Wikipedia:Fictitious references

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Faked references, like the faked ghost photos of yesteryear, are used to support the existence of hoaxes and other false claims.

A fictitious reference is a source that is listed within an article that an editor has added to support specific text within an article, or to support a claim of notability for the article's topic, while in reality that source does not exist, has nothing to do with the article and/or the information that the source is supposed to support, or otherwise does not support the content. Fictitious references are typically those used to support a hoax, original research, essays or opinion passed off as neutral facts, conflicts of interest, blatant advertising or spam, attack pages, or otherwise non-notable material passed off as notable.

The fact that a source does not meet Wikipedia's reliable sources guideline does not automatically make it fictitious; many editors do not fully understand this guideline, and a source that is considered reliable for one thing (such as a policy position of a candidate) may not be reliable for another (such as what an opponent has said or done). Also, some sources, though they do not establish notability, may be used to verify truth.

The use of fictitious references is a form of gaming the system to circumvent Wikipedia policies and guidelines. It is a most serious offense because it compromises the integrity of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia. If any fictitious references are found on a page, they, and any information they solely support, shall be immediately removed upon discovery. Editors who find such a reference are encouraged to examine the full article to determine if it meets one or more criteria for deletion, even possibly speedy deletion. In addition, editors responsible for the placement of such information shall be warned; if they have been previously warned and persistent in such behavior, they may even be blocked. Problems should be reported at the incidents section of the administrators' noticeboard.

When in doubt about the truth of such a reference, but also unsure that it is really fake, the accuracy shall be discussed. A {{dubious}} tag should be placed following the information in question. Such a discussion will hopefully attract some experts who can verify the accuracy of the reference and whatever information it is purported to support. If it is determined that any references or information shall be removed, but there is no definitive proof that its placement was done in bad faith, no action shall be taken against any editors. Any information that is removed can always be reinstated if confirmed to be true.

Verifying truth of references[edit]

An external link provided as a reference is easy to verify. Clicking on the link enables the reader to determine if what is stated in the article is found within the source, provided it is not a dead link and that its content is not dynamic.

An offline reference, such as a book or a printed newspaper or magazine may be substantially trickier, particularly if this source is more obscure and accessible to fewer people. It may be very difficult to verify some references, such as books which are out of print, local newspapers which are only available in a certain region, or books which are written in a language other than English.

Use of a search engine, such as Google, may be helpful in determining the truth of a topic, as the answer may be found, and hopefully will be found in multiple locations. A web search alone may not find the answer easily. A search using Google News, Google Books, and Google Scholar may get more hits but absence of any "GHITS" does not automatically mean the statement or even the entire topic is false.

Also, it shall be considered that the information may be accurate and just not notable. In such a case, it may be grounds for deletion. See Wikipedia: Existence ≠ Notability.

Examples of fictitious references[edit]

Some examples of fictitious references that can be passed off as fact are:

  1. Off-web references (books, journals, etc.) that do not exist.
  2. Off-web references that do exist, but the meaning of the source text differs significantly from the information claimed by an editor (editors can summarize what a source says, but the meaning cannot be changed)
  3. Off-web references that do exist, but the book or journal makes no reference to the topic referred to in the article
  4. Dynamic web pages or dead links where an editor is attempting to mislead other editors by claiming that the information was once contained within them
  5. Self-created web pages that appear to be reliable sources containing hoaxes or true but non-notable information
  6. Unlinked sentences placed between <ref> tags (be cautious in calling these "false references" in the edit summary, though, because when additional information is provided, but no book or journal title, it may be a good faith attempt to provide an explanatory note)

Types 1, 4, 5, and 6 can be easily detected using a simple Google search. Even if a book or magazine is only available in paper form, there will almost certainly be some online references to the existence of the book or magazine. Dead links can be checked with Internet archives. Self-created websites can be easily identified as non-professionally published sources.

The most dangerous types of fictitious references are types 2 and 3. With type 2, an editor with POV can change the intended meaning of the content that is purportedly sourced from the book or magazine. This corruption of the source's intended meaning may stay in Wikipedia until someone can check the original book or magazine.

Whereas type number 2 is used for adding POV, type number 3 can be used to introduce hoaxes and other false material into the encyclopedia. If an unprincipled Wikipedia editor has a POV motive to make a greater name for his uncle, a little-known guitar player, and creates a fictitious quote stating that "Rock historians agree that Foo Barkely was the greatest rock guitarist from Southern California in the 1970s", and then falsely references this fictitious quote to an actual 1976 guitar magazine article entitled "Rock's guitar greats", right down to citing all the bibliographic information and page numbers, this hoax quote may stay in Wikipedia for years.

Not fictitious references[edit]

The following actions are not fictitious references, and shall not be treated as such:

  • Mistakenly providing the wrong date, page number, link, or other minor details in a reference
  • Use of dynamic web pages or dead links that contained the information when placed there
  • Use of unreliable sources in good faith

See also[edit]

  • WP:INTEGRITY: "When using inline citations, it is important to maintain text–source integrity.... Editors should exercise caution when rearranging or inserting material to ensure that text–source relationships are maintained.