Wikipedia's Walsh: Censorship Interferes With Core Mission

Tuesday, 12 Jun 2012 05:18 PM

By Henry J. Reske and Kathleen Walter

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Despite the best efforts of repressive regimes in countries like China, “the cool thing” is that people continue to find work arounds that enable them to contribute to the world of free information found on Wikipedia, Jay Walsh, head of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, tells Newsmax.TV.

Walsh said even though Wikimedia is not a highly political organization it does keep a focus on parts of the world where people can’t access Wikipedia freely. He said those places tend to be countries where access to the internet is also limited.

“In the U.S. we may enjoy pretty unfettered access to all parts of the web,” Walsh said. “Other parts of the world, in some of which might surprise you, have various traffic shaping tools that might either censor specific content or prevent you from accessing certain information. Most notably, we would see a country like China that does actively filter and censor content to its readers. So that interferes with Wikimedias core mission and this is that organizations should enable us to deliver free knowledge to every person in the world in the language of their choice.

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“So that’s a critical challenge for us. We’re not a highly political organization. We’re not trying to actively prevent those things from happening, but it does prevent us from bringing our mission. The cool thing is that our contributors still to this day are actively participating in Wikipedia in those countries. So they find ways to work around that. And that seems to be one way that were encouraging everyone, even if you’re living in a country that has potentially diminished access to the web, they’re still working to bring Wikipedia to the people that they live with and the people of their country.”

Wikimedia, a nonprofit charitable organization, is dedicated to encouraging the growth, development, and distribution of free, multilingual content. The foundation operates a variety of websites including the widely popular Wikipedia that attracts some 400 million unique visitors monthly with thousands of volunteer contributors working on millions of articles in 280 languages. The group manages to do all this with just 90 staff employees.

“Our 2015 goal is to increase the number of articles we have which right now is about 22 million articles — we’d like to increase that to 50 million articles.” Walsh said. “We want to increase the number of active editors which are people who edit at least five times a month. So each time that you edit it is essentially when you make a change to Wikipedia, whether you add a paragraph or fix a comma, or what have you.

“We want to increase that number from right now it’s about 88,000 active editors around the world. We actually want to increase that to 100,000 active editors. So these are ambitious targets we are plugging away at them and we also want to dramatically increase the amount of knowledge, information relevant to folks in what we characterize as the global south — the countries in south America, Africa, southeast Asia, India, we want to increase the number of articles relevant to those geographies and cultures and that’s probably one of the tougher ones but probably one of the ones were having the most success with now.”

Looking toward the future, Walsh said the key is mobile technology.

“I think you’d actually be hard pressed to find a technology company that doesn’t spend the majority of their time thinking about that,” he said. “In our case, the simple reality is that everywhere in the world new individuals who are coming online aren’t typically coming online through … the laptop computer or the desktop computer, they’re coming online through a smart phone. And that’s an astonishing change in the way that people use the internet.”




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