What I learned while editing Wikipedia

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I was introduced to the Wikimedia movement primarily as a communications consultant for Wikimedia Foundation’s first Global South project that began in India in 2011. My work with the Wikimedia Foundation and editing Wikipedia has helped me take a hard look at myself as a woman of colour from India in technology.

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After my initial stint with Wikipedia editing, I increasingly realized that the English version of Wikipedia lacked articles on Indian writers, famous personalities, cultural artefacts, and more. The problem is multi-layered and includes poor coverage of everything relating to non-western societies as well as to women within those societies. Once, I created article on Wikipedia about an Indian, female writer named Bama. She is from the lowest caste community called Dalits in India; and while the author is a celebrated writer of stories on the subject of double oppression (which is oppession of women by people of higher castes and oppression by men within their own communities), Wikipedia almost naturally had no record of her work. Sadly, within minutes of my creation of her article it was nominated for deletion. I then quickly added more references while simultaneously starting a discussion about why it should not be deleted. At that point, another Indian editor jumped in and helped with the explaination; the next day the deletion tag was removed.

Similarly, many articles on crafts and oral traditions that we tried to create as a part of our GLAM activity at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi underwent gruesome scrutiny because they were clearly not the usual subjects of Wikipedia additions and editing. This abysmal gap motivated me to start editing almost only just to fill these lacunae. Since then, I’ve also created articles on violence against women and female authors from India. My commitment only grown and gained momentum to do what I see as helping Wikipedia fullfill its mission to be "completely open and free."

The question I ask myself now everyday is whether merely enabling access through infrastructure and providing free platforms like Wikipedia can help us resolve uneven digital geographies created in the process.

As part of the Women in Free Software and Culture in India group, I recently led a hackathon group to edit sexual violence out of Wikipedia. The group is a voluntary organization of women working in free software in India; we have a corresponding mailing list where we share news, have discussions, and organize events. One member of the group is a free software consultant who identifies as transgender. She is trying to educate people about transgender rights, including living and pay conditions, and supports the transgender community by being open about her sexual orientation. About her role and outlook on women in free software: "I have been looking into building ground level feminist perspectives into free and open source software (FOSS) to make the FOSS space more inclusive, expand it and free it from the impositions of the patriarchy. Towards this I have tried to educate quite a few FOSS and other activist groups on aspects of gender inclusiveness, diversity, combating sexism, micro-aggression, and rape culture."

Through my work with the Wikimedia Foundation, editing Wikipedia, and becoming a part of that Wiki-verse—as well as through conversations I've had with many women in technology at conferences like AdaCampI’ve realized that it’s not only gender but also a configuration of other identities like race, class, and colour that emerge as players in the dynamics of groups working on collaborative projects. For some they are obstacles, for others they are interesting aspects that enrich the process.

I also believe that there is a solid need to re-articulate these differences of gender, colour, discrimination, and most of all, the privileges given to bridge the gender gap. It is obviously not a question of allocating more resources to women but also of striving to create safe-spaces and the necessary support structure that can help women resist personal attacks, hostility, and confrontations without having to appear more masculine or justify their existence in open source and free knowledge communities.

Watch this video of Noopur Raval talking about editing Wikipedia.

 

 


  

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12 Comments

Bob Robertson's picture

Feminism is just as much a trap as any other -ism. If you go looking for a fight, you'll find it.

That's not just "editing out" what YOU don't like, the person who put up the "delete" flag was just the same way editing out what THEY don't like.

Making the intellectual leap from _preference_ to _accuracy_ is a huge leap, one which most people cannot accomplish. They treat that which they do not like as _wrong_.

The problem with that is that no two people's preferences are the same. This is why the only honest -ism is _individualism_, the individual is the atom, everything else is sophistry.

kriszzilla's picture
Open Minded

Thanks for sharing sir, I agree to you.

Nice article, Ma'am Noopur Raval.

Thanks and Regards,
Kristian Aggarao

Follow me on twitter
@kriszzilla
Applications Developer

Purple Library Guy's picture

That would be all very fine if society were, to start with, individualist. But feminists have never existed in a vacuum. Rather, they exist in a situation where their sort of individual is assumed, and to some degree enforced, to be lesser. In your terms, they are not really "feminists" but anti-"masculinists", trying to reach a situation where they would be as free as you to be individualist. You really ought to be on board with that if you're sincere in your general position, and not just using it as an excuse to stay on top as, far from purely individualist, a member of a privileged group.

Mind you, a purely individualist "society" would actually be a horrible travesty, materially impoverished, dangerous, and doing serious violence to our basic nature as human beings. But that's a separate issue.

