A look at how Edit-a-thons push Wikipedia from its editorial and gendered state toward an inclusive information environment.
Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced digital encyclopedia, information community and, most importantly, the universal exhibit in 80% of passive-aggressive comments at dinner parties. Wikipedia’s reputation is polarizing: It is seen as a source “disallowed” in educational and intellectual pursuits (see Cornell University; The Guardian; Harvard; Middlebury College; University of Central Florida); and then considered an ethereal, omnipotent corpus of perpetual ubiquity for the curious and information literate (see Carlton College; Crossref; First Monday; Medium; University of California San Francisco). Regardless of its academic merit, Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the colloquial global community i.e., the world.
The entity that is Wikipedia blends the reality of documenting real life with the iterative digital customs and specifications required of an online empire. These spaces are defined as editorial, gendered and inclusive, thanks to real-time, in-person mass Wikipedia editing events (edit-a-thons) such as those organized by Art+Feminism, whose participants are:
STUDENTS, LIBRARIANS, PROFESSORS, ARTISTS, ART WORKERS, AND ART LOVERS COMMITTED TO CONTRIBUTING OUR SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE TO THE COMMONS. OUR FEMINISMS ARE INTERSECTIONAL AND INCLUSIVE. WE HAVE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES AND PRACTICES BUT SHARE THE BELIEF THAT ART IS FUNDAMENTAL TO THRIVING SOCIETIES AND STRIVE TO MAKE VISIBLE THE LIVES AND WORK OF UNDERREPRESENTED ARTISTS.
WIKIPEDIA AS A EDITORIAL SPACE
The digital community of Wikipedia, founded in 2001, operates as an online “encyclopedia of existing recognized knowledge.” This stands opposed to an encyclopedia of opinions, editorializing, or primary research. This construct is featured in the fundamental principles of Wikipedia, deemed “the five pillars” (see image below).
Five Pillars of Wikipedia
Along with the definitive five pillars of Wikipedia, the organization boasts a detailed style guide, the Manual of Style (MoS), and many official and unofficial conferences dedicated to Wikimedia and Wikipedia. Its greatest contribution to the democratization of information is that anyone can create and/or edit an article, so long as the contributor follows the MoS and complies with community standards: the Wikipedia editing policy (a policy, not a rule!) and the community mission, both of which promote standards of content, delivery and define the intellectual responsibility to readers.
It is important to note that, to quote writer and Art+Feminism panelist Joanne McNeil, “editors are an invisible and necessary layer in the production of media” and, in this case, the production of knowledge and information management. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced, living document needing constant care and monitoring. McNeil also captures the role of editing in the new information landscape (see 11:00 of video below):
Wikipedia teaches people the value of editing and shaping and clarifying and putting forth information. And also, what you choose to write about — making the decision of what to write about — that’s kind of an editorial decision.
WIKIPEDIA AS A GENDERED SPACE
As shown by the communities of Facebook and Reddit, digital spaces are not immune to the organizational and sociological biases and constructs of three-dimensional life. There are numerous articles about the systemic discrimination of female editors (current estimates are around 10%) as well as a dismal existence of or representation of women in articles (The Atlantic; Harvard Business Review; LiveScience; Pacific Standard). In fact, “Wikipedia may not be that different from the very first encyclopedias, which developed as a way for educated men to communicate with each other and create foundational knowledge.” Wikipedia itself documents this phenomenon with its own article, “Gender bias on Wikipedia.”
Wikipedia itself documents this phenomenon with its own article, “Gender bias on Wikipedia.”
Editors require a large degree of sensitivity and responsibility to all readers and do not have to forsake their craft to provide a neutral, representative and inclusive article or project. Unfortunately, the proportion of female editors has yet to budge, and Wikipedia as a digital space continues to exist within hostile gates (see BBC article on Ms. Temple-Wood).
WIKIPEDIA EDIT-A-THONs AS INCLUSIVE SPACEs
Projects like Art+Feminism seek to engage female and female-identifying editors for in-person or hybrid Wikipedia edit-a-thons. The goal of an edit-a-thon is to provide instruction, context and support in creating and editing Wikipedia entries on a predefined topic such as women in the arts, African American history and, of course, intersectional demographics.
- The United Nations hosted a #HERstory edit-a-thon to increase the number and depth of articles about female members of the United Nations.
