“On Wikipedia, Africa is empty and dark.”

I ran across a brief opinion piece by Iolanda Pensa with the title “The Power of Wikipedia: Legitimacy and Control” published August 21, 2013 in the Chimurenga Chronic. My choice for most noable quote from the item: “On Wikipedia, Africa is empty and dark.”

This is an important topic for scholars of Africa and others who care about the place of people in the Global South and other underrepresented groups or viewpoints. It deserves more discussion than this brief item offers. Just a few days earlier, Riva Gold in the Wall Street Journal‘s Digits blog reported that volunteer contributors to Wikipedia remain 87% male despite the organization’s efforts to recruit and support women as writers and editors (“Women Contributors Still Face Hurdles at Wikipedia“). As Gold points out, this was confirmed by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales recently while he was in Hong Kong  for the annual Wikimania conference. It’s also worth acknowledging that Wikipedia addresses its own systemic bias and other failings in an attempt to remedy them.

The way to address the problems of systemic bias toward the Global North in Wikipedia is to encourage participation by a more diverse group of article contributors. I do so myself, and regularly exhort African Studies graduate students to do the same. The site itself provides many training tools and guidance for new users. I look forward to seeing more content created by and for African readers of Wikipedia in the near future.

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