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Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Strategy Salon Dinner NYC - May 30, 2017/da

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Executive Summary

On May 30, 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation brought together an esteemed group of social justice advocates and workers in New York City to discuss the future of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement. Over dinner, a three hour conversation unfolded. The conversation was facilitated by Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, and the guiding question for the evening was “ What role does knowledge play in the communities in which you work?”


Key Insights

  • Bias in western knowledge collection: Notability and significance were strong topics of discussion. The discussion focused on the colonial and restrictive aspects of current Wikipedia standards around notability and significance. For example, a participant noted that a serial killer is more notable than a well-known person in Harlem or Africa because of an over-reliance on written sources. This speaks to a lack of cultural understanding that many see and a huge flaw within Wikipedia. They believe the movement at some point needs to buy into expanding this definition to include cultural sources of knowledge outside of the west. Lots of voices go beyond the western way of knowledge retention, and if this isn’t addressed some they think the movement will fail.
  • Be a leader/model in fight for truth: The pervasive conversation today around fake facts is really the recognition that this fight is actually a fight for truth. As a movement and as social justice advocates participants noted the need to be cognizant of this fight for truth for younger generations. These generations are growing up in a world where truth is questioned, and that can be dangerous. But truth matters and facts matter. How do we give the younger generation direction in this struggle?
  • Design to protect most vulnerable: Addressing issues of systemic bias in knowledge collection and production are more difficult than to solve than they seem in the technology sector. There seems to be a struggle to use data driven approaches to solving this problem and this must be balanced with the need to protect the most vulnerable, which in a way is an argument for anonymity. While it’s nice to know the demographic info, it’s also important to remember that anonymity is necessary for those who have the most to suffer. These are often those in minority communities. The bias should be to protect the most vulnerable as organizations and communities solve for this problem.

Conversation Notes

The following section is a combination of notes taken by several members of the Wikimedia staff in attendance for the dinner. It’s broken out into three major themes that came up naturally in discussion and which were highlighted at the end of the dinner by one of the attendees. These themes are access to knowledge, pluralism/democratization of knowledge, and protecting those who provide or seek knowledge.

  1. Access to Knowledge
    1. Technology and Cultural Differences
      1. In developing countries it’s clear the first desire from the internet is Instagram and Facebook. These are the first things people want when access is limited.
      2. The future of information and free knowledge needs to be product based in both digital and physical forms. For example in countries like Afghanistan there are very little books in local language. Could it be that working with translators to combine English works into local languages be a solution? Does this fit with current government and censorship trends in the country?
      3. Different forms of knowledge distribution can be useful. Many people get their info via radio. What about video?
      4. Audio component needs to be part of the future. Capturing oral traditions is tremendously important because it captures things western tradition doesn’t seem to care about. Oral traditions are important in the human dignity of these people.
      5. Thinking about new immigrant populations and rural populations is important. How do they access the internet and information?
      6. Access can be a glorious thing because it allows participation.
        1. There’s no barriers to expertise to participate. People who aren’t notable as experts or are underrepresented can add knowledge. They can search for something, find it and add to it. The whole of Wikipedia is made by people!
        2. But the tone of Wikipedia reads in a liberal humanist tradition. It reads western and male.
    2. How Knowledge/Wikipedia is built?
      1. For example, Law editing is sorely needed for articles on Wikipedia. Law related topics often don’t even cover what is basic or what is true. What do people say when really heavy editing is needed on wiki? What are the ways of ensuring accurate info. When you google what things come up and how do you make sure they’re valid, truthful, accurate?
      2. The tech behind wiki seems to have prevented it from spreading. Look at the NYT daily wraps. Wiki was doing that years ago but didn’t take off in the same way. Sure the tech might be discovered by someone else but Wiki should be an early adopter. For example, why is wiki so behind on visualization of data! There should be a discussion at the organization of whether the organization should/could be an early adopter of these technologies.
      3. We have entered and age of mediated mobilization. This bears the question, how are people archiving #hashtags?
      4. Notability is a pretty restrictive thing right now. For example a serial killer is more notable than a well-known person in Harlem or Africa because of an over-reliance on written sources. The language of the african diaspora is not always written down. There is a person right now working on oral citations; the movement at some point needs to buy into this. Lot’s of voices go beyond the western way of knowledge retention.
      5. Thinking of wiki as a community helps support other voices
        1. Feeling like you have a stake in the project, the community and the knowledge. When something goes awry, there are strong supportive communities (Art +Feminism and others) that come to support your debates and thoughts.
        2. It’s also thinking that the knowledge is made by other people, people that look like all of us.
          1. That’s true because there’s very little tech skill required to participate in the community and generate knowledge together.
      6. The perception is that white males take control of Wikipedia. Why? Because they don’t do branding. It’s clear there’s little value assigned to design.
    3. What are the future trends of Knowledge in education and communication
      1. How do you get students to expand their world? It’s a tough problem. For example, 75% of students in Staten Island haven’t left the island → small world view without lots of information flowing in and out
      2. How do you get kids to understand fact checking and expertise? Kids are fascinated with 4-12 character memes. And a lot of these kids don’t see or know about fact checking in action. Have they ever seen an edit-a-thon? How does the story on Wikipedia become as credible as a hip-hop name.
      3. 90% of the work AfroCROWD does is with adults but we have had students attend. To expand to schools requires infrastructure and training. It would be amazing to sit down with teachers and develop training for adults and students
      4. There’s little room in current educational curriculums to teach about all the different forms of information. It’s a complicated task for educators
      5. Where does Wikipedia fit in playing a role to teach digital citizenship to our kids? Young kids are big fans of snapchat and Instagram. They grow up with these things. How do we help them navigate the internet? For example, they need to know they can’t just print and article and say they wrote it.
  2. Pluralism/Democratization of knowledge
    1. Important to think about domestic vs international issues on how information is suppressed and censored. This flows into national security state abuses and how they affect open societies and open knowledge communities.
    2. We are under attack around information and how does this feed into expertise is unclear.
    3. What fascinates me about the fight over fake news and fake facts is that it’s really a fight for truth. For younger generations, they are growing up in a world where truth is questioned. But truth matters and facts matter, and will we use them to drag us up or drag them down is the question. How do we give the younger generation direction in this struggle. Think about this in terms of verification.
    4. What are the core values we are working for is important for any strategy process? For me when I think of knowledge I think of conditions that allow it to flourish:
      1. Freedom of association
      2. Freedom of expression
      3. Freedom to dissent
    5. Some governments actively work to suppress the above values. Terrorism, blasphemy, hate speech laws are all political.
    6. How do we engage in the democratization of information. For Wikipedia this is specifically about how notable and significance are determined. For example, Black Lives Matter activists struggle to be written about because they don’t have proper sources.
      1. The validation is through zines and pamphlets.
    7. Democratization of expertise is something to think about, especially how it relates to notability and significance. Who is the person that says yes to this and no to that?
    8. This notability and significance idea going well with ideas around decolonizing a culture. How we learn and how we access things is affected by the culture.
    9. There seems to be a disconnect between the youth and intellectuals. How do we create threads between the digital and physical forms of knowledge. How do we embed this in other parts of the world where the information in digital forms might not even be there?
    10. What is wiki’s role in public data? Could it be a place where public data is aggregated and made easily accessible? The obfuscation of data by elites is a huge problem both in NYC and beyond. Right now there’s not a great place to go to get basic investigative information. E.g. ownership, access, decision maker data. FOIA’s are slow and arduous.
    11. How does knowledge move between societies? Is translation a workable solution to get knowledge spread more widely?
    12. Thinking deeply about how the rich media experiences can be a parlance for increased accessibility
      1. Flere tegninger
      2. Bevægende billeder
    13. The west is privileged in the archive (books and texts) of knowledge but non-western societies/cultures have repertoire (ritual, embodied forms etc.)
  3. Protection of People who provide and seek Knowledge
    1. How is the open knowledge world and the open knowledge projects working to promote and sustain anonymity? This is important to think critically about this and about relationships to governments. Free/open Knowledge is a radical ideal, especially for many minority communities.
    2. People leave countries because of the lack of freedoms of association, expression and dissent. These are important to fight for—community rights.
    3. Especially since Trump we need to think about how we provide knowledge and information to minority populations in ways that are protected and safe for them. Teaching them and informing them about encryption. Helping to provide information and knowledge contribution in protected/anonymized ways.
    4. Colleagues and friends in autocratic regimes will think very differently about the importance of anonymity and protection.
    5. There seems to be a struggle to count vs anonymity in many tech products. While it’s nice to know the demographic info, it’s also important to remember that anonymity is necessary for those who have the most to suffer. These are often those in minority communities. The bias should be to protect the most vulnerable.

