Middle East and North Africa contribute less to Wikipedia

April 29, 2016

Increasingly, popular sites such as Wikipedia, the world's largest free source of information, shape our understanding of the world. But researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute have found that the online encyclopedia is not always the democratic space for knowledge creation that many had hoped for. There are stark regional differences in who contributes content. Although people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region use Wikipedia, they contribute to it less than people in other parts of the world. Content about MENA is more often than not written by contributors from outside the region. The Oxford study, Uneven openness: Barriers to MENA representation on Wikipedia, identified a lack of sources that vet Wikipedia content, such as government sources and news media, as one of the main obstacles to producing content in MENA. 

The study, which used data from Wikipedia to map and measure local knowledge production and representation in the MENA region, was funded by IDRC's Information and Networks program. 

Other highlights of the study:

  • Wikipedia editors in the MENA region are more likely to edit content about other regions of the world: only a third of the editors in the region edit local content.
  • There are more articles about Antarctica in Wikipedia than articles about any country in Africa.
  • There are more Wikipedia editors from Australia than all of Africa combined.

The image below shows where articles about Egypt originate.  

egypt_edits_in_wikipedia.jpg

These findings are significant from a development perspective. For example, they show that accessing and producing knowledge online is skewed toward more developed regions. Even in the case of a participatory and collaborative platform like Wikipedia, Southern voices are not adequately represented on the Internet. The Oxford researchers argue that  “this relative lack of MENA voice and representation means that the tone and content of this globally useful resource that represents MENA, in many cases, is being determined by outsiders with a potential misunderstanding of the significance of local events, sites of interest, and historical figures.”

Learn more about the Oxford Internet Institute.

Read the study:

Uneven openness: Barriers to MENA Representation on Wikipedia, by Mark Graham and Bernie Hogan 

Other relevant project publications:

Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour, by Mark Graham 

The Knowledge Based Economy and Digital Divisions of Labour,  by Mark Graham 

Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty, by Mark Graham, Bernie Hogan, Ralph K. Straumann and Ahmed Medhat.