Since 2019, a Chinese woman under the username of Zhemao has been caught writing 206 articles on Wikipedia about Russian history from the medieval era that are all a fantasy. This has been discovered by famous Chinese novelist Yifan who was researching a book when he stumbled upon an article written by Zhemao.
At first glance, the article seemed to be written in a very professional manner and the history presented is plausible for someone who does not have knowledge of the Medieval era.
“The content she wrote is of high quality and the entries were interconnected, creating a system that can exist on its own,” (Quote by Yifan)
The article Yifan had specifically searched for was on the Kashin silver mine, or more specifically its discovery. The article from Wikipedia stated: “Discovered by Russian peasants in 1344, the mine engaged more than 40,000 slaves and freedmen, providing a remarkable source of wealth for the Russian principality of Tver in the 14th and 15th centuries as well as subsequent regimes.”
Most articles were interlinked with one another, which made the information within them seem more plausible. In 2019 Zhemao applied to be an editor on Wikipedia by falsely stating to be a Scholar of history.
What really brought the attention of Yifan that this content was actually false was that most of the articles she had written were above the normal quality of Wikipedia posts. It was not just the detail, but also the books she cited which do not exist that raised red flags.
“They were so rich in details they put English and Russian Wikipedia to shame, Zhemao single-handedly invented a new way to undermine Wikipedia.” (Quote by Yifan)
Wikipedia is already seen as a poor platform by academic institutions as no one really checks the authenticity of the content, and this incident proves that.
One article she tampered heavily with was on the deportation of Chinese in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ’30s. The article was so well-written that it was selected by the heads of Wikipedia as a featured article and translated into other languages, spreading misinformation to thousands of others.
You know a platform is “reliable” when they have an article about its own reliability on its own website. The issue is that due to the age of the website, it has accumulated a lot of authority on Google, so most of the time the first results will be under the link of Wikipedia for a search on google.
It is not only the lack of professional editorial standards, but also understanding that most of the content is in fact not written by academics within the field, but by people with a lot of interest in specific subjects. Within the history section, the information can be quite biased as some writers tend to give their own perspective on a historical event rather than the whole story.
The journalistic team at VICE got in touch with Yeh, a seasoned Chinese Editor on Wikipedia who explained the process of checking new entries and their reliability:
“When surveying new content, we only check whether it is blatant plagiarism and if it has proper sources. She understood the format of Wikipedia very well and provided sources that were very difficult to verify,” (Quote by Yeh)
Wikipedia has suspended all of Zhemao’s accounts and deleted all of her written articles. The issue is that most people are not aware that Wikipedia is an open platform, where anyone can write entries and informational articles. There are many other inline encyclopedias that has a much better reputation as all the content is written by actual Scholars.