- The U.S. National Archives hosted an LGBTQ edit-a-thon to increase the entries for LGBTQ history.
- Staff of Outside Magazine staff performed an edit-a-thon to impact coverage of women in the outdoors.
For this article, I attended two Art+Feminism Edit-a-thons: One at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the other at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
NEW YORK: MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
At the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, the Art+Feminism project had a full day of updating Wikipedia entries on subjects related to art and feminism, tutorials for beginner Wikipedians, reference materials, childcare, and refreshments. The orientation handout explicitly states:
The goal of the edit-a-thon is to create an encouraging space for collective learning and editing. This requires intentional behavior, wherein participants are conscious of and accountable for the effect of their statements and actions on others. We respect our experiences and the experiences of others and we recognize that we can’t do this work without one another. If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of the event staff immediately.
A panel of female internet influencers kicked off the event “Role of Wikipedia and Women Editors in Digital Journalism” (see video below). The panelists include:
From her website: Kimberly Drew is currently the Social Media Manager at The Met, was honored by AIR Gallery as the recipient of their inaugural Feminist Curator Award, was selected as one of the YBCA100 by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and selected as one of Brooklyn Magazine’s Brooklyn 100. You can follow her at @museummammy on Instagram and Twitter.
From her website: Joanne McNeil is a writer interested in the ways that technology is shaping art, politics, and society. She was one of the founding editors of The Message, the technology-focused opinion magazine published by Medium. She was a 2012 USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism fellow. View her projects and presentations here.
From her website: Zara Rahman is a feminist, researcher and writer. She is a Fellow at Data & Society Research Institute, where she is looking at the skills and roles needed to successfully implement technology and data projects among human rights defenders and activists. She has worked in over 25 countries around the world, running workshops on topics from data storytelling to contract transparency, carrying out field research, and learning and collaborating with world-changing activists and advocates.
Museum of Modern Art: Panel – Role of Wikipedia and Women Editors in Digital Journalism
After the panel, the participants dispersed and scaled the museum’s education wing to attend seminars on local efforts like Interference Archives, whose aims are to preserve the relationship between cultural production and social movement through inclusive archival content representation, as well as Wikipedia tutorials.
Philadelphia: university of the arts
About a week later and 200 miles south, Mary Mark Ockerbloom facilitates an Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Ockerbloom serves as the Wikipedian-in-Residence for the Philadelphia-based Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Mary mark ockerbloom
Ockerbloom primarily organizes her editing around women in STEM, but is a fixture and co-host of the GLAM Café for galleries, libraries, archives and museums. From her Chemical Heritage Foundation personnel page: She identifies images from archives, museum collections, and events for release on Wikipedia; improves information on Wikipedia about the history of science; and helps people at CHF and other institutions better understand and engage with Wikipedia. As a professional Wikipedian, Ockerbloom is poised to model and support best practices of editing within Wikipedia, as well as provide insight to its gendered culture and methods of conflict resolution. This session was more intimate, but the one-on-one tutoring was a delightful pairing with the broader exposure found at the MoMA’s session.
the impact of an edit-a-thon
According to a press release from Art+Feminism:
Over 2,500 people at more than 200 events around the world participated in Art+Feminism’s fourth annual Wikipedia Edit-a-thon during the month of March. Together, we created or improved nearly 6,500 articles on Wikipedia, almost twice the output of the 2016 events.
The communal space within a female-centric edit-a-thon speaks to the importance of recognizing that all spaces — even digital — are gendered. This contrasts with the preconception that digital spaces are unbiased or “inherently democratized” entities. An overlaid or extended social space does not create a flat or new tableau; it often transfers the customs, qualities and hierarchies of real life. A successful intersectional edit-a-thon, like Art+Feminism, empowers participants through global context, technical assistance and local support.
To learn how to navigate and edit Wikipedia, view the Art+Feminism Editing Kit/Video Tutorials: http://www.artandfeminism.org/editing-kit/.
Are you a librarian looking to incorporate Wikipedia in your programming? I recommend this great article by Eleanor Diaz, “Wikipedia: The ‘Intellectual Makerspace’ of Libraries.”
Note: Photo modified from #WOCinTech/#WOCinTech Chat. View more stock images of WOC in tech at WOCinTechchat.com