Wikipedia Founder Has "No Problem" with Fraud


I first heard about this story this morning. /HT Infothought. The basics; A wikia employee (a for profit entity related to Wikipedia) who calls himself Essjay on Wikipedia and claims the following academic credentials “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.” turns out to be 24 year old Ryan Jordan who now admits to having no advanced degrees and never having taught anywhere (has he even graduated anywhere) in his life.

Ok so the guy is a fraud and so every entry he has ever made at Wikipedia now needs to be questioned. Fine. Frauds come along and scam very smart people all the time. I questioned Wikipedia’s hiring practices in the comments section over at Infothought and Hacking Cough.

Do they do any kind of background checks on the employees? A cursory call of his references would have outed young Ryan.

Who is their CPA? A bookie who always dreamed of being an accountant?

Ok so they have some lax business practices so did Enron, and WorldCom and lots of other companies.

Here is the straw that broke this camels back. From the New Yorker article:

He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Excuse me? The guy is a fraud and you have no problem with it? He is your employee and you have no problem with it?

Ahhh that is exactly one of the things that is supposed to make new media different from old media. Self correction and all. Any new media CEO who goes around covering and making excuses for frauds is no better than Ken Lay.

Wikipedia is definitely a new media trail blazer, we would love to have them as part of our event but Jimmy Wales needs to rethink his position on this one pretty damn fast.

This small bit from Freakonomics:

This is hardly a felony, but it does make you wonder about what else happens at Wikipedia that Jimmy Wales doesn’t have a problem with.

I am no attorney (nor have I ever claimed to be one on TV or otherwise) so I have no idea if what Ryan Jordan did constitutes a felony or not, (any legal experts want to weigh in?) but in the world of journalism and media what he did is certainly one of the highest crimes imaginable. He claimed to be someone he was not, claimed to be an expert on subjects he is not, claimed credentials he does not have to give weight to his positions, numerous entries on Wikipedia and misrepresented himself as such to several people outside Wikipedia.

Game over, any legitimate local newspaper let alone encyclopedia would fire him immediately and begin researching everything he ever wrote for them.

/rant off.

More from the Freakonomics post:

For me, a more interesting question is the degree of Schiff’s error: should she, e.g., have insisted on some verification of Essjay’s credentials, or at least omitted his academic claims. This illustrates, if nothing else, how journalists get lied to, pretty regularly.

Also, FWIW, has anyone else noticed that Wikipedia entries often exhibit a rather serious interest in a subject’s religious background — particularly if the subject is Jewish? It turns out that Sergey Brin of Google has also noticed this. (I am about to get on a plane so I do not have time to look, but I am curious to know how Brin’s Wikipedia entry has changed since the article linked above was published.)

I don’t know anything about anti-Semitism or anything else at Wikipedia but that is exactly the danger of allowing a fraud to live among you, let alone protect him. Everything you say must now be questioned and taken with a very skeptical eye. Your integrity is ruined until you cut it out and come clean.

**update 2:02pm**

I jumped the gun a bit when reading Kelly’s comment. It looks like we agree completely on this one. here is an excerpt from kelly’s post at Nonbovine Ruminations:

Quite frankly, a man who would lie about his academic credentials, and then use those credentials to add undue weight to his own opinions in debate on Wikipedia, does not deserve to even be allowed to edit Wikipedia, let alone sit in judgment over those who do.

Over the past few years, a number of people with included false claims on their resumes or CVs have lost academic leadership posts (for example, Eugene R. Kole, former President of Quincy University, who resigned when two of the degrees he listed in his biography were found to be fictitious). It is startling and telling that Essjay, after revealing similiar lies, is not only not censured, but in fact elevated to one of the highest positions of responsibility that Wikipedia has. Clearly Jimbo has decided to demonstrate just how much unlike academicia Wikipedia is.

NBR has several other posts in Wikipedia that can be found here, here, here, and here.

My original update below for all to see.

**Update 1:21pm**

Commenter Kelly had this to say:

Just to make something clear: Wikipedia didn’t hire Essay. Wikia did. Wikia is not related to Wikipedia in any direct way, although both were founded by Jimmy Wales. The Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, didn’t hire Essjay, at least not yet.

Oh, and until a few months ago, the closest thing they had to a bookkeeper was a biologist who dabbled at bookkeeping for them in his spare time. Nice guy, but definitely not an accountant. But then again, Jimbo prefers to hire nice guys, whether or not they have the skills or the talent required for the job.

While I appreciate the background it does not mitigate Wikipedia, Wikia, or Jimmy Wales actions.

Jordan still works for Wikia.

Even as a volunteer it would be incumbent on Wikipedia and Wikia to sever ties with him.

When he is on the payroll, that is a poor reflection on their hiring practices. Then when Mr. Wales defends him it is a reflection on Mr. Wales and the organizations as a whole. By his actions or lack thereof (Mr. Wales) and his words he is endorsing fraud.
Neither organization can have any credibility as long as they continue their relationship with Mr. Jordan let alone endorse or make light of his actions.

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Comments

  1. Wikipedia currently holds what amounts to a monopoly position in the service it provides, with a very high barrier to entry for potential competitors (who would need to pay multi-millions to re-create a similar data base of summary descriptions of everything in the world). Eventually one of the other big boys will take on Wiki, but it will still be a battle of titans.

  2. Oh, I forgot to make my main point, which is that in the meantime, Wiki can do whatever it wants with regard to ethical standards, political bias, etc.

