Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Cycle 2/Reach/Brussels Strategy Salon March 29, 2017
Summary and notes
On 29 March, 2017 we gathered an illustrious group of renowned policy experts from around the world to talk about the future of Wikimedia over dinner. We used the opportunity of our guests’ participation in RightsCon in the city of Brussels to convene these diverse thinkers for a conversation around the question: where do you see the Wikimedia movement going over the next 15 years? Many of our experts have a background in law and academia, others are or have been activists. We made sure that our group would represent various continents (Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia) and several sectors.
The group was split into halves, with Jorge and Jan joining separate ends of the long table and taking notes of the two conversations taking place in parallel. As the notes below show, these conversations took diverging directions.
The conversation at Jan’s end of the table was focused on risks for the Wikimedia projects, without Jan specifically asking about this aspect. This was somewhat surprising, but also very interesting to see. As a general observation, it is agreed that Wikimedia is a success story but is facing substantial threats.
- Participants were concerned about recent developments in society and politics. One expert noted that Wikipedia happens within society and that the “populist craziness” they observed was a threat to the projects. Another expert suggested that resilience will be key and that many positive developments can come out of phases of oppression, e.g. the era of the military rule in Brazil which saw the proliferation of important cultural movements.
- Generally, it was pointed out, intermediary immunity will be very important. However, governments and private actors will increasingly use platforms’ terms of services to regulate user behavior and content.
- A question that has experts worried is about what happens when someone is able to direct a herd of trolls to edit Wikipedia. As the era of globalization comes to an end, populism is rising. At least one expert thought that this gives Wikipedia a new role as an open, free encyclopedia which is part of the (political) resistance.
- Another issue that was addressed by experts is the observed existence of “two different Wikipedias” in relation to connectivity and access to devices. In addition, several countries have other platforms that the experts think people would rather rely on, especially for political content. Examples that were named are Korea and Turkey.
- While the openness of Wikipedia is often seen as a strength, one expert remarked that the Wikimedia community is part of society and that society is being manipulated by “fake news”. They cautioned against trusting in the self-cleaning mechanisms of community too much because society and communities can be manipulated and change quickly. It was pointed out that there is a major reputational risk.
The conversation at Jorge’s end of the table was organically focused on different aspects of where participants thought Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement should focus and head in the future 10 to 15 years. Interestingly, the initial part of the conversation was around the definition of "movement", and whether Wikimedia could be defined in fact as one. From that point, the discussion geared towards what Wikimedia's and Wikipedia's role for the next 10-15 years should be.
- Defining Wikimedia as a movement could be seen as self-serving, with several experts affirming Wikimedia is not a movement in itself, but just a platform that is part of a larger access to knowledge movement.
- Experts were all aligned in the need of Wikipedia to move towards current and future technologies that are commonly used to access information - more specifically, audio and video. Comments like "Wikipedia is a 2007 website in a 2017 era" evidenced this thought. This applies not only to reading, but editing. Experts thought machine reading, machine learning, and AI will be playing a major rule in the years to come. Wikipedia should adapt to these technologies - being able to edit with voice commands was an example.
- Trust and quality of content was something experts coincided needed focus in the near future. In a growingly hedonistic approach to information, people want to always find themselves right, for which a balance between too many voices adding to a topic vis a vis quality of content is crucial.
- Diversity came up during the conversation. There's also a need to better represent voices that are not yet part of content creation. Some experts highlighted their concern on having local and unique topics being built in Wikipedia by traditional Western voices - a colonialist approach to knowledge.
- Experts also coincided in the need of Wikimedia to be more political. Current political trends are not good, and could continue to worsen as time comes. "Neutrality and silence is actually taking a political position", for which Wikimedia - an organization that has a strong and relevant voice online - should have a stronger political approach to defend open knowledge, which is under constant and growing threats.
List of participants
- Chinmayi Arun (Centre for Communication Governance, Delhi)
- Burcu Kilic (Public Citizen)
- Kelly Kim (OpenNet Korea)
- Joe McNamee (EDRi)
- Carolina Rossini (Facebook)
- Mishi Choudhary (Software Freedom Law Center)
- Maria Paz Canales (Derechos Digitales)
- Julio César Gaitán (Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá)
- Carolina Botero (Fundación Karisma)
- Maarit Palovirta (Internet Society ISOC)
- Dhanaraj Thakur (Web Foundation/Alliance for Affordable Internet)
- Nanjira Sambuli (Web Foundation)
- Joris van Hoboken (IViR, University of Amsterdam)
- Urs Gasser (Berkman Klein Center)