During the past week, vandalism on Wikipedia has sparked errors in the media and an embarrassing error by the South African government. A betting company has introduced odds on which Wikipedia pages will be vandalised next.
False death rumor spreads from Wikipedia article
On Wednesday July 14, CBSreported that vandals had changed the article on American actress and model Lindsay Lohan to state that she had died, a rumor which "quickly spread well beyond Wikipedia".
"The history page for the Wikipedia entry indicated that in a period of about 31⁄2 hours Wednesday morning, the date of death for Lohan was entered and deleted more than a dozen times by several different users. At least one of the users was blocked indefinitely from editing articles on the grounds that the user's account was "being used only for vandalism".
The celebrity blog Ear Sucker soon published an entry reporting, "Rumor has it that Lindsay Lohan has died, at the young age of only 24 years old." The entry said no "reliable sources, such as TMZ or the L.A. Times" had reported Lohan's death, so "we're going to take it as a rumor, solely until we hear otherwise." The rumor was soon debunked by several entertainment blogs, and never appeared in any mainstream news report. But it garnered enough interest to make "Lindsay Lohan dead" the hottest search trend on Google Wednesday morning."
South African government calls FIFA president a penis
On Thursday, news agencies reported that "the South African government has unwittingly referred to FIFA President Sepp Blatter as a "Bellend"—a popular British slang name for a penis." According to media reports, the mistake was made after the article on Sepp Blatter was vandalised so that Blatter was referred to as "Joseph Sepp Bellend Blatter", which the government thought was his correct name, and repeated the error in a post on their website (screenshot by The Guardian) announcing that Blatter was the recipient of the "Order of The Companions of O R Tambo", one of the country's highest awards, which was presented to him at a gala dinner on July 12 by South African president Jacob Zuma, as reported by the Daily Telegraph . Memeburn.com wrote that
"The South African government most likely took Blatter’s name from his Wikipedia profile, which had been the target of angry fans or pranksters who christened the Fifa president with the derogatory second name. When the error came to light, the government webpage was quickly corrected.
Given the term’s English origin, in all likelihood the vandalism emanated from an English fan angry at Blatter’s initial opposition to goal-line technology. England lost to Germany during the World Cup after the referee mistakenly adjudged that the ball had crossed the goal line."
However, further analysis on the article's talk page found that the offending term had not been present in the article in the weeks before the award ceremony. It had once been inserted long before the World Cup, though - as early as July 2009 .
It was not the first time that vandalism related to controversial referee decisions at this year's World Cup has received media attention - last month, edits to the article about a Malian referee were covered in several U.S. newspapers (see Signpost coverage).
Bookmaker offers bets on next high-profile vandalism
Also last week, Ireland's largest bookmaker, Paddy Power, started taking bets on which page would be vandalised next. The announcement cited the Blatter case, and named as the favourite, at odds of 4–1, the article on Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, who a Paddy Power spokesman said was "public enemy number one" following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. "Millions rely on Wikipedia as their trusted source of information so any amendments will be used and viewed across the world by thousands of people," they said, "if someone wants to make a statement then this is a high profile tactic and with Tony upsetting so many Americans he is ... an obvious target.”
The web page with the actual bet offer appeared to be offline at the time of writing. According to a copy in Google's cache, it contained the conditions "Must be reported in the Guardian newspaper. Must happen in 2010".