Like these scales, some aspects of Wikipedia are unbalanced.
Like these scales, some aspects of Wikipedia are unbalanced.

The Wikipedia project strives for a neutral point of view in its coverage of subjects, both in terms of the articles that are created and the content, perspective and sources within these articles. However, this goal is inhibited by systemic bias created by the shared social and cultural characteristics of most editors, and it results in an imbalanced coverage of subjects and perspectives on the encyclopedia.

As a result of this systemic bias, some cultures, topics and perspectives tend to be underrepresented on Wikipedia, while others are overrepresented. Wikipedia tends to underrepresent the perspectives of people who lack access to the Internet, use mobile devices to access Wikipedia, or do not have free time to edit the encyclopedia. Topics for which reliable sources are not easily available (i.e. online) or available in English are systematically underrepresented, and Wikipedia tends to show a White American or White European perspective on issues due to the prominence of English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries.

This essay addresses issues of systemic bias for the most part specific to English Wikipedia and does not provide extensive commentary regarding systemic bias as seen in Wikipedia in other languages (the various non-English Wikipedias). The topic of systemic bias in other-language Wikipedias is briefly mentioned in the closing sections of this essay.


Presenting a national situation as the general situation (nationalism) and not talking about that of other countries is ethnocentrism. A national situation that is too explicit has more its place in a national article. Local language (regionalism) and a presentation of information valuing one's country (a person or an organization) and devaluing others should be avoided.

The "average Wikipedian"

Population of Internet users by country (ITU figures, 2012)[1]
Internet usage by percentage of each country's population (2016)[1]
Internet usage by percentage of each country's population (2016)[1]

The common characteristics of average Wikipedians inevitably color the content of Wikipedia. The average Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia[a] is

  1. white
  2. male
  3. technically inclined
  4. formally educated
  5. an English speaker (native or non-native)
  6. aged 15–49
  7. from a majority-Christian country
  8. from a developed nation
  9. from the Northern Hemisphere
  10. likely employed as a white-collar worker or enrolled as a student rather than being employed as a blue-collar worker.

List of Internet users by country

Main article: List of countries by number of internet users

Rank Country or area Internet
Percentage[3] Source
1  China 904,080,566< 63.33% [4]
2  India 755,820,000 55.40% [5]
3  United States 312,320,000 96.26% [6]
4  Indonesia 196,714,070 73.70% [7]
5  Brazil 150,410,801 71.86% [8]
6  Nigeria 136,203,231 66.44% [9]
7  Russia 118,446,612 76.01% [10]
8  Japan 116,505,120 90.87% [11]
9  Bangladesh 111,875,000 67.79% [12]
10  Pakistan 93,000,000 43.50% [13]

Women are underrepresented

See also: Gender bias on Wikipedia

See also: WP:WikiProject Countering systemic bias § Selection based on gender bias

Women are underrepresented on Wikipedia, making up less than 15% of active contributors.[14] A 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey found that 8.5% of editors are women.[15] The gender gap has not been closing over time and, on average, female editors leave Wikipedia earlier than male editors.[16] Research suggests that the gender gap has a detrimental effect on content coverage: articles with particular interest to women tend to be shorter, even when controlling for variables that affect article length.[16] Women typically perceive Wikipedia to be of lower quality than men do.[17] The low representation of women among Wikipedia editors may have an impact on the coverage of women-oriented topics and perspectives, both in terms of the articles that are created and the content within articles. Regarding articles, for example, Wikipedia has articles that would appear to reflect male interests, such as Pinup girl (since 2003) and Hot rod (since 2004). Although there are articles on Women in engineering (since 2007), History of ballet (since 2009), Women in law (since 2015), Women in classical music (since 2016) and Pregnancy in art (since 2017), there is a shortage of many other topics related to women.

