This Friday, feminists are taking on Wikipedia. At campuses across the country (and virtually on Twitter on the hashtag #tooFEW), people will log on to participate in Feminists Engage Wikipedia, an edit-a-thon organized by The Crunk Feminist Collective (CFC) and THATCamp Feminism.
An edit-a-thon is a time when a large group of people get together and add and edit articles for a specific topic. There have been several feminist ones in the past put on by other groups, but this is the first to focus specifically on people of color, especially women, from a feminist perspective.
Their event page lists a specific set of topics that the The CFC believes are lacking from the site, and also a number of articles that they feel should be expanded.
"That’s the power of bringing marginalized people to Wikipedia," says Moya Bailey, one of the CFC organizers. She expects Feminists Engage Wikipedia to produce articles on "important figures in history that have already been marginalized by how society treats some folks," highlighting the disproportionately low number of articles (or at least in-depth articles) on non-white, non-male figures in comparison to their white male counterparts.
She also notes that what sets this particular edit-a-thon apart from previous feminist attempts is its academic nature. Because the events across the country are taking place at universities, the editors will have access to the kinds of secondary sources that Wikipedia privileges in its editing process. This will boost their chances of confirmed inclusion in the encyclopedia, something that can be difficult to achieve for certain topics that are traditionally best known from a primary-source perspective.
However, Wikipedia’s lack of information on marginalized peoples and fields of study is not the only problem the edit-a-thon is addressing. Currently, only 13% of Wikipedia’s large network of volunteer contributors are women. This lack of gender diversity contributes to what Wikipedia itself admits is "systemic bias," the inherent tendency of Wikipedia to favor a white, educated, technologically skilled, and Western male viewpoint. This bias is a serious problem for a site widely regarded as the go-to place for a basic overview of nearly everything. After all, if something is not included, it lessens the chance of the topic being discovered or learned about by folks not familiar with academic research, or who are unlikely to search further once they learn that Wikipedia does not have it.
Sometimes this is the result of an article failing to meet Wikipedia’s "notability" standards. If the editors haven’t heard of it, can’t find online sources corroborating it, or feel that it is not particularly relevant to the world at large, the article could be scheduled for deletion.
The notability metric could also pose a problem during Bailey’s edit-a-thon. The #tooFEW hashtag is already experiencing some trolling, and the Feminists Engage Wikipedia page was maliciously edited over the weekend. "It really shows the necessity for events like this. [The edit-a-thon] is not a one-stop fix, but it hopefully opens the door for more folks ... and a more continuous engagement will ease some of those folks who delete things automatically."
Indeed, it is the hope of the organizers and the intent of edit-a-thons generally that participants will grow comfortable with editing Wikipedia over the course of the event, grooming them into confident regular editors and contributors. If they are successful, Wikipedia could see the diversity of its volunteer editor crowd grow, meaning new and expanded articles and a wider pool of knowledge to tap when notability is an issue.
Do you think you have something to contribute to that pool? Consider joining THATCamp Feminism and the CFC on March 15th at Emory University (where Bailey is a grad fellow in digital humanities) from 8 a.m. -12 p.m. EDT, Barnard College from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT, Scripps College 8 a.m.-12 p.m. PDT, or online by engaging the #tooFEW hashtag.
Bailey also encourages those who can’t make it this time to organize their own edit-a-thon, to try editing on their own, and to confidently get out there and start altering the digital world to reflect the tangible one.