User:Jayen466/Hannibal Fogg Watch

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Hannibal Fogg was a page created by BarnardKnox (talk · contribs) that illustrates the almost infinite potential for information manipulation that the Internet, including Wikipedia, offers anyone who is determined to engage in such manipulation.

Hoax article[edit]

BarnardKnox (talk · contribs) created the Wikipedia article Hannibal Fogg some time around late August 2009. In October 2009, a Wikipedian alerted me on my talk page to the article, asking me if I could check out the references. The article (see this copy of it on Wikipedia mirror Wikiwak) purported to be about an "English explorer, author, soldier and spy" who had mysteriously disappeared in 1926. Upon scrutiny, I and other editors found that the references were all made up – either the cited book did not exist, or the book in question did not contain any information on the indicated (or any other) page about a "Hannibal Fogg". As a result, the article was eventually deleted from Wikipedia as a hoax; the discussions and analysis leading up to deletion are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Durova&oldid=322679112#Hoax_articles

In addition to creating the Hannibal Fogg article, we found that BarnardKnox (talk · contribs) had added fictitious references to a "Hannibal Fogg" to a number of other Wikipedia articles, edits which are still available in the user's contribution history: [1] These edits, too, were undone, but are still visible in multiple Wikipedia mirrors that appear when a user googles Hannibal Fogg. The cleverest of these was the addition of a fictitious book by Hannibal Fogg as a reference for an unsourced statement in the article Ainu people: [2][3][4]

Tahir Shah[edit]

The only other person on the Internet who had spoken of a "Hannibal Fogg" was the author Tahir Shah, son of the noted sufi author and sufi teacher Idries Shah (1924–1996, and incidentally accused of having been an inveterate hoaxer in his time). Tahir Shah had announced on his website that he had written a new novel, "Hannibal Fogg and the Supreme Secret of Man", based on the life of "the Edwardian explorer Hannibal Fogg".

There was and is also a Hannibal Fogg Society website at http://www.hannibalfoggsociety.org/HFS/Home.html (you can join for $75). According to Whois data returned at the time of writing (mid-November 2009), this site is administered by (quelle surprise) Tahir Shah, and is registered to author Jason Webster of Valencia, Spain (a friend of Shah's who defended alleged factual inaccuracies in one of his own books by asserting the book was "essentially true"). At the time of writing, the website points specifically to the now-deleted WP article; it also now claims that there is an establishment conspiracy to suppress all mention of Hannibal Fogg on the Internet.

Needless to say, there are no references to a Hannibal Fogg in any reliable sources:

(Doubtless because the evil establishment, including yours truly, has suppressed them.) However, over recent weeks, there has been a rash of new blogs on the Internet, in several different languages, focusing on the enigmatic figure of Hannibal Fogg:

This just illustrates the hoaxer's determination, which, if he keeps it up, cannot but yield the desired result eventually. In due course the book by Tahir Shah will appear, and people will be fascinated by the story, and its tales of hibernating Tibetan monks, and the 148-year-old Hannibal Fogg turning up to edit his own Wikipedia entry. This will no doubt be aided by the handy information they find about Fogg on the Internet. This report isn't likely to make much of a difference to that, because the story is written to appeal to the imagination; and as they said about Carlos Castaneda: "He may be lying, but what he says is true."

Wikipedia's brief[edit]

However, whatever the genuine and legitimate appeal of fantastic stories, Wikipedia must, where it can, refuse to play any part in such myth-making. BLPs of writers, as well as articles related to their existing and future works, should be diligently watched. As this case shows, new articles on colourful figures, even if they come with a dozen plausible-looking references, should have these references spot-checked as part of new pages patrolling. Wikipedia is being harnessed by some as a tool to make or enhance their livelihoods; the methods used to exploit this valuable free advertising resource are bound to grow in sophistication.

Another recent Internet hoax involved the figure of Helen Anne Petrie, an obscure South African painter; faked Internet biographies of her, including her Wikipedia biography, made out that her work was being collected by the rich and famous, and someone made a killing selling her works at auction for tens of thousands of dollars.

Wikipedia must do its best to avoid becoming implicated in such schemes. Our job is to stick to literal truth, not metaphorical truth or self-fulfilling prophecy. Literal truth is fantastic enough: one fantastic aspect of it is that there are people who without any apparent pangs of conscience go to such lengths to seed misleading data in the general consciousness, just to promote a product; and that people invite storytellers of all colours into their lives, because they have a yearning, and find it strangely invigorating, to suspend their disbelief.

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