Those without Internet are underrepresented

Access to an Internet-connected computer is required to contribute to Wikipedia. Groups who statistically have less access to the Internet, including people in developing nations, the poor in industrialized nations, the disabled, and the elderly, are underrepresented on Wikipedia. "80% of our page views are from the Global North, and 83% of our edits."[18] In most countries, minority demographic groups have disproportionately less access to information technology, schooling, and education than majority groups. This includes African Americans and Latinos in the U.S., the Indigenous peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal people of Australia, and the poorer populations of India, among others.[19][20][21][22] Even among the general demographic class of Internet users, Wikipedians are likely to be more technically inclined than average. There is a technical barrier represented by the software interface and the Wiki markup language that many readers either (a) do not recognize, (b) cannot understand, or (c) choose not to use. Although the Wikimedia Foundation implemented VisualEditor, which uses a WYSIWYG interface, for many of its projects, including the English Wikipedia, it has many major bugs that can break the formatting of articles edited using it, as well as it having a generally longer load time than the source wiki markup text.

Mobile device users are underrepresented

While most Internet traffic is generated by smartphones, the majority of Wikipedia edits are done on desktop and laptop computers. MediaWiki's functionality and Wikipedia's policies and guidelines were primarily designed for editors using desktop web browsers. Editors who access the Internet through a mobile device may encounter difficulties with editing on Wikipedia using the mobile website and apps. For example, editors using the Wikipedia apps are currently not notified when they are mentioned or when they receive a new message on their user talk page, which hinders their ability to communicate with other editors. Also, it is significantly more burdensome for mobile device users to participate in talk page discussions as the editing interface is less accessible on mobile devices.

People with little free time are underrepresented

Wikipedia editors are people with enough free time to participate in the project, such as the retired or unemployed. The points of view of editors focused on other activities, such as earning a living or caring for others, are underrepresented. This puts subjects of interest to the employed segment of society at a disadvantage, since they are less likely to have time to devote to Wikipedia. Topics related to finance are relatively underdeveloped on Wikipedia, possibly because of this reason.

English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries dominate

Despite the many contributions of Wikipedians writing in English as a non-native language, the English Wikipedia is dominated by native English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries (particularly the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia). Anglophone countries are mostly in the global North, thereby accentuating the encyclopedia's bias to contributions from First World countries. Countries and regions where either English is an official language (e.g. Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and other former colonies of the British Empire) and other countries where English-language schooling is common (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, and some other European countries) participate more than countries without broad teaching of English. Hence, the latter remain underrepresented. The majority of the world's population lives in the Northern Hemisphere, which contributes toward a selection bias to a Northern Hemisphere perspective. This selection bias interacts with the other causes of systemic bias discussed above, which slants the selection to a pro-Northern Hemisphere perspective.[23] Wikipedia is blocked in some countries due to government censorship. The most common method of circumventing such censorship, editing through an open proxy, may not work as Wikipedia may block the proxy in an effort to prevent it from being abused by certain users, such as vandals.

An American or European perspective may exist

"WP:GLOBAL" redirects here. You may also be looking for Wikipedia:Global rights policy or Wikipedia:Global project.

Most English-speaking (native or non-native) contributors to Wikipedia are American or European, which can lead to an American or European perspective. In addition, Anglophone contributors from outside of the United States and countries in Europe are likely to be more familiar with those countries than other parts of the world. This leads to, for example, a 2015 version of "Demonym" (an article that ostensibly is on all demonyms for all peoples across the globe) listing six different demonyms in the article lede, with five of them being western or central European nationalities, and the other being Canadian. Another example is that a 2015 version of the article "Harbor" listed three examples in the article lede all from California.

External factors

Because reliable sources are required by Wikipedia policy, topics are limited in their contents by the sources available to editors. This is a particularly acute problem for biographies of living persons. The extent to which Wikipedia editors can correct for external factors is a matter of debate — should Wikipedia reflect the world as it presents itself, or as Wikipedians would hope the world could be?

Availability of sources may cause bias

Availability of sources is not uniform. This manifests both from the language a source is written in and the ease with which it can be accessed. Sources published in a medium that is both widely available and familiar to editors, such as a news website, are more likely to be used than those from esoteric or foreign-language publications regardless of their reliability. For example, a 2007 story on the BBC News website is more likely to be cited than a 1967 edition of the Thai Post or Večernje novosti. Similarly, the cost of access to a source can be a barrier; for example, most research in astronomy is freely available to the public via arXiv or NASA ADS, while many law journals are available only through costly subscription services.

