Hoax article on India-Portugal clash fools Wikipedia for 5 years

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 06, 2013 14:44 hrs

London: A red-faced Wikipedia has removed an article from its site detailing the 17th century "Bicholim Conflict" — a clash between Portugal and India's Maratha Empire — after it emerged that such a war never occurred, and the piece and references included were entirely fictional.

After five years of featuring the piece, which tells the story of "how colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire" in Goa, Wikipedia has admitted the entire conflict and books cited as sources for the piece are fictional, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

The article was labelled a "good article" by Wikipedia editors just two months after its creation in July 2007. It was also nominated for a featured article — Wikipedia's gold star for research.

The meticulous 4,500 word article was written by an unidentified Wikipedia user.

"From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict," the article read.

"Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state," it said.

The piece continues, in precise detail, to explore what happened in the fictional war and lists some 17 references, as well as three suggestions for further reading — which all appear to be a work of the writer's imagination, the paper quoted Daily Dot as reporting.

"The conflict was fairly brief and its impact in terms of casualties and damage was minimal. For this reason, it has not become much of a talking point amongst filmmakers and bookwriters," the article concluded.

The hoax was only uncovered when another user from Missouri, known as ShelfSkewed, finally realised the deception and nominated the article for removal.

"An online search for "Bicholim conflict" or for many of the article's purported sources produces only results that can be traced back to the article itself," the user said.

Wikipedia acted on his warning and promptly removed the piece.

"Unfortunately, hoaxes on Wikipedia are nothing new, and the craftier they are, the more difficult it is to catch them," William Beutler, president of Beutler Wiki Relations, a Wikipedia consulting firm, told Yahoo News.

"Anyone who's clever enough to make up convincing sources and motivated enough to spend the time and skilled enough to write a plausible article can deceive whole internet, at least for awhile," Beutler said.