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Home >Technology >Tech-news >Wikipedia edit-a-thons: Fighting the fake news menace, one edit at a time

Last month, two dozen-odd people assembled at Amnesty International India’s office in Bengaluru with a common cause: to create new entries, and update the ones that exist, on women human rights defenders across India on the English Wikipedia.

Amnesty’s #BraveEdit campaign followed day-long training to edit content on the platform in accordance with guidelines followed by the Wikipedia community. The exercise involves close attention to detail, research, corroboration of facts based on secondary sources, and satisfying a set of pre-requisite criteria to legitimize an entry. From Tongam Rina, a journalist working in Arunachal Pradesh, to Jagmati Sangwan, a Haryana-based activist, the names added in the edit-a-thon threw light on unsung heroes working in obscure corners of the country at grave risk to their lives. As many as 20 chapters of Amnesty worldwide participated in the edit-a-thon, aiming at gender balance in their national contexts.

Wikipedia is an ubiquitous source of information about anything under the sun. From school projects to quick fact-checks, the uses of Wikipedia are many—as are its abuses, since it is an open-source platform, edited by members of the public. For this reason, Wikipedia should be consulted with caution, though there are checks and balances to tackle plagiarism, distortion of facts and toxic biases.

Apart from possible misinformation, diversity of representation is a lingering problem. About 20% of the entries on the English Wikipedia are about women and only 9% of its editors, globally, are women. In India, the figure stands at a pitiful 3%. Feminism In India, a digital portal, has been organizing edit-a-thons since 2016. “Our focus is to reduce the gender gap, increase content on women and marginalized groups, as well as the number of women editors," says Japleen Pasricha, founder and editor-in-chief of the platform, on email. “We pick a theme every month: women in science, women in tech, women in sports, women in law, and so on."

The English Wikipedia has many hawk-eyed digital warriors to prevent vandalism of articles. On the top page of the website, which few of us spend time on as our landing page is usually through a search engine, discussion forums are constantly abuzz. Big-ticket profiles are kept locked to prevent tampering—Narendra Modi’s page on the English Wikipedia, for example.

Amnesty’s edit-a-thon was facilitated by The Centre for Internet & Society (CIS), Bengaluru. “The purpose of Wikipedia is to educate, not advocate," says Tito Dutta of CIS. “It’s not a platform to present original research." For an article to be approved to go live on the English Wikipedia, it has to pass a host of tests—of notability, verifiability, conflict of interest, neutrality, and so on. An article is also a work in progress. As Dutta says, it’s always “agile", with the possibility of new information being added over the years. In the age of fake news and misinformation, regular edit-a-thons are crucial to keeping cyber hygiene.

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