Representation in sources may cause bias

Representation within sources is not uniform due to societal realities, and the external lack of coverage results in an internal lack of coverage. A 2015 survey[24] of material from 2000 U.S. newspapers and online news found that:[25]

The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) follows trends in newspaper, radio, television, internet news and news media tweets and, as of 2015, finds that women make up 24% of persons that are heard, seen, or read about. GMMP also noted imbalance in the subject matter of topics reported in the news overall: 27% social/legal, 24% government/politics, 14% economy, 13% crime/violence, 11% celebrity/arts/sports, and 8% science/health (and 2% other).[26]

Nature of Wikipedia's bias

Worldwide density of geotagged Wikipedia entries as of 2013
Worldwide density of geotagged Wikipedia entries as of 2013
Worldwide density of GeoNames entries as of 2006
Worldwide density of GeoNames entries as of 2006
All geolocated images in Wikimedia Commons as of 2017
All geolocated images in Wikimedia Commons as of 2017

The systemic bias of Wikipedians manifests itself as a portrayal of the world through the filter of the experiences and views of the average Wikipedian. Bias is manifested in both additions and deletions to articles.

Once identified, the bias is noticeable throughout Wikipedia. It takes two major forms:

  1. a dearth of articles on neglected topics; and
  2. perspective bias in articles on many subjects

There is further information on biases in Geography, in Politics, in History, and in Logic. See also Countering systemic bias: Project details for an older introduction.

Why it matters

Many editors contribute to Wikipedia because they see Wikipedia as progressing to (though perhaps never reaching) the ideal of a repository of human knowledge. More idealistic editors may see Wikipedia as a vast discussion on what is true and what is not from a "neutral point of view" or "God's Eye View". Thus, the idea of systemic bias is more troubling than intentional vandalism; vandalism is readily identified and corrected, often with automated software. The existence of systemic bias means that not only are large segments of the world not participating in the discussion at hand but that there is a deep-rooted problem in the relationship of Wikipedia and its contributors with the world at large.

The systemic bias of the English Wikipedia is very likely permanent. As long as the demographic of English speaking Wikipedians is not identical to the world's demographic composition, the version of the world presented in the English Wikipedia will always be the Anglophone Wikipedian's version of the world. Thus, the only way systemic bias would disappear completely is if all of the world's population spoke English with the same fluency and had equal access and inclination to edit the English Wikipedia. Nevertheless, the effects of systemic bias can be mitigated with conscious effort. This is the goal of the Countering Systemic Bias Project.

As Michael Snow and Jimmy Wales have said in an open letter:[27]

How can we build on our success to overcome the challenges that lie ahead? Less than a fifth of the world's population has access to the Internet. While hundreds of thousands of volunteers have contributed to Wikimedia projects today, they are not fully representative of the diversity of the world. Many choices lie ahead as we work to build a worldwide movement to create and share free knowledge.

While obviously it is no longer true that fewer than 20% of the world's population has access to the Internet, the overall issues remain.

What you can do

Read about the perspectives and issues of concern to others. Attempt to represent these in your editing. Invite others to edit. Be respectful of others. Work to understand your own biases and avoid reflecting them in your editing. Avoid topics or discussions where you expect that you are biased or where you don't wish to make the effort to overcome those biases. This is a large project, so work where you can best serve the central content and behavioral expectations, particularly those related to Wikipedia's policy relating to neutral point of view.

Read newspapers, magazines, reliable websites, and other versions of Wikipedia in whatever non-English language or languages you know. If you know only English, read articles from other countries where English is an official or primary language, like Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan (where English is a co-official language, but not primary), South Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Also, some countries (such as Brazil or Israel) in which English is not an official or primary language have important English-language press.

Where such English-language press is not available, automated translation, though still very imperfect, can enable you to instantly and freely access articles in many languages, and will thus often be a reasonably adequate substitute, especially when compared to learning another language, which is normally a slow and possibly expensive way to try to gain access to articles in a single language. But when possible, learning another language to the point of being able to read a newspaper fluently is much more effective. The learning process can be facilitated if you can take classes and spend time in a country where the language is spoken.

