Time flies! Last month, Wikipedia, the online free-content encyclopedia project helping to create a world in which everyone can freely share the sum of all knowledge, turned 20 years. The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. Now, the foundation that operates Wikipedia announced Tuesday that it will launch its first global code of conduct.
According to a report from Reuters, the organization is now seeking to address criticism that it has failed to combat harassment and suffers from a lack of diversity that reduces the participation of marginalized groups.
“We need to be much more inclusive,” María Sefidari, the chair of board of trustees for the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation told Reuters. “We are missing a lot of voices, we’re missing women, we’re missing marginalized groups.”
In 2017, researchers found that 77 percent of Wikipedia articles are written by 1 percent of Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia is currently the home to more than 43 million articles in 285 languages and all of these articles are written and edited by an autonomous group of international volunteers.
Online platforms like Facebook and Twitter have come under intense scrutiny for abusive behavior, violent rhetoric and other forms of problematic content, pushing them to revamp content rules and more strictly enforce them.
However, unlike Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc which take more top-down approaches to content moderation, the online encyclopedia, which turned 20 years old last month, largely relies on unpaid volunteers to handle issues around users’ behavior.
Wikimedia said more than 1,500 Wikipedia volunteers from five continents and 30 languages participated in the creation of the new rules after the board of trustees voted in May last year to develop new binding standards.
Wikipedia has 230,000 volunteer editors who work on crowdsourced articles and more than 3,500 ‘administrators’ who can take actions like blocking accounts or restricting edits on certain pages. Sometimes, complaints are decided on by panels of users elected by the communities. Wikimedia said the next phase of the project would be working on the rules’ enforcement.
“There’s been a process of change throughout the communities,” Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in an interview with Reuters. “It took time to build the support that was necessary to do the consultations for people to understand why this is a priority.”
“The new code of conduct bans harassment on and off the site, barring behaviors like hate speech, the use of slurs, stereotypes or attacks based on personal characteristics, as well as threats of physical violence and ‘hounding,’ or following someone across different articles to critique their work,” Reuters wrote. The code also bans deliberately introducing false or biased information into content. Wikipedia is a relatively trusted site compared to major social media platforms which have struggled to curb misinformation.
“A code of conduct without enforcement…is not going to be useful,” said Sefidari. “We’re going to figure this out with the communities,” she said.
Maher said there would be training for communities and interested task-forces of users.
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