Journalists who use Wikipedia as a source for their articles have been "exposed" after a 22-year-old student in Ireland revealed that he had inserted a fake quote into a Wikipedia entry which was then used by multiple newspapers. Shane Fitzgerald, studying sociology at University College Dublin, decided to perform an experiment when he heard that French composer Maurice Jarre had died on March 30. He went swiftly to the Wikipedia page, entered his invented quote, and then watched to see who used it.
"I did not think it would have a major impact. I was wrong," Fitzgerald wrote in the Irish Times, after his words were used in obituaries in newspapers in the UK, India, the US and Australia. The Guardian issued a correction, having used the quotation to open its piece on the composer. In February, a similar hoax occurred in Germany, reported the Columbia Journalism Review.
The issue here is clear: journalists should not use Wikipedia as a primary source, as there is absolutely no guarantee that it is accurate. The site is an extremely useful resource for background information and for gathering more authoritative sources as most entries contain many links, but anything on it must be verified. The quote written by Fitzgerald was uncontroversial and the incident has only caused embarrassment, but deliberate misinformation could have more serious consequences if it is used in generally trustworthy sources.