The Future of Facts: Informing and engaging citizens through Wikipedia

By on February 5, 2018

The Future of Facts: Informing and engaging citizens through Wikipedia

By on February 5, 2018

The Future of Facts: Informing and engaging citizens through Wikipedia

In the age of fake news and the sheer volume of information on the Internet, having trustworthy digital resources is more important than ever. We no longer turn to publishers, subject matter experts, or even news outlets for most of our information – we look to Wikipedia.

But even one of our most relied upon sources of information can always be improved. Wikipedia is edited by volunteers, with varying interests and concerns. The site still lacks detailed and accurate articles about many topics, including those that are relevant to informed citizens.

That’s why we’re launching a new initiative to improve articles relevant to an informed citizenry. Wiki Education’s Future of Facts initiative will improve Wikipedia’s coverage of subject areas like public policy, political science, law, history, environmental science, and sociology.

People turn to the Internet for information about topics in current conversation. There are two scenarios here. One, they find the Wikipedia article, likely among the top hits on Google. So they go there for a summary of the topic, feeling they can trust the information they find. Or two, there isn’t a Wikipedia article about the topic yet — or the article is minimal and lacking important details — and they’re directed to other sites with varying degrees of fact-checking and accuracy. How can people who don’t have robust media literacy skills parse out the real information from fake content?

The Wikipedia editing community holds itself accountable to facts, to the neutral reporting of those facts, and to the constant improvement of information to reflect the latest, most inclusive knowledge. But we still have a long way to go in making Wikipedia the sum of all human knowledge.

Over 450 million users visit Wikipedia every month. Even small improvements to an article can make a huge impact on those readers. The Wikipedia article on Kalief Browder, for example, didn’t paint the full picture of the young African-American man’s tragic fate at the hands of the criminal justice system. A student in Wiki Education’s Classroom Program added just 26 words to the article’s introduction, shedding light on the tragic circumstances of the young man’s death. This introduction, now much more accurate, shows up on the side bar whenever his named is searched for on Google. Through our Future of Facts initiative, we support more of this kind of important work.

Student engagement with topics relevant to the Future of Facts relates to the concept of digital citizenship, defined in its Wikipedia article as “the promotion of equal economic opportunity, as well as increased political participation and civic duty,” through digital tools. We’ve discussed digital citizenship before, and it’s a value we have here at Wiki Education.

Katie Webber, a Rice University student in our program, proposed editing Wikipedia as a civic duty:

“I call my senators, I vote, I donate to the ACLU, and now, I edit Wikipedia,” she wrote in her reflective blog post.

When students identify gaps in content on Wikipedia and work to address those gaps, they can have a tremendous impact on public knowledge. Andrew, for example, a student at York University who completed a Wikipedia assignment in one of his courses, created the Wikipedia article on the digital divide in Canada and received recognition from his university for doing so. Other students have contributed content related to resources and historical contexts around domestic violence. They’ve expanded articles about censorship and engaged political science topics like the Arab Spring.

Not only do students in our Classroom Program make this information accessible to the public, but Wiki Education Visiting Scholars are also identifying and improving heavily trafficked articles in these subject areas. And through our Wikipedia Fellows pilot program, we’re also engaging academics to use their expertise to improve and create articles relevant to an informed citizenry in discipline-specific areas.

Our Future of Facts initiative will empower millions of Wikipedia’s readers to participate in public affairs based on factual and reliable information. Help us expand our impact. Consider supporting Wiki Education at wikiedu.org/donate.

We have an obligation to ensure facts hold weight in our society’s future. How will you help protect the future of facts?


To learn more about our Future of Facts initiative, please visit: wikiedu.org/future-of-facts/. To find out more about our Classroom Program, visit teach.wikiedu.org or reach out to contact@wikiedu.org.


Image: “Triumph of the truth.” File:2011 05 17 Thueringer Staatskanzlei (8841-2-3 com).jpg, Gerd Seidel / Rob Irgendwer, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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