A widening gender gap and safety issues among Wikipedia editors

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington reveals a widening gender gap between editors for Wikipedia. The study reports that the free online encyclopedia struggles to retain women editors and also draws attention to a decline in non-binary editors. One of the reasons attributed to this trend is safety.

“People can get harassed when they’re editing content in Wikipedia,” commented Wanda Pratt, co-author at Wikipedia. “If you’re constantly getting negative feedback for doing something, how often are you going to do it?”

For the study, the team interviewed 25 experienced editors. The end results suggested that many of their edits were objected to and the editors felt unsafe within the community. The participants of the survey also unveiled how they dealt with the safety issue both physically and conceptually. Moreover, the participants shed light on how they created safe spaces on and off Wikipedia.

“In the data, we collected, it goes beyond trolling,” comments first author Amanda Menking. “There’s doing, which is exposing people’s personal information and where to find them online or in physical space such as their address. Some of the women we talked to received death threats.” Menking is a doctoral student in the iSchool.

The study thus showed how participants used advanced mechanisms to deal with the secrecy of identities, emotions and boundaries on Wikipedia as well as on other online communities such as Facebook, etc. Furthermore, the participants suggested other ways that encourage inclusivity, safety and also help close to the gap between men and women, thus promising equity.

“Wikipedia says it’s the sum of all human knowledge and it’s the encyclopedia anyone can edit. That is a pretty big claim. There’s also a responsibility to be held to those claims, that if you say you are the sum of all human knowledge then you need representative humans contributing that information,” says Menking.

The results of this research were presented in ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow, Scotland on May 9, 2019.