Wikipedia:Gender bias and editing on Wikipedia

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Wikipedia editors are predominantly male

Introduction[edit]

Wikipedia exists as an open source, web-based encyclopedia, and allows anonymous and registered users to edit and create articles. However, previous research has suggested that a skew toward the male gender in the users that do practice editing may exist. Some information on this has suggested that as many as 90% of Wikipedia's editors are male.[1][2] As a trend, this may have a subsequent effect on the topics edited and bias in perspectives offered and new articles created.

Literature review[edit]

As it stands, there are few articles that directly discuss the prevalence of gender bias on Wikipedia specifically. There are, however, academic discussions concerning this trend of bias on the internet as a whole, with some examples of bias in other online communities, peer review situations, and forums, that may help illustrate the issue further, but will not be applied in this case because of the site-specific nature of the issue. Illustrating the root of the problem is Wikimedia's article [1], which shows from a 7-8 month study in 2011 that an average of "90 percent self-identified as males, 9 percent as females and 1 percent as transsexual or transgender" (p. 1). Fortunately, the numbers of females joining had increased by 4% since the survey the previous year. Startlingly, there was no significant variation in this trend across the different language Wikipedias. The U.S. reflected the highest percentage of female contributors, at 15%. In another Wikipedia page [2], it is suggested that this is reflected in the underdevelopment of traditionally female topics and the conflict-oriented nature of certain articles which act as a deterrent to editing participation. The fact that the existing articles on gender gaps in Wikipedia editing are underdeveloped themselves is a reflection of this issue.

A study in 2011 determined that 9% of Wikipedia editors self-identify as female, and 91% self-identify as male [3]. That same report says that the number of women contributors has been steadily rising year after year. Oddly, a Wikimedia Foundation survey in 2009 claimed that the percentage of female editors was just below 14 percent, which would indicate that the number of females editing Wikipedia has been decreasing. Unfortunately, though this report is listed as a source for a variety of pages, including a New York Times article [4] and Wikipedia's own page over "Wikipedians," links directing users to the source are no longer working. On Wikimedia's page, it is claimed that 14 percent of editors who joined in 2011 were female compared to 10 percent for 2010, 9 percent for 2009, and 8 percent for 2008 [1], so it would seem that Wikipedia is attracting more female editors each year, however it appears that females either stop editing or leave Wikipedia sooner than males, so the ratio of males remaining to females remaining increases steadily as time passes. Whatever the reasons, the reality that there is a vast gap between male and female editors is clear. Additionally, the 2011 study previously mentioned [3] also showed that individual male contributors make twice as many edits as do female contributors, so the gender gap is not only in number of individual male verses female edits, it also exists in number of overall edits by males and females. As the data does not seem to indicate what percentage of these edits by males or females are content edits as opposed to grammar or spelling edits, it is unclear how this may impact the gender gap overall.

Discussion[edit]

Gardner[5] provides a few reasons, offered by female-Wikipedia editors, as to why this is the case. These include a simple lack of user-friendliness in the editing process, not having enough free time, lack of self-confidence, aversion to conflict, belief that their contributions will be changed or deleted, claims to an 'air' of misogyny or hyper-sexualism, the masculinity of the language some non-English Wikipedias use is offensive, and a general lack of a sense of invitation and openness. Other stories of women's experiences of the gender gap in Wiki editing can be found here [6]. Lam et al. [7] suggest, as well, that there may be a culture which is non-inclusive of women on Wikipedia, which may be due to some suggestions that less than 25% of Wikipedia readers are female, a disparity in male-to-female centric topics represented and edited, the tendency for female users to be more active in the social and community aspects of Wikipedia, continued reversions or edits on female-submitted information, or too much controversy. Another potential reason is that public thought forums in general reflect this sort of gender disparity, with a roughly 85%/15% male to female user base [8]. It is likely that similar patterns are reflected in other online forums and communities as well, pointing to a greater social question.

Conclusion[edit]

Overall, it is unquestionable that a substantial gender gap exists on Wikipedia in terms of editors and editing practice. Reasons for this can be due to such issues as inaccessibility, an unwelcoming environment, and general systemic societal issues in gender being reflected online. Further research is absolutely needed, especially with solid statistical data along the lines of Wikimedia's original editor survey[1]. More elective user surveys might be one way to gain demographic information, or a trial period in which editors as well as users who are submitting new articles mark their gender before proceeding. However, it is important to consider that even in these cases, an accurate representation may not be available due to lack of response, systemic prevalence/non-prevalence of certain genders in certain social arenas like Wikipedia, or simple preference to not identify by gender. Actions to counteract this while increasing the presence of women can be presented through university-wide 'edit-a-thons' that focus on having female editors add and improve existing content on such topics as women in science. Some evidence has also suggested that editing as a whole on Wikipedia has plateaued, with few new editors coming in [9], so projects that incentivize new editors to come may see a greater turn-out of females.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Nine out of ten Wikipedians continue to be men: Editor Survey – Wikimedia Blog". blog.wikimedia.org.
  2. ^ a b Wikipedia:Wikipedians
  3. ^ a b http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Editor_Survey_Report_-_April_2011.pdf
  4. ^ Cohen, Noam (31 January 2011). "Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Nine Reasons Women Don't Edit Wikipedia (in their own words)". 20 February 2011.
  6. ^ "Gender gap stories - Meta". meta.wikimedia.org.
  7. ^ http://files.grouplens.org/papers/wp-gender-wikisym2011.pdf
  8. ^ "Home". The OpEd Project.
  9. ^ Meyer, Robinson (25 October 2013). "90% of Wikipedia's Editors Are Male—Here's What They're Doing About It".