Edit a Wikipedia page is both child’s play and a task where freedoms do not exist. Lies and mistakes are tracked down, and you can’t change history for more than a few seconds before another contributor sets you right. This is valid for all… except for Zhemao.
The user, who started being active in 2019 on the platform, posted more than 200 articles in 3 years. All remained online, although it was purely fictional content, invented from scratch by their author based in China. For her, and with techniques that the community of Wikipedia contributors did not imagine, she will have gradually mounted what will become one of the biggest hoaxes on the platform.
“To defend a lie, you need other lies”
This is how on the subject of medieval Russia, Zhemao has made a name for itself, a story. She would be the daughter of a Chinese diplomat stationed in Russia, who married a Russian. In his academic background, several degrees including a doctorate in world history from Moscow State University. His entirely false pages, detailed events straight out of his imagination.
She chose to apologize last month in a letter explaining everything. From his situation to his motivation. She was bored, can we learn from her portrait. A housewife, without knowing a word of English or Russian, she had taken a liking to translating pages into their original language, going through automatic translations and adding words of her own imagination in the empty spaces.
From these first steps on the platform, Zhemao went further. “As the saying goes, to defend a lie, you have to tell more lies”she wrote in her apology letter.
On such a precise and nested theme, the author had room to evolve. But his real strength, which allowed him to fly under the radar, was his ability to give details. “She understood the Wikipedia format very well and provided sources that were very difficult to verify”explained a volunteer editor to the media Vice. Among these sources, the work “History of Russia From Early Times” and its 29 untranslated volumes.
The trick has gone so far that fine connoisseurs of Russian medieval history are looking into Zhemao. Not out of fear, but out of gratitude : “I thought she was a rare talent, as the site lacked writers who knew medieval Russia so well”Eric Liu, a history student who has been involved with Wikipedia since 2015, told Vice. “The content she wrote was of high quality and the information was interconnected, creating a system that can exist on its own”said another contributor.
“Zhemao single-handedly invented a new way to undermine Wikipedia”said the same contributor.
To perfect her credibility, lastly, the author had opened several fake accounts in parallel to invent admirers. “Please don’t call me boss, I’m just an ordinary student” she wrote in response to glowing content posted by one of her other accounts.
He was looking to write a book, then he understood
Yifan is a Chinese novelist. One day, in search of information, he came across one of Zhemao’s pages on Wikipedia. As pointed out Viceat first glance, the man thought he would find very interesting information for his new novel with crisp details. Nothing could be more normal, for a page that could not be more romantic…
It was then that by publishing the latter, he was warned by the Russian authorities of this false information. On a Chinese forum, he had shared his discovery and warned: “These pages were so rich in detail that they put the English and Russian Wikipedia to shame”. Subsequently, a group of contributors decided to comb through each of his articles. There followed the revelations, the closure of the account and the deletion of pages by Wikipedia.
“Vandalism or other negative behavior may occur on Wikipedia from time to time, as is to be expected with any open online platform to which anyone can contribute. That said, this type of specific behavior on Wikipedia is not common”was trying to defend the foundation behind the online encyclopedia.
“The knowledge I have at the moment is not enough to earn my living. In the future, I will learn a trade, I will work conscientiously and I will not do this kind of useless things anymore”ended up writing the strange Zhemao in his apology letter.