A recent scandal involving the fabricated identity of a Wikipedia editor is causing some to rethink the way in which user-driven sites should evaluate content. The concern stems from the story of a Wikipedia contributor known as 'Essjay' who served as an editor and moderator for the online encyclopaedia. Wikipedia gathers all its content from public submissions which are edited and maintained by volunteer editors who are also responsible for settling disputes between users and cleaning up vandalised web pages. Essjay claimed on his Wikipedia user page to be a tenured theology professor at a private American university.
The claim was met with little doubt and the perceived expert became the author and moderator for a number of entries on religion and theology. However, on following up a July article in which Essjay was quoted, the New Yorker discovered that the respected member of the Wikipedia community was actually a 24 year-old man with no formal theology degree. The resulting fallout led many to question the validity of Wikipedia, and ended in Essjay resigning his post and leaving the site. In a parting statement Essjay said: "Leaving is the best thing for me and for Wikipedia. I walk away happy to be free to go about other things."