Know your meme, Wikipedia

By: Yeun Au
On: September 29, 2011
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About Yeun Au
Born in The Netherlands and raised with Confucianist values, Dutch education and Western thought. After studying multimedia design in Breda, I am currently pursuing my master's degree in New Media.


Questioning whether one can sabotage Wikipedia is out of the question; there have been many cases throughout the last years. Some were humourous, others were insulting, many were vulgar. These cases were all to be found by Wikipedia editors sooner or later. We also wanted to put a critical view on Wikipedia, but not just by adding some abusive sentences. We needed a better disguise.

Our goal was to create a fake entry about the supposed author of the images that are used as Internet memes, known as Rage Comics. In order to get the entry to stay online for the longest time possible, we decided that it would be easy if we used a real artist name and started looking for an unwritten article that had already a citation inside the Wikipedia. For that we choose the artist Emerson Adriano Catarina who had a link in the Tropicália entry but nothing was written on it about him. We have faked the entire life of this artist and we have produced a fake historical background to support the idea that this man was the creator of the Rage Comics. In this background we have provided data about how he reacted to real historical facts and how he was related to real people in order to give as much credibility as we could for the character.

This also made possible to us start creating a lot of different links inside the Wikipedia content giving even more support for the whole history. We attempted to use as many media as possible, and text formatting to give a more elaborated and serious research mood for the entry. We provided fake pictures and created a infobox. A fake ‘debate’ was brought to life on the Discussion page. Another resource that we used was outside reference links, for which we created post on blogs about fake exhibitions and the importance of his work creating the figures. We changed the names of the figures and gave them fake names as if the artist did not have made them to became Internet memes and their propose was completely different.

After creating the page, we waited for the replies by the Wikipedia community (and the imminent ‘deletion’ box). Soon, some Wikipedians made some minor changes, mainly about grammar and style of writing. Our ‘acclaimed Brazilian artist’ became a mere ‘Brazilian artist’. But nobody questioned the content. There was no discussion added to the Discussion page (except for our own nonsensical ramblings). Two boxes were added to the top of the page though: our article needed ‘additional citations for verification’. The second box stated that our article may not meet the ‘general notability guideline’. Several hours after publication, the article was edited for the last time.

It is probable that Wikipedians only quickly scanned our page. Wikipedians must check thousands of pages daily, and while it is probably easy to pick out the obvious vandalised edits, a seemingly acceptable article like ours only recieves a ‘citations for verification’-box. Is there enough time and effort left for Wikipedians to read through every article? It is unlikely. Perhaps there is a ‘long tail’ present: ‘important’ articles get a great amount of attention, while the ‘niche’ articles are rarely looked at. The very same day after publication, a Google search for his name rendered the Wikipedia page as the top result. It is frightening to think false information can occur as the top result in our main information search engine.

The article is still very much the same at the moment.  If Emerson is by any chance Googling himself right now, he will likely be shocked. Perhaps he will be appalled to find out he lived in Tanzania for 25 years, or perhaps that he might not meet the ‘notability guideline’. But while Wikipedia is questioning the notability of this man, we are not doubting the notability of this article.

By Yeun Au, Mario Gesteira and Renoud Netjes


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