In the media
The world's Wikipedia gaps; Google and Wikipedia accused of tying Ben Carson to NAMBLA
The world's Wikipedia gaps
GOOD magazine reports (Oct. 27) on the inferior quality and much smaller contributor pool of other language versions of Wikipedia. The article's author, Mark Hay, begins his discussion with an article from the Zulu Wikipedia that was highlighted on Reddit some weeks ago:
||Last month, a South African Redditor going by the handle lovethebacon took to the site's r/southafrica forum to share a weird experience he had while surfing Wikipedia recently. He noticed that the Zulu-language page for Nkandla, a town of 3,557 people in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa's second-largest (and fairly well-developed) province, ended with the following phrase: "Nazo isintandane ziningi lengculazi. Iyidolobha impofu." Roughly translated, lovethebacon explained, this means: "Orphans [here] have HIV. [This is the] capital of the poor."
That's a broad statement, both uncouth and untrue, so it's understandable that the Wikipedia entry would raise a hackle or two. But given the size of this crowdsourced, philosophically anarchic digital encyclopedia, we in the West are accustomed to the notion that we'll come across a stinker or two while browsing around. The site itself even acknowledges this, cautioning that there are only so many airtight, authoritative articles in its database. Many of us believe that once we point out offensive blips and glitches, dutiful editors will come along and fix them.
Yet in the case of the Zulu Wikipedia and many others, that belief may be unfounded. Not only are non-English Wikipedias on par smaller, but they also tend to have fewer editors, meaning they run a greater risk of perpetuating questionable information within a society – a situation that doesn't seem about to change anytime soon.
A decade ago, Nkandla was the setting of an award-winning documentary, The Orphans of Nkandla, which resulted in the creation of The Africa Project. It is a matter of record that AIDS and poverty have ravaged many children's lives in KwaZulu-Natal. But Hay's observation about minor language versions of Wikipedia remains broadly correct. Indeed, a slide shown at Wikimania 2014 indicated that of Wikipedia's then-284 (today: 291) language versions,
- 12 were dead (locked);
- 53 were "zombies" (open, no editors);
- 94 were struggling (open, fewer than 5 editors);
- 125 were "in good or excellent health" (presumably, judging by the definitions of the previous three categories, this number included all Wikipedias that had 5 or more editors).
The implications for quality are obvious.
Deploring Wikipedia's "cumbersome self-created bureaucracy and inter-editor sniping", Hay suggests that these global imbalances are unlikely to right themselves: while it may be tempting to think that the more established Wikipedias are bigger and more developed merely because they had several years' head start on smaller language versions, the smaller language versions show no sign of replicating the extraordinary boom the English Wikipedia underwent in its early years. In fact, Hay argues, the global volunteer base shrank by a third between 2007 and 2013.
||The whole situation can feel a little futile – a depressing reaffirmation of entrenched inequalities born out of what was supposed to be an accessible, egalitarian, and idealistic site.
Hay then proceeds to place his hopes in auto-translation apps, and reviews two multilingual projects:
- Omnipedia, a project being developed by researchers at Northwestern University, "capable of culling, comparing, and automatically translating data from 25 different Wikipedia language editions simultaneously, presenting them in simplified form", and
- Manypedia, an Italian project, online today, that "can automatically translate two Wikipedia articles side by side and point out incongruous information between them – or just translate an existing article into a different language".
Hay suggests that "complementary data from across all the world's Wikipedias" could be mined and translated "back to your native language site, thus attaining the online encyclopedia's egalitarian ideal". This is an overly optimistic view, given the present day's appalling, practically unreadable quality of many machine translations, which would leave prospective readers of Wikipedias stocked with machine translations profoundly frustrated – a point that can be verified by looking at some of Manypedia's article translations.
The English translation of the Persian article on "Third World" for example (enter http://www.manypedia.com/#!|en|Third_World|fa as the URL and click "Translate" in the right-hand panel) includes gems like
In academic circles, the term South, developed and underdeveloped third world countries used to refer to.