  3. Just to make something clear: Wikipedia didn’t hire Essay. Wikia did. Wikia is not related to Wikipedia in any direct way, although both were founded by Jimmy Wales. The Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes Wikipedia, didn’t hire Essjay, at least not yet.

    Oh, and until a few months ago, the closest thing they had to a bookkeeper was a biologist who dabbled at bookkeeping for them in his spare time. Nice guy, but definitely not an accountant. But then again, Jimbo prefers to hire nice guys, whether or not they have the skills or the talent required for the job.

  4. I just wanted to share MY horror story!! Last year I fought the wiki & the wiki won (because they banned me from sharing the truth about my dogs) guess they thought they knew more about what I had done all of my life, then I did!! So I published my “wiki” nightmare on the web anyway! http://www.shilohshepherds.info/wikiTruth.htm

  5. ladytron says:

    When Jimmy Wales says “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it,” he’s really just evaporating any shreds of credibility that Wikipedia had left.

    The fraudster in question, ‘Essjay’, penned this letter to a professor who doubted Wikipedia’s trustworhiness:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Essjay/Letter

    The letter, with hindsight, is pretty funny. In it, he defends Wikipedia’s academic credibility, and introduces himself as a “tenured professor of theology”. He goes on to champion Wikipedia’s content, by saying, “Well credentialed individuals (myself included) participate in the project in the hopes that our involvement will help to make Wikipedia a better source”.

    How can Wales possibly say that Essjay’s “tenured professor” claims amount to merely a pseudonym after that?

  6. ladytron says:

    “I am no attorney (nor have I ever claimed to be one on TV or otherwise) so I have no idea if what Ryan Jordan constitutes a felony or not, (any legal experts want to weigh in?)”

    A bit of research reveals that Essjay, who identifies himself as gay, has a partner called Robbie, who has a page on Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Robbie31

    Robbie claims he is an attorney. My guess is that not only is “Robbie31″ not an attorney as he states on the page, but Robbie31 doesn’t actually exist except in the imagination of Essjay.

    The only real thing in all of this is Jimmy Wales’ brazen corruption.

  7. Frankie says:

    I think it’s pretty stupid employing someone to work from home(if they don’t have offices) and not ask for concrete proof of who they are, their qualifications, referee’s etc.

    And the person who pointed out the Robbie account being Ryan Jordan’s is spot on in saying this wee turd intentions where clear from the start.

  8. Zelda Goodman says:

    Essjay’s Response Soon After The Controversy Broke Out!

    I would like to clear up an oversight on my part. I was, until this morning, under the impression that in my initial post on this subject (in response to a question from Dev920 made some weeks ago) I had made an apology for anyone who felt they were hurt by my decision to use misinformation. In speaking to various different people, including Jimbo, I did make it known that I was sorry that anyone felt hurt by my actions, and I believed I had done so in my initial statement. On re-reading that, I find I did not; it was a rather lengthy statement I had been thinking about for some time, and I seem to have left out a rather critical element of it. So, I rectify that now, with further apologies that it was not included originally, as I pointed people back to that statement in the belief it was complete.

    I *am* sorry if anyone in the Wikipedia community has been hurt by my decision to use disinformation to protect myself. I’m not sorry that I protected myself; I believed, and continue to believe, that I was right to protect myself, in light of the problems encountered on the internet in these trying times. I have spoken to all of my close friends here about this, and have heard resoundingly that they understand my position, and they support me. Jimbo and many others in Wikipedia’s hierarchy have made thier support known as well. I’m also sorry the New Yorker chose to print what they did about me; there seems to be a belief that I knew they were going to print it, and that is not the case. I spoke with Stacy Shiff for over eight hours; in that time, she asked me about a variety of subjects related to Wikipedia and I have her much to write on. (Those who know me will know I am rarely ever brief in my comments.) That she chose to focus on two rather trivial reverts to [[Justin Timberlake]] and what my userpage said came as a complete surprise to me; it was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be, and that in the absence of any confirmation, no respectible publication would print it. I did not have an advance copy of the article, and indeed, didn’t even get the complimentary print copy that others were given when it was published; I asked Stacy to send it to the Foundation for thier use instead. Further, she made several offers to compensate me for my time, and my response was that if she truly felt the need to do so, she should donate to the Foundation instead.

    For two years, I have poured my life into making this site a better place. That many people feel hurt by my decision pains me greatly, and to them I am genuinely sorry. To the stalkers, the trolls, and the vandals, I am not sorry; they are abusive, hateful people, and they have done far worse things than those whole of the Wikipeida Community, myself included, have ever thought about doing. Now, I am going back to what I have always done: Making Wikipedia a better place. (In the immediate present, I’m going to bed, as I’ve been up for quite a long time.) Tonight, I will be back to my normal routine: Blocking vandals, closing RFAs, tending to the mailing lists, etc. I have no intention of going anywhere, because to do so would be to let the vandals, trolls, and stalkers win.

    I have no doubt that others will continue to debate this matter; I have no intention to say anything further, as I have made my statement complete. If anyone needs me, look where the work of keeping the encyclopedia running is being done, and you’ll probably find me there. [[User:Essjay|'''Essjay''']] [[User talk:Essjay|(Talk)]] 16:06, 1 March 2007 (UTC)

    Here is the website address below to verify the text:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk%3AEssjay&diff=111847534&oldid=111838285

  9. well even google buy it
    no one can say that