|This page in a nutshell: Wikipedia aims for a neutral point of view, but it falls short due to systemic bias caused by the narrow demographics of its editing community. This bias results in underrepresentation of Global South perspectives, limited access individuals, and women, among others.
Wikipedia strives for a neutral point of view, both in terms of the articles that are created and the content, perspectives and sources within those articles. However, the encyclopedia fails in this goal because of systemic bias created by the editing community's narrow social and cultural demographic. Bias can be either implicit when articles or information are missing from the encyclopedia, or explicit when an article's content or sources are biased. This essay addresses issues of systemic bias specific to the English Wikipedia.
As a result of systemic bias, Wikipedia underrepresents the perspectives of people in the Global South, people who lack adequate access to the internet or a serviceable computer, and people who do not have free time to edit the encyclopedia. Topics for which reliable sources are not recently published, easily available online, and in English are systematically underrepresented, and Wikipedia tends to show a White Anglo-American perspective on issues due to the preponderance of English-speaking editors from Anglophone countries. The perspectives of women are also underrepresented.
While there are some external factors that contribute to systemic bias (such as availability of sources and disproportionate global media coverage of events in predominately white Anglophone countries), there is also a vast body of critical and decolonial scholarship that offers broader perspectives than those that are presently available on Wikipedia. These peer-reviewed studies provide reliable sources that are relatively easy to incorporate into the encyclopedia and have enormous potential for countering systemic bias.
Wikipedia's systemic bias portrays the world through the filter of the experiences and views of the "average Wikipedian". The common characteristics of average Wikipedians inevitably color the content of Wikipedia. The average Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia[a] is
Women are underrepresented on Wikipedia, making up only 8.5–15% of active contributors in 2011. A peer-reviewed study published in 2013 estimated 16.1% of editors were women.
The gender gap has not been closing over time and, on average, female editors leave Wikipedia earlier than male editors. 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.
Women typically perceive Wikipedia to be of lower quality than men do.
Internet access is required to contribute to Wikipedia, so people who have less access to the internet, including people in developing nations, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly, are underrepresented on Wikipedia. The Wikimedia foundation estimates that "80% of our page views are from the Global North, and 83% of our edits." Groups who lack access to information technology, schooling, and education include African Americans and Latinos in the U.S., Indigenous peoples in Canada, Aboriginal Australians, and poorer populations of India, among others. Wikipedians are likely to be more technically inclined than the average internet user because of the technical barrier presented by the software interface and the Wiki markup language that discourage many potential editors. The VisualEditor offered by the Wikimedia Foundation for many of its projects (including the English Wikipedia), is buggy and increases load times.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Maps of geotagged Wikipedia articles and geolocated images on Wikimedia Commons show notable gaps in comparison to the density of items in the GeoNames database.
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.
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 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.
Notability is more difficult to establish in non-Anglophone topics because of a lack of English sources and little incentive among anglophone participants to find sources in the native language of the topic. A lack of native language editors of the topic only compounds the problems. Publication bias and full-text-on-the-net bias also make it more likely that editors will find reliable coverage for topics with easily available sources than articles dependent on off-line or difficult to find sources. The lack of sources and therefore notability causes articles to go through the deletion process of Wikipedia.
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 of material from 2000 U.S. newspapers and online news found that:
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).
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.
Systemic bias violates neutral point of view, which is one of Wikipedia's five pillars, so it should be fixed.
Read about other people's perspectives, work to understand your own biases, and try to represent Wikipedia's NPOV policy in your editing. Invite others to edit, and be respectful of others' views. Avoid topics where you expect that you are biased or where you don't wish to make the effort to overcome those biases.
Read newspapers, magazines, reliable websites, and other versions of Wikipedia in languages other than English. If you know only English, read articles from other countries where English is a primary language, like Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, or Nigeria. Also, some countries where English is not an official language do have important English-language press (such as Brazil, Egypt, or Israel). Where such English-language press is not available, automated translation, though imperfect and error-prone, can enable you access articles in many languages, and may be a reasonably adequate substitute. Consider learning another language.
There is a vast body of critical and decolonial scholarship that offers much broader perspectives than those that are presently available on Wikipedia. These peer-reviewed studies provide reliable sources that are relatively easy to incorporate into the encyclopedia and have enormous potential for countering systemic bias.
Use judicious placement of the
((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.
|The Systemic Bias Barnstar
|This Barnstar may be awarded to Wikipedians who help reduce the encyclopedia's systemic bias.