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Disinformation about COVID-19 and Nazism, problems faced by Wikipedia moderators

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Wikipedia articles can be written by anyone with an Internet connection. Therefore, the work of the moderators is crucial.

False figures on those killed by the COVID-19 pandemic, stories that glorify the Nazis and inequality in the number of pages dedicated between men and women: this is the daily destiny of the army of volunteers who moderate the tens of millions of Wikipedia articles .

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The world’s largest digital encyclopedia is often the first result that appears in an internet search, and it’s an invaluable source of free information.

But it also reveals some human flaws, as the articles on the site can, in theory, be written in more than 300 languages ​​by anyone with an internet connection. Therefore, the role of the moderators, who are mostly anonymous volunteers, is crucial.

“I always carry my laptop to edit Wikipedia,” says Alaa Najjar, who lives in the Middle East, but prefers to keep his identification details secret to protect his privacy.

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“My friends say that it is an addiction, but I prefer to say that it is my passion,” he tells AFP by email.

Najjar says that contributes nearly 500 articles a week. A doctor by profession, she has had to deal with an avalanche of false medical information linked to the pandemic.

You have seen articles that falsely claim that COVID-19 has killed celebrities and pages that exaggerate the number of deaths and cases in some countries.

“I reviewed hundreds of articles during the pandemic and rejected many misleading or erroneous edits,” says Najjar, who received the encyclopedia’s most prestigious award in 2021 for his work.

Nazi hunter

Wikipedia, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in January, has received rave reviews in recent years for its fact-checking methods.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia written by volunteers, turns 20

Although it is a huge platform, the site does not seek to make money so as not to be accused of putting profit before user safety, a criticism leveled at Facebook by politicians and NGOs.

Wikipedia relies on volunteers to rank the mass of contributions, which can be a thankless task.

“Someone called me a ‘hooligan’ for deleting unsubstantiated information,” says Ksenia Coffman, who fights against articles on World War II that romanticize the role of Nazis and German generals.

The kind of storytelling that downplays the historical context of Nazi Germany’s atrocities, including the Holocaust, and exalts its exploits of arms has influenced an alternative internet culture that has crept onto Wikipedia.

“Why am I being attacked when I try to remove these unsupported bits of information that only glorify so-called Nazi war heroes?” Says Coffman, who lives in California but grew up in the Soviet Union.

The insults are a “tactical mistake” for her, because she feels even more motivated by such attacks. Contribute about 200 corrections per month.

Disparities

Wikipedia articles are supported by reliable written sources from the press and academic publications.

In this sense, they reveal certain disparities in the intellectual sphere, including the unequal representation of women compared to men.

“Wikipedia is an uncomfortable mirror that reflects systemic inequalities in knowledge,” says Rebecca O’Neill, a Dublin-based moderator who says she spends about 40 minutes a day working on the platform.

In 2015, only 15% of biographies in English were about women. Following efforts to strike a better balance, the figure rose to 19% in 2021, according to O’Neill. Last year, the moderator wrote an average of one article per day on Wikipedia, with a ratio of 19 biographies of women to each biography of men.

“As an individual, I have a role to play,” says O’Neill. “I’m going to buy the time and just do it, without giving it too much thought. It’s something I can do. ” (I)

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