed by: "Music is how I will be remembered. When I die, there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."

Of course, this would all have sounded even better in the native French. But what is truly disheartening is Fitzgerald's explanation for his descent into Wikidness.

He told the Guardian: "My aim was to show that an undergraduate university student in Ireland can influence what newspapers are doing around the world and also that the reliance of newspapers on the Internet can lead to some faults."

I fear that he will not go far.

If only he had said: "Look, newspapers are dying out there. They're not making any money. They're closing their doors. They're firing their staff. Journalists have even stopped drinking because they can't afford it. So they're turning to bloody Wikipedia for their quotes."

That way, he may have received the instant attention of Rupert Murdoch and perhaps several other forward-thinking media moguls. Instead, he went with the following argument (more or less). "I'm just a bloke from Ireland, and I was just saying how the Internet isn't perfect."

How sad. Especially as he never used his 'work' in the sociology project for which it was allegedly intended.

In honor of Mr. Fitzgerald, I have slipped a couple of inaccuracies into this post. One just might be in describing Maurice Jarre's finest works. And the other? Well, I won't pony that one up.

 

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