Written Feedback

Social justice is an integral part of the Wikimedia movement. Wikipedia is often presented as a neutral, objective space, but we know that that isn’t accurate: Wikipedia is an integral part of the world, whether “real” or virtual, and operates by the same discriminatory rules. Structural biases in society are also present on Wikipedia, which is one factor that leads to the underrepresentation of necessary voices there. Neutrality is not a good enough goal--Wikimedia needs to make a conscious and sustained effort to include the viewpoints of people who feel unwelcome (or are actively discouraged) in a space that is largely white, male, Western, and of higher economic standing. This may mean an updated engagement strategy, in terms of visual branding and format changes that welcome people and make it easy to participate. It also means in-person outreach that provide opportunities for new editors to learn and build community, so that Wikipedia can be part of people’s lived and embodied experience.

Wikipedia is a unique space that operates between the situated knowledge of individual editors and the established knowledge of experts who codify and reify knowledge. If we are to make steps toward democratizing expertise, we need to actively help potential contributors learn how to be part of the Wikimedia movement. The only way Wikipedia can ever hope to approach “the sum of all human knowledge” is if it is built by, and for, all humans

— Sara Clugage

Knowledge is important and giving access to technology and information will give people in conservative societies access to new recruits and possibility to dream further.

— Roya Mahboob

Tonight was fabulous. Four essential keywords that would be great to follow up upon: Democratization of knowledge, Expertise, Notability, and Significance.

— Frank Leon Roberts

We need to deconstruct the idea of notability, democratization, and knowledge and the ways of sharing it. That’s the work. Not just for adults but for kids in our most marginalized, vulnerable spaces.

— Jose Vilson

Keep up the good work! I was impressed with the quality of the conversation

— Alice Backer

Ideas to focus on: notability, perception/communication ⇒ design/branding, knowledge outside of the digital culture, oral culture/tradition/ritual, pop culture, access via products/objects

— Celine Semaan

Central to remember that 29% of refugee households around the world have no cellphone/smartphone. Therefore, no access to the internet. Makes it challenging to ensure refugee representation on Wikipedia.

— Kathryn Mahoney

What are other forms of knowledge generation that Wikipedia should record and ingest?

— Ari Spool