DUBLIN – "When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head," Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre once said, according to several newspapers reporting his death in March.
However, the quotation was invented by an Irish student who posted it on the Wikipedia website in a hoax designed to show the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet for information.
Shane Fitzgerald made up quotes and entered them on Wikipedia — an encyclopedia edited by users — immediately after Jarre's death was first reported on March 30.
The 22-year-old sociology and economics student at University College Dublin said he had expected blogs and perhaps small newspapers to use the quotes but did not believe major publications would rely on Wikipedia without further checks.
"I was wrong. Quality newspapers in England, India, America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre's death," Fitzgerald wrote in an article in Thursday's Irish Times newspaper.
Britain's Guardian was one title that had to correct its obituary, saying the fake quotes appeared to have originated on Wikipedia before being duplicated on other websites.
"The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn't use information they find there if it can't be traced back to a reliable primary source," said the Guardian's readers' editor Siobhain Butterworth.