Deceit is everywhere this week. Not least on Wikipedia where would-be "tenured theology professor" Essjay turned out to be nothing of the sort. Unlike the PR industry, much of Wikipedia's upper echelon seem unperturbed by representatives misrepresenting themselves.
One of the excuses that has been trotted out over the past couple of days since the New Yorker published its correction of Essjay's position is that the fake identity was created to stymie persistent Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt. The self-styled wikihunter has been publishing the identities of a number of Wikipedia admins since SlimVirgin, a Wikipedia admin, started an entry on him in the online encyclopedia at the end of September 2005.
It seems that Essjay was not just miraculously blessed in the academic department, he had the gift of foresight. Because three months earlier he was proudly telling correspondents of his position as an academic. In response to someone asking whether he is a Jesuit, Essjay replied on the 26th June 2005: "No, I'm not a priest or a Jesuit; I'm a professor at a private university in the US, and the Catholic Church is one of my areas of expertise."
Brandt did not turn up as a concern for Essjay until one year later when Brandt started digging into his true identity. Brandt noticed Essjay's lengthy editing sessions on Wikipedia, as did another user, Somey, on the site Wikipedia Review:
"I don't see much of anything wrong with him either, but I do have to say that something still doesn't add up. He really does spend a huge amount of time on Wikipedia, to the extent that it's difficult to believe that he even has a job at all, much less a tenured professorship somewhere.
"Believe it or not, I've known quite a few tenured professors, and while they generally don't work quite as hard as tenure-track associates, the idea that one of them could be that heavily addicted to Wikipedia and still do everything the job normally entails really does strain credibility a little bit.
"Maybe he never sleeps?"
A number of Wikipedians have commented to the talk page to the effect that the misrepresentation does not matter, that it is an internal matter and credentials don't matter on the encyclopedia. But Essjay took care to remind people of his fake credentials on a number of occasions, such as this reply in August 2005 (still ahead of Brandt's bust-up with Wikipedia:
"For you, however, I have the utmost respect, being a liberal arts Professor in the only civilised part of the U.S. as far as I'm concerned. However, you might want to hurry up presenting your evidence, since I'm once again leaving the country at 8:55 am tommorrow and won't be back until next month; and as I said on my user page, I won't be editing on Wikipedia any more after I get back to work and my routine, etc."
And he was not afraid to use his vaunted position to browbeat an academic who complained about sourcing:
"I am an administrator of the online encyclopedia project Wikipedia. I am also a tenured professor of theology; feel free to have a look at my Wikipedia userpage (linked below) to gain an idea of my background and credentials."
As Dr Zen notes in a comment to one of Seth Finkelstein's posts on the subject: "Essjay simply lied to big himself up." For the moment, Essjay's response is a big fat "no comment" and let the PRs sort it out: "The press teams are trained in making statements that should be repeated in the press; I am not." But they can work with what they are told by the client, a client that does not seem overly bothered about Ryan Jordan's efforts to use a position to obtain credibility with people outside the Wikipedia inner circle.