By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
It started as a joke and ended up as a shot heard round the Internet, with the joker losing his job and Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, suffering a blow to its credibility.
A man in Nashville has admitted that, in trying to shock a colleague with a joke, he put false information into a Wikipedia entry about John Seigenthaler Sr., a former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville.
Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Mr. Seigenthaler on Friday that he had written the material suggesting that Mr. Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Wikipedia, a nonprofit venture that is the world's biggest encyclopedia, is written and edited by thousands of volunteers.
Mr. Seigenthaler discovered the false entry only recently and wrote about it in an op-ed article in USA Today, saying he was especially annoyed that he could not track down the perpetrator because of Internet privacy laws. His plight touched off a debate about the reliability of information on Wikipedia - and by extension the entire Internet - and the difficulty in holding Web sites and their users accountable, even when someone is defamed.
In a confessional letter to Mr. Seigenthaler, Mr. Chase said he thought Wikipedia was a "gag" Web site and that he had written the assassination tale to shock a co-worker, who knew of the Seigenthaler family and its illustrious history in Nashville.