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Knowledge Equity and Spatial Justice on Wikipedia

With Dr Martin Dittus
20 Jul 2018
With Dr Martin Dittus

The world is increasingly digital. Places are layered with data and algorithms that fundamentally shape our geographic interactions, impacting how we perceive, move through, and use the cities that we live in. As the world’s largest web-based encyclopaedia, Wikipedia plays an enormous role in shaping how people relate to the world. But while the open nature of Wikipedia, in theory, allows content to be created by anyone about any notable place, there remain significant imbalances in global participation and representation.

In response, the Wikipedia community has introduced the concept of “knowledge equity” as an important strategic concern: “We will strive to counteract structural inequalities to ensure a just representation of knowledge and people in the Wikimedia movement.”

To better understand the effects of this transformation, it becomes important to ask who owns, controls, shapes, and has access to those augmented and hybrid digital/physical layers of place. Now that over half of humanity is connected to the internet, do we see greater levels of representation of, and participation from, previously digitally disconnected populations? Or are our digitally dense environments continuing to amplify inequalities rather than alleviate them?

Mark Graham and Martin Dittus have recently launched a two-year project to empirically address those questions about our information geographies. Martin presented early findings at Wikimania 2018, using geotagged information found on Wikipedia. What are the geographies of digital augmentations of place? And what is the provenance of those digital augmentations? Are we seeing a widening or narrowing of informational inequalities? By presenting our theoretical framework, methodology, and preliminary results, we hope to both bring a spatial perspective to emergent conversations about knowledge equity on Wikipedia, and receive feedback that could reshape our empirical enquiry in this multi-year project.

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