Western Wikipedia editors writing history of poorer nations, study finds

16 Sep 2015

According to a new Oxford University study, history is not only written by the victors, but by those in the highest economic classes who are editing the Wikipedia pages of poorer nations.

By the website’s own design, Wikipedia editors are welcome from all backgrounds (as long as they are not making profit from their changes) to add to the open source platform to spread information.

However, the team of researchers from the university’s Internet Institute found that, by-and-large, the wealthiest countries in North America and Europe account for nearly half (45pc) of all Wikipedia edits.

According to The Guardian, these include the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the US, while the Netherlands alone accounts for more Wikipedia edits than the entire continent of Africa, despite the European country being outside the top 10 editing countries.

Interestingly, and quite worryingly, the team found that of those edits made in the poorer countries who are largely unrepresented on Wikipedia, many of the edits are on articles relating to Europe and North America rather than their own lands.

A graph showing the percentage of Wikipedia self-edits. Image via Geonet

A graph showing the percentage of Wikipedia self-edits. Image via Geonet

From the research paper published online, it is clear that Sub-Saharan Africa is the least represented on Wikipedia, with the researchers also pointing to the obvious chasm between access to the internet in the developing and developed worlds.

Speaking of the findings, lead researcher on the project Dr Mark Graham said: “Even on Wikipedia, widely touted as one of the web’s most open and most inclusive platforms, we see that low-income countries are represented far less than locations that are economically advantaged. Europe and North America, with already high levels of internet access, have the loudest voices and they largely define the world view of even the smaller, less affluent countries rather than the people who live in them.”

Dr Graham continued: “In practice, we see how existing inequalities and imbalances don’t just make places invisible, but also suffocate certain voices and perspectives. Even those in less economically advantaged places are drawn to write online about places that are already highlighted in a bright glow of information production.”

Jumbled letters in concrete image via Ian Muttoo/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic