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Bell tolls for Hemingway's fake comrade

Tom Parfitt
Sunday February 12, 2006
The Observer

Hoaxers in Poland have dealt a fresh blow to the credibility of the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, after creating an entry for a fictional socialist revolutionary and supposed friend of Ernest Hemingway. The popular website - which anyone can edit - carried the entry for Henryk Batuta for a full 15 months until it was exposed as an elaborate fake by Polish reporters last week.

Changes made to any of Wikipedia 's 1.8 million articles in 200 languages can be traced to the computers that produced them. New entries can now be edited only by registered users, after computers in Capitol Hill offices in Washington were used to doctor political entries.

The Polish scammers added the false biography to the Polish-language section of the online resource in November 2004. It was cross-referenced by editors to 17 other articles, including a long entry on Hemingway. It described the invented Batuta as a fervent communist born in Odessa in 1898, who participated in the Russian Civil War and joined Hemingway during the 1936-39 Civil War in Spain.

One of the hoaxers, who call themselves the 'Batuta Army', told The Observer the aim of the false entry was to highlight the glorification of Soviet officials whose names are still used for streets and public spaces in Poland. 'Many of these people were traitors and murderers who do not deserve such an honour,' said the member of the group, who called himself Marek.

A secondary aim was to warn internet users against 'swallowing information' without checking it.

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