Wikipedia Editor ‘warriors’ fight lies, bigotry and even Nazis
US: False COVID death reports, a vast gender gap, Nazi “fan fiction”: These are some of the perils an international crowd of volunteers battle across Wikipedia’s tens of millions of online entries.
The world’s largest internet encyclopedia is often the first result to pop up when users ask the internet a question — and thus a massively influential source of free information but which also reflects humanity’s faults.
With entries that can in theory be written by anyone with an internet connection — in some 300 languages — it comes down to editing by mostly anonymous volunteers to police the site.
“I always carry my laptop along wherever I go, to edit Wikipedia,” said Alaa Najjar, who is based in the Middle East, but asked that specific details about his identity be omitted to protect his privacy.
Najjar said he contributes to almost 500 entries a week, and as a medical doctor he has been busy fighting a flood of false information unleashed during the pandemic.
Among the strains of misinformation that surfaced on Wikipedia, he has spotted false reports COVID-19 had killed notable people and inaccurate boosting of some nations’ death and case numbers.
“I reviewed hundreds of articles during the COVID-19 pandemic, and rejected many misleading or erroneous amendments,” said Najjar, who got the platform’s top honor in 2021 for his work.
The 20-year-old encyclopedia — which even has an article devoted to its own controversies — has received positive accolades in recent years for its fact-checking capacities. The platform requires reliable, published sources from news outlets or academia to underpin an article, noted Dublin-based volunteer editor Rebecca O’Neill.
“Wikipedia is an uncomfortable mirror to show the world because it reflects back all of the systemic knowledge gaps that we have,” she said, adding that she puts in about 40 minutes per day on the platform.
In 2015 it became clear that only 15 percent of English language biographies on the platform were about women, sparking an effort to try to balance out the disparity. Six years later, the figure has risen to over 19 percent, said O’Neill.
Last year she was writing Wikipedia articles at the clip of one per day, and in the ratio of 19 biographies on women for every one she did about a man.
“I as an individual can offer something. I’m just going to set aside the time and just do it and not turn it over too much in my head,” she added. “It’s something I can do.”
– IRISH TIMES