Personally I love Wikipedia and have dabbled in editing various entries in it in areas where I have some reasonably expert knowledge over many years and can still see some fragments of my edits from many years ago in the much expanding encyclopedia.
But I have also recognised for years that there are some serious biases in it: and let me give you a few examples…
Many years ago I stumbled across the entry for Sasolberg – an industrial town in the Free State province of South Africa. This town paid a highly significant part in the modern history of South Africa – for it was here in 1980 that the cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress, signalled to the world – and more importantly to every South African – that things were different now, by blowing up one of the highest profile parts of the apartheid regime’s efforts to evade a spreading oil embargo, an oil fabrication plant.
But repeated efforts to get this into the Wikipedia article were resisted and eventually reduced to one sentence – and a cursory look across the very thin entries on South Africa show, to me at least, a systematic bias against the ANC.
For another South African example have a look at the entry on the Soweto Uprising – surely one of the most significant events in the country’s history whatever way you look at it but only given a very short entry.
Things are getting better – there are now quite a large range of articles on South Africa’s liberation struggle, when only four or five ago there were very few.
But, as a recent article in the New Scientist points out, Wikipedia has a real blind spot when it comes to covering to Africa – there are more articles on “Middle Earth” than many African states and there are perhaps 10 times as many wikipedia edits (in any language) originated in the United Kingdom than in all of Africa.
And that’s not the only problem – 91% of Wikipedia editors are male and, of course, that is contributing to Wikipedia’s growing reputation as the home of the same sort of maladjusted and poor socialised individuals who inhabit various parts of the “open source” software world.
One thing the article does not cover is the high rate of articles on the encyclopedia that are clearly being edited by the subject (or their paid agents) – or their partners: have a look at Scottish independence supporting tax exile Jim McColl‘s entry and the entries made by “Shona7” – Jim McColl’s wife happens to be called Shona, that’s all I am saying!
- 50 more of Wikipedia’s most interesting articles (titifoti.wordpress.com)
- School of Open offers free Wikipedia course (wikimedia.org)
- The Economist explains: Who really runs Wikipedia? (economist.com)
- Who speaks for the women of Wikipedia? Not the women of Wikipedia. (hastac.org)
- Live map of recent changes to Wikipedia articles is mesmerizing (arstechnica.com)