Wikipedia hit by identity crisis as student admits posing as professor
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
By Stephen Foley in New York
Wikipedia is facing one of its biggest crises after a twentysomething student from Kentucky posed as a professor of religious studies and made more than 20,000 alterations to controversial topics on the online encyclopedia.
Using the pseudonym "Essjay", the bogus professor had become one of Wikipedia's most prolific "editors", trusted to adjudicate on factual disputes and keep the site free from vandalism. He had even featured in an article in the New Yorker, which took his claims to be an expert in canon law at face value.
Now he has been unmasked as Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old who had created an entirely false identity, claiming to be a tenured professor at a private university, but who relied on books such as Catholicism for Dummies when correcting articles on dogma.
"He holds no advanced degrees," the New Yorker admitted in an editor's note. "He has never taught."
Anyone can alter the site's 5.3 million articles, but some 75,000 people are regular contributors. This loose affiliation of 75,000 obsessives and techno-nerds has now been thrown into turmoil. While many users defended Mr Jordan, others expressed a sense of betrayal. At the weekend, Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, asked Essjay to resign his voluntary position, and now wants senior editors to reveal their identities and prove their credentials. "I have an MA in finance," Mr Wales said. "I could fax a copy of the degree to the office."
Mr Jordan made a final posting late on Saturday. "I hope others will refocus the energy they have spent the past few days in defending and denouncing me to make something here at Wikipedia better."