A Chinese woman spent years writing fake Russian stories on Wikipedia

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In one of the biggest frauds on the open source platform, a Chinese lady posing as a historian has spent years creating alternative histories of medieval Russian history on the Chinese Wikipedia, inventing governments, battles and a fictional nobility. Chinese author Yifan, who was researching for a book when he came across an article about the Kashin silver mine, exposed the scam last month.

According to the Wikipedia site, the mine, discovered by Russian peasants in 1344, employed more than 40,000 slaves and freedmen and served as a notable source of income for the Russian principality of Tver in the 14th and 15th centuries as well as for successive regimes. The essay went into great detail to describe the construction of the mine, the geological makeup of the ground, and even the refining procedure.

Yifan thought he had discovered some intriguing material for a book. He had no idea that he had stumbled upon an entire fictional universe created by a user named Zhemao.

She has posted 206 entries on the Chinese Wikipedia since 2019, each fusing fact and fiction in a sophisticated strategy that went undiscovered for years and challenged the limits of crowdsourced platforms’ ability to weed out dishonest users.

Yifan was alerted when he investigated the sources provided by Zhemao and published the account of the silver mine by Russian speakers, only to find that the pages or editions of the books she claimed did not exist. His lengthy entries on ancient Slavic wars – conflicts that could not be located in Russian historical records – were also criticized by people he contacted.

After a group of volunteer editors and other Wikipedians, including Yip, went through his previous contributions to over 300 articles, the scale of the scam became apparent.

(With agency contributions)

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