Fans of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is written and edited by a Web-based community, noticed something amiss recently. Articles about boy-band singer Jamie Kane and his band were recently posted. The only problem? Kane and his band, Boy*d Upp, don't exist.
Kane is the fictional creation of the BBC. The character, who supposedly died in a helicopter crash, is part of an interactive game that asks players to solve the mystery surrounding his death.
The character's appearance on Wikipedia--as an apparently real person--has raised issues about online trust. In a world where anyone can post, how do you know what's real?
The BBC was promoting the game through "viral marketing," spreading clues and tidbits of information around the Web. Those clues included fake articles from the BBC and fake "Top of the Pops" appearances
It also apparently led to the creation of the articles about King on Wikipedia. The articles were changed once the community discovered the deception, and may be deleted entirely.
The BBC claimed in an item on Boing Boing that it had nothing to do with the Wikipedia entry, saying it was the work of a fan. But the brouhaha has prompted a debate about online marketing and about how the nature of the Internet is altering reader's ability to trust information.
Blog community response:
"I take two things from this. One: traditional media organisations need to be careful how they use the new methods wikis and blogs present to promote their own output, as credibility can be lost fast. Secondly: community sites such as these are very quick to spot spamming, marketing and suchlike, and are very quick to stamp down on it."
-- The Closed Circle
"This gives an interesting question with everything on the web, which is only being highlighted by ARGs deliberately creating false information: How do you know what you can believe out of all the information you read online?"
"The reason I think this debate and ones like it are healthy is because it creates awareness of the malleability and subjectivity of any information resource (online or otherwise)."