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“Editing As Activism”: Fighting Bias and Misinformation On Wikipedia

This post is a “Reflexive Journal” entry written to fulfill the requirements for GLIS 649 Digital Curation. It reflects on our Wikipedia lecture and workshop that took place on January 30, 2018. This course was offered as part of Master of Information Studies (MISt) at McGill University.

Before this lecture, It had never occurred to me that Wikipedia was a powerful source of information. My education had conditioned me to dismiss Wikipedia as unreliable, and assume that it had no real effect on public knowledge. However, globally Wikipedia is the fifth-most frequently used site on the internet.[1] It attempts to accumulate “the sum of all human knowledge” by giving its users the power to construct and maintain its content. Much like other information resources, Wikipedia has been disproportionately written through the perspective of Western, white, cisgendered, males.[2][3][4] As a result, the content on Wikipedia has suffered from systemic bias and misinformation. All of which has been consumed by a broad audience.[5]

It was inspiring to learn that there has been a growing number of individuals and organizations who have attempted to address this issue by enhancing the visibility of underrepresented groups on Wikipedia. Editing Wikipedia has allowed users to have a positive impact on the way knowledge is consumed and created. It also empowers underrepresented communities to reclaim their stories by correcting existing narratives, expanding on established articles, and creating new content.[6][7]

In our Wikipedia lecture, we also discussed how citations have contributed to this issue. We acknowledged that academic citations are important for ensuring Wikipedia’s accuracy. At the same time, a “reliable source” by Wikipedia’s definition bring up issues of who get cited, who gets excluded, and how this gives power to bias perspectives.[8] In a time where “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become widely influential, I now realize how important it is to maintain accurate content on Wikipedia.[9][10] In the workshop component of our class, we added citations to Wikipedia as part of the 2018 #1Lib1Ref edit-a-thon. This campaign advocates for every librarian to contribute one reference to Wikipedia to help make it a trustworthy source of information and improve its impact on public knowledge. Below are few more efforts to improve Wikipedia that I was excited to learn about.

Wikipetcia Project

This project was started by the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw Nation of Quebec who worked with Wikimedia Canada to create a Wikipedia of their own. The now finished project, called Wikipetcia, was developed to transmit and preserve Atikamekw knowledge, language, and culture.[11] Given colonization’s impact on Indigenous languages and cultures, Wikipetcia can serve as an important preservation tool for this community.[12]

Art+Feminism

This annual Wikipedia campaign was started by a group of librarians and artists to improve content on feminism, gender, and the arts. It encourages female editorship on Wikipedia to counter the gender gaps in representation and edit contribution.[13] Their website has resources and an organizer kit for anyone who is interested in hosting an Art+Feminism edit-a-thon. These events have been hosted by organizations and communities around the world. A full list of upcoming and past events can be found here.

AfroCROWD

Afro Free Culture Crowdsourcing Wikimedia (AfroCROWD) is an initiative to encourage people of African descent to actively engage in crowdsourcing to close existing diversity gaps. Launched during Black Wiki History Month in 2015, its founder Alice Backer wanted to address the lack of content on black history and black culture on Wikipedia.[14] Since its launch, AfroCROWD has partnered with cultural institutions, galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and universities to host monthly edit-a-thons. These events aim to improve content that relate to people of African descent, and incorporate the various languages spoken throughout the African diaspora. To name a few, they have partnered with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to create Wikipedia articles on black artists, and partnered with Brooklyn Public Library to expand on Wikipedia articles about black film.[15]


Header image from The University of Edinburgh, “Black History Month Editathon,” https://open.ed.ac.uk/event/black-history-month-editathon/

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