On the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, a significant shift is emerging in public information and stories about black lives. College students edit and create new Wikipedia articles on the world’s largest go-to source of information, telling the untold stories of black leaders and black lives.
Since the advent of modern encyclopedias, people have turned to them for information and education. Predictably, those who wrote these encyclopedias were experts and scholars – privileged people in their respective societies. It was not until Wikipedia started in 2001 that the act of documenting knowledge in encyclopedic form was radically opened up. Wikipedia represented the first opportunity for people from all walks of life to write encyclopedia articles, and not just for a select few. In the idealistic world of Wikipedia – “imagine a world in which every human being can share the sum of all human knowledge,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales – it is possible. But the reality is quite different.
Wikipedia started as an internet project in 2001. Until recently, to edit you had to navigate through a unique markup language called wikicode. As Wikipedia grew its editor base in its early years, their demographics reflected people who were regularly on the Internet in the early 2000s and those who could handle wikicode: nerds. As someone who started contributing content to Wikipedia in 2005, I fit that description. And it’s people like me who have continued to edit Wikipedia to this day.
But if it’s just people like me who edit Wikipedia, then we don’t live up to Jimmy Wales’ vision. At present, not every human being shares, and we need their contributions and perspectives to create the sum of all human knowledge. While the racial reckoning of recent years has led to a re-examination of all aspects of culture and information, a new approach was needed to ensure greater representation in publishers and authors.
A recent survey of American English Wikipedia contributors found that only 0.5% of editors identified as black or African American, while 89% of editors were white and only 22% were women. Clearly, establishing a more diverse contributor base is an essential step in addressing racial equity on Wikipedia, which is so influential in shaping minds, especially among young people who turn to it as a knee-jerk reaction. to get information.
To address this and other equity gaps, the Wiki Education Student Program supports college and university educators who task their students with improving Wikipedia articles. Students have the ability to research course-related topics that are missing or underrepresented and synthesize available literature while using free tools and training to add information. Wiki Education is a crucial part of the larger Wiki ecosystem, funded by donations from those who create and prioritize information equity. It continues the age-old trend of democratizing the vast body of knowledge found in encyclopedias, while expanding the scope of representation.
The program aims to encourage Wikipedia authors and editors of color to contribute, as well as expand content devoted to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ topics. More than 100,000 students from 800 different schools participated, adding 80 million words to 109,000 Wikipedia articles and generating billions of page views.
Wikipedia’s student program also makes a difference in the drive to diversify editors and authors, with participants identifying 67% as women and 22% as Black or Latinx — a notable change from the standard demographics of contributors.
The range of creative contributions is vast and inventive. At Princeton University, students in a Black Lives Matter course created an article on the Museum of Black Joy and developed the article on Black Lives Matter art. Another group of students expanded the article on school discipline to add coverage of disparities in how it affects black students.
At Vanderbilt University, topics related to Black and minority health communities were addressed by a student in a race biology and culture course who wrote about race and maternal health in the United States. At Rice University, students in a course on poverty, justice, and human capability created articles about medical racism in the United States and also expanded racial disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic across the world. article in the United States and the article on racial capitalism, among others.
Through Wiki Education programs, students help tell marginalized, missed, and untold stories, correct misinformation, and fill in gaps. As students gain a better understanding of the past, they also gain the thirst for truth in knowledge that will motivate them to fight for a more equitable future.
Besides expanding the scope of information on various topics, there is another significant benefit to involving students in this program.: control of information. By learning editing skills, students improve their critical thinking, media literacy, writing, and research abilities. This empowers them to be more savvy media consumers who understand the difference between facts, fake news and propaganda – which is of incalculable importance in the information age.
Information is power and the ability to analyze its veracity is crucial. Collaborating on the world’s largest digital encyclopedia boosts students’ information intelligence, hopefully for a lifetime.