Brazilian magazine commits vandalism, writes about it

A major Brazilian newsweekly published an overview of Wikipedia last week that shed doubt on Wikipedia's reliability. The reporter tested this by vandalizing Wikipedia and noting that the vandalism went uncorrected for two days.

As reported by JoaoRicardo and Redux, the Brazilian magazine Veja published an article about Wikipedia on its website Sunday, and also in its print edition dated 26 January. The article noted that the freedom to edit pages gives rise to Wikipedia's success, but also characterized this as a flaw because it makes content vulnerable to malicious or ill-informed editors.

In the article, the reporter claimed to have inserted (and later removed) factually incorrect information in the Wikipedia article about Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as "Lula". This type of misinformation is commonly known as sneaky vandalism. A few individuals have previously published their results from attempts to test Wikipedia using a similar approach, notably University of Buffalo professor Alex Halavais.

Publication of the article prompted a flurry of additional edits to Lula's Wikipedia biography, both in English and Portuguese. However, although the Veja article was written in Portuguese, the vandalism was done to the article located on the English Wikipedia.

The reporter's edits

In checking out the reporter's account, corresponding edits were identified on the article about Lula. The first edit, made from an IP address on 17 January, changed his biography from stating that he was born "in a small village in the impoverished Brazilian state of Pernambuco", to read instead, "in a big city in the industrial Brazilian state of Pernambuco".

The town in which Lula was born, known today as Caetés, is certainly not a big city. And while Pernambuco is not devoid of industry, its primary economic base is agriculture and it is not particularly industrial by Brazilian standards. Lula's own biography describes him as having been born to a family of small farmers.

As indicated in the Veja article, the erroneous information was removed two days later, by someone using the same IP address as for the original edit. Nobody has tried to repeat this vandalism, but editors in both languages have been reverting a user who adds a section to the article, "Against The Students", which criticizes Lula as "a stupid fool" for his education policy.

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This newsstory was actually published in Veja's print version, edition number 1889, cover date 26 January 2005, page 92. It is made available in the magazine's website to their subscribers or to people who bought the print version, by using an access code. JoaoRicardo 05:47, 25 Jan 2005 (UTC)


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