In the news
Fine art; surreptitious sanitation; the politics of kyriarchic marginalization; brief news
Fine art and Wikimedia
This week, the Foundation's Jimmy Wales, Jay Walsh and Liam Wyatt were interviewed for FineArtViews, a blog that describes itself as covering "Selling Art, Marketing, Inspiration & Fine Living". The interview, led by blogger Brian Sherwin, touched on a number of topics, including the notability of artists, the difficulty of applying reliable source-based rules to cultures where artists have little or no access to the Internet, and the ever-present issue of copyright law. Many of Sherwin's questions focused on specific criticisms of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement, including references to "deletion debates" that Sherwin had personally observed.
Sherwin's other questions focused on Wikipedia's general role within the art world, to which Wales gave his view that "the art community should welcome the Wikipedia community ... [it] serves a major role in bringing art to the public". Wikipedia's co-founder was also asked to comment on criticisms that Wikipedia articles on artists were "dull", to which he replied that "Wikipedia is not an art magazine. It is a place for encyclopedic writing", but one that did "not prohibit nor inhibit interesting and lively writing". In his final statement, Wales added that he hoped readers of big name artists' articles "will be inspired to explore other artists who are not so famous".
Sumana Harihareswara on the kyriarchy inherent in the system
Wikimedia Foundation volunteer development coordinator Sumana Harihareswara was interviewed by independent feminist broadcaster Bitch Radio on issues concerning gender, reader engagement and social justice within Wikimedia and the broader open source community. Discussing the issues raised concerning the difficult environments Wikimedia communities can be for women, and for those with little technological fluency to contribute (see previous Signpost coverage), Harihareswara stressed the impact of unintentional barriers to participation as opposed to intentional hostility from established contributors.
The Foundation's intention to extend the movement's coverage in the Global South was highlighted as an important social justice initiative, stressing the need to empower local communities to develop the content relevant to their culture in their own languages. Harihareswara tied the Foundation's work in usability improvements and facilitating the reading and editing of Wikimedia projects on mobile phones as a key step in advancing the Global South initiative, pointing out that computer-based broadband access, so common in the Western world, was far rarer in places like Africa and the Indian subcontinent relative to Internet-accessible mobile phones.
I think it’s fairly obvious that these are generally good things: truthfulness, meritocracy. But when practiced by people unaware of their own privileges, race privilege, class privilege, male privilege, and so on, you run into situations like a person practicing a kind of bluntness and insensitivity and misreading it to themselves as honesty. You see honesty unleavened by sensitivity, compassion, or mentorship. And you might see people defining merit very narrowly, because the things they’re good at specifically may be the thing that they value, and they would find any other kind of contribution scornworthy and find themselves dismissive of it without even realizing what they’re doing.
— Sumana Harihareswara
The interview progressed to a discussion of the prevalence in open source communities of kyriarchy, a concept in feminist theory which extends the analysis of oppression of women in patriarchy to all forms of oppression of marginalized people. While praising many values of open source communities such as honesty and openness, Harihareswara maintained that lack of diversity often leads to a "layer of blindness and privilege" that proves an obstacle to broader participation. Harihareswara stressed the necessity of an open platform inviting all to contribute, a technologically facilitated meritocracy, saying that "an attitude of hospitality and accessibility in the way that you do things; if the default is open rather than closed, is welcoming rather than intimidating, then it makes a different world". The interview ended on an upbeat note, with Harihareswara asked to give advice to a Wikipedia newcomer and re-iterating in response the virtue of the open meritocratic model: "Be bold, and know that because Wikipedia is about individuals, you have as much right to be there as any jerk who you might run into. And if you make useful edits and contribute, you will gain reputation, and you will have made the world a better place."
BBC warns staff off whitewashing
In their newly released social media guidelines (PDF), the British Broadcasting Corporation counselled staff not to "surreptitiously sanitise Wikipedia pages about the BBC". British newspaper The Telegraph noted that the new guidelines follow revelations that BBC employees had anonymously edited the Criticism of the BBC article in order to remove references to an internal report in which the corporation was described as being thought of as "out of touch with large swathes of the population".
Despite not being a for-profit, the broadcaster had also made headlines in 2005 for appearing to have attempted to use the encyclopaedia as part of a marketing campaign for an alternate reality game (see previous Signpost coverage). The new rules come at a time when the BBC is looking to restore a perception of trust among the British public after it was hit by damaging revelations over the amount it pays its big name stars.
Actor Matthew Lewis, interviewed this week after the release of the final Harry Potter
film, in which he plays Neville Longbottom, said that he wished his Wikipedia portrait (pictured
) was of a higher quality.
- Tennessee offers free rival encyclopaedia: The Memphis Business Journal reports that the Tennessee Electronic Library, a state-funded website offering free access to digital resources to Tennesseans, has expanded its repertoire to include a virtual set of World Book Encyclopedias, in part motivated by the perceived unreliability of existing free resources such as Wikipedia. The World Book is a professionally edited, family-oriented encyclopaedia that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is famously said to have spent much of his youth absorbing.
- Psychologist hails Wikipedia: In an article for the Psychology Today blog, professor of psychology at University of Michigan Christopher Peterson chronicled the evolution of his attitude towards the crowdsourced encyclopaedia from academic scepticism at its launch to open appreciation after having begun using it in researching a book chapter he was contributing on a positive psychology approach to comic book superheroes.
- Quadriga Award withdrawn: After pressure from a number of Germans, including German Wikipedians, the Quadriga Award was withdrawn from former Russian President Vladimir Putin (source: New York Times). The award, dedicated to recognising those who have increased freedoms, was previously awarded to Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales (see last week's Signpost for context).
- Potter actor amicable: In a week which saw the release of the final film in the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, American radio station WBEZ caught up with actor Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, for another instalment of their "Wikipedia Files" series, in which celebrities fact-check their Wikipedia entries. Despite prompting from the host, Lewis said that he found the article about him broadly accurate, while wishing that the portrait was of higher quality.
- Best of Wikipedia celebrates 1000 posts: Best of Wikipedia, a tumblog showcasing the most interesting of Wikipedia articles, this week celebrated its 1000th post, paying tribute to the Wikipedia community: "A decade of the free exchange of the greatest collection of human knowledge on earth is not something to be taken lightly." Recent articles highlighted include Trichotillomania, butter lamb, challenge coin, Knismesis and Gargalesis and Beat Up a White Kid Day.
- Focus on Connecticut: In a wide-ranging overview of the state of the encyclopaedia, the Hartford Advocate interviewed local Bridgeport man and Wikipedia editor Markvs88 about his experiences contributing to Connecticut-related content. The article also touched on Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars, the recent wiki adventures of Sarah Palin acolytes (see previous Signpost coverage), the reliability of Wikipedia, deletion politics, student outreach, the sophistication of the Wikipedia epistemological process, and Ryan Kaldari's WikiLove extension.
- Scientific American recommends Wikipedia as "fairly trustworthy": A guest blog entry for Scientific American about "Finding good information on the internet" recommended scientific papers as the best source of such information, but went on to state that "Wikipedia can also be very valuable. Although Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, it has a large group of active moderators/editors. ... Wikipedia now flags pages that have fewer citations or might have poorer quality information with warning messages at the top of the page. Multiple approaches work together to ensure the overall accuracy of Wikipedia pages. ... In its current form, Wikipedia is a fairly trustworthy source of information. Some individual pages may still need caution, but for these, you will get a warning right at the top." In January, Scientific American's editor-in chief Mariette DiChristina had called Wikipedia "not without flaws, but ... generally helpful".
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