Imagine a Zulu reader trying to learn about physics or chemistry from a text that is as proficiently authored in Zulu as the above passage is clear and concise English.
There is little reason to argue with Hay's conclusion, however:
||At the very least, if these initiatives gain a bit of traction, they can start a serious conversation about continued shortcomings and differences between Wikipedias, driving us toward more systematic changes and tactics that can fill the world's glaring content gaps once and for all.
Google and Wikipedia accused of tying Ben Carson to NAMBLA
Breitbart accuses (Oct. 27) Wikipedia and Google of having prominently linked the name of Ben Carson, an acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon and a Republican candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 presidential election, to a pedophile advocacy group, the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
As evidence Breitbart shows a screenshot of a Google search results page, which lists Carson's Wikipedia biography as the top result (below the sponsored link and the "In the news" section), with "North American Man-Boy Love", "Seventh-day Adventist Church" and "Craniopagus twins" highlighted as hyperlinked key points in blue.
A Carson campaign spokesperson told Breitbart,
||We've complained to Google and filled out requests to take it down that have been ignored.
The spokesman blamed "pranksters" for the inappropriate highlight.
NAMBLA is mentioned in Wikipedia's biography of Carson because the term occurs in a 2013 comment of Carson's that is quoted verbatim in the article, and in which Carson said, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition." (Carson subsequently apologized for the remark.) The acronym NAMBLA in the quotation has from time to time been hyperlinked in the Wikipedia article.
While the Carson team's frustration with the Google entry is understandable, it seems speculative to suggest that the hyperlink must have been placed so as to increase the term's chances of appearing in the Google snippet, or that Google staff specifically selected the term to appear in its snippet from the many available.
It bears mention though that according to Wikipedia's manual of style, quotations should generally remain free of hyperlinks. At the time of writing, the Google snippet no longer references NAMBLA. AK
- EFF comments on NSA lawsuit: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a critical comment (Oct. 29) on the recent dismissal of the Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA lawsuit (see previous Signpost coverage). AK
- Follow-up to the Atlantic story: Women’s fashion and lifestyle website Verily covers (Oct. 28) last week's story in The Atlantic on "Wikipedia's hostility to women" (see coverage in the previous Signpost issue and the related, much-discussed Signpost editorial). Going beyond a mere summary of the Atlantic article, the piece argues that "Not only does anonymity give some Internet users the evil courage to spew vitriol, but it can sometimes lead to victim blaming as well." A Korean site also picked up the story. AK
- Why the arts need to fix Wikipedia: ArtsHub discusses (Oct. 28) Wikipedia's Art+Feminism initiative along with the work museums are doing to fill content gaps in Wikipedia. AK
- Debunking Wikipedia conspiracy theories: In the September/October issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Susan Gerbic, co-founder of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, writes (Oct. 28) "Is Wikipedia a Conspiracy? Common Myths Explained", where she discusses common misconceptions in the skeptical community about Wikipedia. G
- Lack of media attention to Wikipedia: VentureBeat (Oct. 26) and The Next Web (Oct. 27) pick up on a recent Signpost editorial by Signpost editor-in-chief Gamaliel that was republished in a slightly edited version on the Wikimedia blog, arguing that Wikipedia receives remarkably little press attention compared to other top-ten sites. Both The Next Web and VentureBeat agree that the post raised a valid point; The Next Web suggests that the "all-too-silent Wikimedia Foundation is partly to blame". Gamaliel clarified in a reader comment at The Next Web that he would like to see more investigative journalism in the media's Wikipedia coverage, as opposed to a reliance on Wikimedia press releases. AK
- Wikipedia Monument celebrates first anniversary: Inverse.com marks (Oct. 22) the first anniversary of the world’s first and only monument in tribute to Wikipedia in Słubice, Poland. The bronze sculpture cost $14,000. Krzysztof Wojciechowski, a Polish professor, felt deep gratitude for the contributions of Wikipedia and its editors to shared knowledge, leading him to suggest the monument to the town's administration. L
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