Noopur's picture
Open Enthusiast

Dear Bob,

Without getting into *general* problems of *any* community, I personally wanted to focus on a hunch that I had. As is implicit in my article, my problem is not with the content that exists but the way in which information production is encouraged. In that sense, the obsession with accuracy, neutrality and objectivity becomes problematic because nothing is white or black.

I appreciate your response. I hope you understand that my experiments are only symbolic of larger representation issues on Wikipedia.
Thanks!

Best,
Noopur

Trix's picture

I'm sorry, what was "accurate" about the first example of an attempted edit? And since when has Wikipedia been about editing according to one's "likes". It is *supposed* to be about gathering and documenting facts in an encyclopedic fashion.

I don't see what relevance *preference* to this post at all.

The most egregious Wiki edit I saw was the deletion of an episode list of a daytime TV show in the UK. Millions of viewers. Although apparently not as "notable" as similar lists of Doctor Who or Blackadder episodes.

Chris Maloney's picture

Thanks for editing Wikipedia! I applaud your work. I have one issue with this article though: when you mention that your article on Bama was marked for speedy deletion, you give the impression that it was because she was Indian, or at least that it was because it was a topic not common on Wikipedia. In fact, it was nominated for deletion because it was a biography of a living person that had no references, as that editor clearly stated.
I count myself among the inclusionists on Wikipedia, but I do understand the ones who want to enforce the standards of reliability and verifiability for new articles, especially BLPs.

Noopur's picture
Open Enthusiast

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your comment! My intent was not to give the impression that it was deleted because of a Wikipedian's gender bias but rather to show that there is little in terms of textual documentation itself (in news reports or journals) about several non-science and non-male personalities from the post-colonies. This problem directly reflects on Wikipedia too and must be acknowledged as a parenthesis in the movement's ambitious goal to have "sum of all knowledge", don't you think?

Best,
Noopur

Chris Maloney's picture

You introduced your article with that example, and then wrote, "many articles on crafts and oral traditions that we tried to create ... underwent gruesome scrutiny because they were clearly not the usual subjects of Wikipedia additions and editing".

I agree that, unfortunately, too few people write about them, but in my experience, Wikipedia welcomes topics like these. They undergo scrutiny for other reasons, but not because they are unusual topics. Your leading example is a good case-in-point. You do a disservice to the editors and admins who review these types of new articles, by implying that they are biased against your culture (which, despite what you just replied, you clearly did in the article). I wish you would correct it.

Noopur's picture
Open Enthusiast

Dear Chris,

Disservice would be a harsh word. And, I request you to not make this into my problem with editors in question. I repeat, this is systemic. To help understand, I request you to look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavarpur. This is one of the many articles created in bulk from census data. However, if you check the 'Festival' section, it has unreferenced and possibly inappropriate information. My point is, there are thousands of such articles that sometimes stay for years with rubbish on them or get deleted because there is no way to get more textual references for Lavarpur and others. Bama has it better but the problem stays: it's not a completely automated system and hence there will be victims of speedy deletions on one side and rubbish piling up on the other. This is partly because there is little patience and a smaller community that can provide local expertise/help to judge content.

Best,
Noopur

Chris Maloney's picture

Hi, Noopur,
As I mentioned, I agree that there is too little coverage of these sorts of topics. I think you'd acknowledge that at least part of the problem is that: A, there are too few editors like yourself who edit about these topics, and B, it is hard to find good source material. So, I'm not sure if you're suggesting that Wikipedia's policies on reliable sources should be loosened for some topics, or not. At any rate, my comment here was about your description of what happened with the Bama article, and that you imply that there was resistance to include it because it's an unusual topic, and imply that there's a bias against Indian culture within the Wikipedia community. I don't think there is; I think we would *love* to get more articles like the ones you describe.
So, again, I applaud your work!

Unidentified's picture

The whole point of Wikipedia is that anyone can add information and help expand its usefulness as a reference. So the author is simply following the intentions of the designers by contributing to its content.

Problems arise when an article appears about a controversial topic because people have strong feelings about such topics, so the correction process can degenerate into a useless battle between factions with opposing viewpoints. As someone opposed to censorship, I oppose the practice of deleting other people's entries, which is often done just to prevent readers from being exposed to a particular viewpoint. Instead, it would be better to present the viewpoints of all sides and let the reader make his own decisions. This might require all edits to be approved by a moderator or team of moderators, who could ensure that only edits that were uninformative and offensive were rejected, and perhaps clean up grammatical and spelling errors.

Solveig's picture

Hi!
It's sad that most of the commenters so far don't seem to get your point. As someone who stopped editing some years ago, exactly for the systemic bias you speak of, I'm really glad to see the work you're doing. Thanks a lot!

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