Access: Wikipedia and the Color of Information

Wikipedia at the heart of its foundation was about access. Access to information. Access to truth. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, wanted to highlight free information that was universally and globally accessible. With 40 million published articles, 400 million monthly visitors, in 220 languages it’s safe to say that Wales has been able to reach that goal of access, but there remains a lot of issues. For a long time, Wikipedia’s credibility has been called into question. With great access, comes great responsibility. And not all the editors that have access to Wiki are credible. Wales aims that wiki is, “The sum of all human knowledge.”, but how informed can you really be if large portions of your site aren’t inherently credible and when the information that is present and prioritized excludes diverse information about those of color.

Wikipedia has five fundamental pillars of principle:

  1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.
  2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.
  3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute.
  4. Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility.
  5. Wikipedia has no firm rules.

Sara Boboltz of the Huffington Post cites that, “Studies have shown that content on Wikipedia suffers from the bias of its editors — mainly technically inclined, English-speaking, white-collar men living in majority-Christian, developed countries in the Northern hemisphere. According to one oft-cited study, over 90 percent of Wikipedia’s largely volunteer editors are male.”. Some of these principles are undermined by that fact. There is no neutral point of view when there are inherent biases established that inform these editors.

You cannot grant access when those that are gatekeeping the knowledge and platform are keeping a significant portion of potential contributors out. Maira Liriano, the associate chief librarian at New York City’s Schomburg Center, says it best, “In order to be representative, everyone has to participate”. Fortunately, Some people have decided to incite their own change. According to Sara Boboltz of the Huffington Post, “Some Wikipedia editors, however, have taken the problem into their own hands. Over the past several years, people around the world have held “edit-a-thons,” in which they encourage others to come to learn how to edit the world’s sixth-most popular website and contribute content on subjects that have been largely ignored.”.

Despite the site’s shortcomings, the fact that it is accessible and open as a platform has allowed those that are misrepresented and underrepresented to advocate for themselves and be proactive in fulfilling Wales’s intended promise and goal of access to the sum of all human knowledge. This is a step. But it also recognizes that there are gaps in research and information that need to be addressed at a large scope and scale. Hopefully, we will truly have access.

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Gabrielle Burton

Gabrielle Burton

Senior Undergrad at CSU Northridge majoring in Cinema and Television Arts with an emphasis in Screenwriting. Writer, Director, and Editor based in SF and LA.