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Hoax, Wiki-style: Internet encyclopedia spoofs mock reality

Bad Salzuflen, Germany — Most surfers get annoyed when they fall for fake or fictional news on the web. Some web users thrive on that kind of hoax, though: spoof encyclopedias bring together all manner of nonsense and push rumor and innuendo to the limits. Their makers parody the online encyclopedia Wikipedia by turning the concept on its head.

The German website Kamelopedia.org, for example, has gathered around 10,000 joke articles explaining the world’s doings from the point of view of camels.

"Anything that’s fun is allowed," explains spokesman Thomas Heitsiek from Bad Salzuflen. Similar nonsense reporting awaits at sites like Stupidedia.org or Falsipedia.com. Stupidedia.org, for example, warns of the oncoming Armageddon – on December 32. It can be avoided by making "donations to the sect of your choice."

The articles are frequently underpinned by obscure studies or purported quotes. One running gag at Uncyclopedia.org involves an invented quote from Oscar Wilde at the start of each article. One constant is the attempt to turn the facts on their head: the makers constantly assert that Wikipedia is a parody of their content. To add to the confusion, sites like Uncyclopedia.org and Illogicopedia.org even look like Wikipedia at first glance.

There is a serious side to all the satire: they are playing with the gullibility with which many surfers approach information they find on the net. "The crazy thing is, we keep finding readers who think that the crazy things we write are for real," Heitsiek says.

Young people, in particular, have come to put a lot of faith in Wikipedia. A 2007 study by the "Icon Kids & Youth" project showed that more than half of six to 19-year-olds trusted the user-created encyclopedia blindly — yet reputable news sources like Spiegel.de were only trusted by 40 percent.

"People who want to inform themselves properly always must ask where the information is coming from," says Professor Lorenz Lorenz- Meyer of the Polytechnic University of Darmstadt, where he teaches online journalism. Wikipedia is often characterized by fights on certain topics. This leads to "edit wars," where the articles are changed back and forth between two viewpoints.

The satire portals poke fun at this, and seek to raise awareness, too: the creators of Stupidedia.org joke that Wikipedia is famous for its many errors — while its pages are certain in their inaccuracy. The creators of Wikipedia are hardly put off by the spoofs. "To the contrary," spokesman Arne Klempert says, "If it helps people think more critically, then we’ll gladly let them show the way."

INFO BOX: How to create your own spoof lexicon

Anyone looking to create their own online spoof lexicon can find templates at sites like http://www.wikia.com or http://www.gratis- wiki.com. Surfers can then download free Wiki software based on Wikipedia and adjust it to their preferences. There are currently more than 5500 user-generated lexicons hosted at wikia.com in more than 70 languages.

DPA with Expatica