Women who edit Wikipedia report serious harassment

About 80% of Wikipedia's editors are male. Women involved with the project cite safety concerns, report researchers.

U. Washington • futurity
June 20, 2019 3 minSource

woman in park on laptop (Wikipedia gender gap concept)

Concerns about safety were a common theme in interviews with female “Wikipedians” for a new study that examines the lack of female and non-binary editors on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is one of the most successful online communities in history, yet it struggles to attract and retain editors who are women—another example of the gender gap online.

“People can get harassed when they’re editing content in Wikipedia,” says coauthor Wanda Pratt, a professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. “If you’re constantly getting negative feedback for doing something, how often are you going to do it?”

The team interviewed 25 well-established editors to find out their stories. The conversations reveal that many participants had their edits contested and that some participants felt unsafe within the community.

“…if you say you are the sum of all human knowledge then you need representative humans contributing that information.”

“In the data we collected, it goes beyond trolling,” says first author Amanda Menking, a doctoral student in the iSchool. “There’s doxxing, which is exposing people’s personal information and where to find them online or in physical space such as their address. Some of the women we talked to received death threats.”

But participants also discussed how they managed their safety both conceptually and physically, and how they acted on this understanding to create safe spaces on and off Wikipedia. In order to navigate Wikipedia and related online communities—for example, Facebook groups—these women use sophisticated tactics for how they manage their online identities, boundaries, and emotions.

The authors suggest solutions for future online environments that encourage equity, inclusivity, and safety for historically marginalized users.

“Wikipedia says it’s the sum of all human knowledge and it’s the encyclopedia anyone can edit. That is a pretty big claim,” Menking says. “There’s also a responsibility to be held to those claims, that if you say you are the sum of all human knowledge then you need representative humans contributing that information.”

The researchers presented their results at the 2019 ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow, Scotland.

Source: Kiyomi Taguchi for University of Washington

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