A Wikipedia Hoax

Infographic by Francesco Franci

It is often said that Jorge Luis Borges would have loved the Internet. The non-linear journeys we take, forking paths through the information, the near-infiinty of it all, are themes mirrored in his writing. I imagine his interest would have been piqued by the exposure of a hoax on Wikipedia.

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. 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. Except none of this ever actually happened. The Bicholim Conflict is a figment of a creative Wikipedian’s imagination. It’s a huge, laborious, 4,500 word hoax. And it fooled Wikipedia editors for more than 5 years.

This has much in common with Tlön, Uqbar, Orbus Tertius, a 1940 story by Borges. In the ficcione, the narrator uncovers a vast conspiracy to create an entire world, complete with its own epistemology, buried within an obscure encylopædia. The faked Bicholim Conflict reminds of the the issues that Borges was alluding to more than seventy years ago – that in so many ways, we create our own truth, our own reality. This insight is not some parlour game for stoned philosophy students or fans of The Matrix, but something we should be mindful of in everyday political life. Weapons of Mass Destruction, anyone?

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