Wikipedia satire leads to vandalism, protections
On July 31, and again on August 2, Wikipedia was featured on the news satire The Colbert Report. The show's host, Stephen Colbert, poked fun at Wikipedia's nature, and encouraged viewers to insert falsehoods into existing articles. As a result, a number of articles were protected from editing, and some still remain semi-protected as of press time.
The Colbert Report has a regular feature known as "The WØRD", where a word or phrase, sometimes a portmanteau, is featured (in the show's debut episode, truthiness was coined). Last Monday's episode of The Colbert Report featured the word "Wikiality", a portmanteau of wiki and reality. Colbert said that "any website that has a longer entry on truthiness than Lutheranism has got its priorities straight." After "confusion" over his favorite pejorative term for Oregon, Colbert showed a screenshot of The Colbert Report, noting that he referred to the state as both "the Canada of California" and "Washington's Mexico" (a fact actually found in a separate article). Colbert decided instead that Oregon was "Idaho's Portugal", and purportedly edited the article to say so. He commented on the process, saying "Any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true." Colbert also stated that "George Washington never owned slaves", and "Africa has more elephants today than it did 10 years ago".
Near the end of the segment, Colbert says "Find the page on Elephants on Wikipedia, and create an entry that says the number of elephants has tripled in the last six months ... Together, we can create a reality that we can all agree on - the reality that we just agreed on." After the segment's airing, Elephant was immediately semi-protected by MarkSweep, then fully protected one minute later by Fire Star. However, clever viewers made similar edits to pages on numerous species of elephants (and other, unrelated articles such as Elefant (band)), prompting the semi-protection of most articles relating to elephants. Other articles mentioned in the segment such as Oregon, Portugal, and Colbert-related articles were subject to similar elephant-related additions.
Before the segment aired, the username Stephencolbert was registered, and made two edits: first, stating that Oregon was Idaho's Portugal (), and second, saying "In conclusion, George Washington did not own slaves (). Though the edits were made around the time that The Colbert Report is taped, some question was raised over whether the edits were actually made by Colbert; while he pretended to edit Wikipedia on the show, it's possible that audience members could have edited via mobile phone. As such, the account was blocked indefinitely, under the username policy. Blocking administrator Tawker attempted to contact Comedy Central to confirm the account's identity, but no response has yet been received.
Colbert touched on the subject twice on Wednesday's episode. During one segment, he took "phone calls", purportedly from viewers. In the final call, "Maurice K." from "Beltsander, California" chastised Colbert and viewers for editing, saying that as a result, he was unable to add an "important fact" to an elephant article. Prompted by Colbert to share the fact on-air, the caller did so, saying "When fully erect, an adult elephant's penis is..." before being interrupted by Colbert. Later in the show, during a segment on latchkey kids, Colbert claimed that "Latchkey kids are more likely to be crazy, I read it on Wikipedia. Look it up." As a result, Latchkey kid was quickly protected within 15 seconds of the statement being said on air.
As a result of the incident, the article on The Colbert Report received significant revision. In a section titled "Influence on the English language", a sub-section on "Wikiality" was added, but after discussion, was removed. Another sub-section on "Gaysrael", a term for Massachusetts, a supposed place where American homosexuals could move to, preserving "traditional marriage" in other states, was removed. As a result, the section was replaced with one dealing exclusively with the term "Truthiness".
Little press attention was originally directed to the issue. MTV News published an article on Thursday. On the block of Stephencolbert, Jimmy Wales was quoted: "It's fine, we have a sense of humor, and if we wanted to, we could figure out if it was really him making the changes. But why bother? We banned the user because of his or her behavior, because they were messing around with some articles and encouraging other people to mess with several articles about elephants." A Sunday article in the Washington Post contained some inaccuracies, saying that "enough people obeyed Colbert to crash Wikipedia's servers", and that "Wikipedia took the smart step of posting the pre-Colbert entries alongside the many, many post-Colbert ones to show exactly what was changed and when it was changed by subsequent editors." The former claim is slightly untrue; the site was read-only for ten minutes due to an unrelated error. The latter refers to the diff function, which has been available on all articles since at least March 2002.