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Wikipedia's longest-lived hoax has finally been outed

You just can’t believe anyone these days.

Authentic Australian aboriginal rock art from Kakadu National Park
Authentic Australian aboriginal rock art from Kakadu National Park

UP UNTIL EARLY this month, if you believed Wikipedia, Jar’Edo Wens was a little-known deity from the native peoples of Australia.

“In Australian aboriginal mythology, Jar’Edo Wens is a god of earthly knowledge and physical might, created by Altjira to ensure that people did not get too arrogant or self-conceited,” its listing read.

“He is associated with victory and intelligence”.

However since 3 March, when the post was finally taken down, the supposed godly figure has taken on a different title – the longest-lived hoax exposed so far in the free, online encyclopaedia’s history.

The listing, a play on the name Jared Owens, was earmarked for deletion after nearly a decade on the website during which the made-up mythological figure even found its way into print.

Wiki Source: Wikipedia

‘Your mum’

According to website Wikipediocracy, which says it exists to “shine the light of scrutiny into the dark crevices of Wikipedia”, an anonymous editor using an Australian IP address first added Jar’Edo Wens to the encyclopedia’s listing on Australian indigenous mythology.

A short time later, the same IP address was used to create a separate listing for the god, while the editor also added an entry for Yohrmum (ie “your mum”) to the full article on mythology.

BRITAIN AUSTRALIA ABORIGINAL REMAINS Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner from south Australia, in traditional costume Source: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

That entry lasted the better part of two years until it was deleted as “suspected old vandalism”, but the Jar’Edo Wens listing remained.

In 2009, it was earmarked as having “multiple issues” like its lack of references or sources, however it wasn’t until two days before it was taken down that several users started talking about it being a hoax.

The name seems to be inconsistent with naming and linguistic conventions in Australia,” one wrote. “This could be the longest-lived hoax on Wikipedia, perhaps derived from the actual English name Jared Owens with punctuation and spacing changed … food for thought,” another wrote.

Hoax embarrassment

The day the listing was taken down, one of the site’s administrators responded: “The result was ‘speedied’ as a blatant and indisputable hoax (not to mention an embarrassment that it lasted this long). My thanks to those who caught it.”

By that time, according to Wikipedia’s own list, Jer’Edo Wens had officially become the longest-running hoax in the site’s history after overtaking the previous titleholder, “Pikes on Cliffs”, which lasted nine years and 8 1/2 months before it was deleted.

Wikipediocracy noted at the time the term remained in several non-English versions of the site, including the Polish service, although they have since been deleted.

Jar Source: Wikipedia archive

It also made its way into US author Matthew S. McCormick’s Atheism and the Case Against Christ as part of a chapter on gods which had “fallen out of favour”.

Notable hoaxes

Wikipedia, which to date includes about 4.75 million user-created articles, has now included Jar’Edo Wens at the top of its list of “notable” hoaxes, which it defined as listings which “evaded detection for more than one month or (were) discussed by reliable sources in the media”.

They include famous pranks like fake quotes attributed to French composer and conductor Maurice Jarre which were picked up in the media after his death.

This list is incomplete, as many hoaxes remain undiscovered,” the site notes.

France Obit Maurice Jarre Maurice Jarre in 2009 Source: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber/file

Here are the top-5 longest-lived Wikipedia hoaxes:

1. Jar’Edo Wens

Duration: 9 years, 9 months (29 May, 2005 to 3 March, 2015)

Description: Fictional Australian Aboriginal deity, presumably named after Jared Owens.

2. Pikes on cliffs

Duration: 9 years, 8 1/2 months (17 March, 2005 to 5 December, 2014)

Description: Fictional Spanish coastal house, claimed as the 16th-century home of a nonexistent Irish sailor who survived a death sentence from Sir Francis Drake.

3. Gregory Namoff

Duration: 9 years, 6 1/2 months (15 June, 2005 to 13 January, 2015)

Description: An ‘internationally known’ but non-existent investment banker, minor Watergate figure, and US Senate candidate.

4. Snappy & Friends

Duration: 9 years, 5 months (6 March, 2005 to 22 August, 2014)

Description: Supposed animated show with the Kellogg’s characters.

Snappy Source: Wikipedia

5. Henry Vaughan

Duration: 9 years, 1 1/2 months (28 October, 2005 to 11 December, 2014)

Description: Fictitious 18th-century landowner, supposedly killed by a mob and buried at the Radnorshire Arms in Presteigne (Wales).

READ: 14 things you probably didn’t know about St Patrick’s Day >

READ: Why do map makers create fake towns? >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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