Use judicious placement of the ((Globalize)), ((Globalize section)), and ((Globalize-inline)) templates in Wikipedia articles which you believe exhibit systemic bias, along with adding your reasoning and possible mitigations to the corresponding talk pages.

Cultural diversity

Wikipedia is an international encyclopedia. Writing an article including cultural diversity involves presenting diverse sources and perspectives on a global level for articles with international scope. This is not to avoid talking about a specific country, but to include only information that has a major influence on other countries or which are representative of a general trend. It is about making an international synthesis of knowledge.


Systemic bias Barnstar.png
The Systemic Bias Barnstar
This Barnstar may be awarded to Wikipedians who help reduce the encyclopedia's systemic bias.

See also



  1. ^ a b[bare URL]
  2. ^ Calculated using percentage rate per 2013 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates and population data from "Countries and Areas Ranked by Population: 2013", Population data, International Programs, U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000-2013", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva). Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  4. ^ "China: number of internet users 2020". Statista.
  5. ^ "Telecom Subscription Data as on 31st October, 2020" (PDF). TRAI. 31 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Number of internet users in the United States from 2000 to 2019". Statista.
  7. ^ Polling Indonesia, APJII. "Hasil Survei Penetrasi dan Perilaku Pengguna Internet Indonesia 2019–2020". Asosiasi Penyelenggara Jasa Internet Indonesia, Polling Indonesia.
  8. ^ "Digital 2020: Brazil". DataReportal – Global Digital Insights.
  9. ^ "Telecoms Data: Active Voice and Internet per State, Porting and Tariff Information". National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  10. ^ "Digital 2020: The Russian Federation". DataReportal – Global Digital Insights.
  11. ^ "Digital 2020: Japan". DataReportal – Global Digital Insights.
  12. ^ "Internet Subscribers in Bangladesh december, 2020". Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. retrieved January 2021
  13. ^ "Telecom Indicators | PTA".
  14. ^ Cohen, Noam (January 30, 2011). "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List". The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  15. ^ "Editor Survey Report – April 2011". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved January 7, 2011.
  16. ^ a b Lam, Shyong (Tony) K.; Uduwage, Anuradha; Dong, Zhenhua; Sen, Shilad; Musicant, David R.; Terveen, Loren; Riedl, John (October 3–5, 2011). "WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance". WikiSym’11.
  17. ^ S. Lim and N. Kwon (2010). "Gender differences in information behavior concerning Wikipedia, an unorthodox information source?" Library & Information Science Research, 32 (3): 212–220. DOI: 10.1016/j.lisr.2010.01.003
  18. ^ Nelson, Anne. "Wikipedia Taps College 'Ambassadors' to Broaden Editor Base". Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  19. ^ Mossberger, Karen (2009). "Toward digital citizenship: addressing inequality in the information age". In Chadwick, Andrew (ed.). Routledge handbook of Internet politics. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415429146.
  20. ^ Cavanagh, Allison (2007). Sociology in the age of the Internet. McGraw-Hill International. p. 65. ISBN 9780335217250.
  21. ^ Chen, Wenhong; Wellman, Barry (2005). "Minding the Cyber-Gap: the Internet and Social Inequality". In Romero, Mary; Margolis, Eric (eds.). The Blackwell companion to social inequalities. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9780631231547.
  22. ^ Norris, Pippa (2001). "Social inequality". Digital divide: civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521002233.
  23. ^ See Mark Graham. "Wikipedia's known unknowns". The Retrieved 9 December 2009.
  24. ^ Shor, Eran; van de Rijt, Arnout; Miltsov, Alex; Kulkarni, Vivek; Skiena, Steven (30 September 2015). "A Paper Ceiling". American Sociological Review. American Sociological Association. 80 (5): 960–984. doi:10.1177/0003122415596999.
  25. ^ Ordway, Denise-Marie (January 4, 2016). "Are women underrepresented in news coverage?". Journalist's Resource. Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  26. ^ Global Media Monitoring Project. "GMMP 2015 Reports". Who Makes the News?. World Association for Christian Communication. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Call for participation/Appeal letter - Strategic Planning". Retrieved May 6, 2019.

External links