Laura’s Diary—Friday, 15th January, 2016


This week has seen Aral do two interviews for major news outlets, Al Jazeera and BBC World Service about Wikipedia’s 15th anniversary/birthday. The Al Jazeera interview edited out Aral’s positive points, so it’s worth reading his comment below the video. I’ve quoted it below as the direct link to the comment doesn’t seem to work, and I don’t want you to have to wade through the multitude of revolting comments.

Hi there, Aral here, from the video. I know you’re not supposed to read the Internet comments, but given that only two soundbites were used from a longer interview, I feel I need to clarify a few things:

The issue of bias in Wikipedia is not something I uncovered or invented myself: it is based on Wikipedia’s own research. You can find the Wikipedia article on systemic bias here:

Wikipedia is aware of it and trying to do something about it. You can read about their Inspire Campaign to fund new gender diversity initiatives here:

As I mentioned in my interview (in the bits that didn’t make it to the piece): this is a tough problem of second-generation gender bias — where a tool or a space has been created by a certain demographic (white, technically-savvy males from Silicon Valley), to meet the needs of that demographic (which it does well), and yet we also expect it to magically meet the needs of other demographics. It can’t. It was never designed to.

This is not an issue we can tackle with a new visual editor (that’s great for making it more accessible for everyone but to assume, for example, that more women will use it because it has a simpler interface is, itself, a gender bias. Women are just as capable as men at being technically savvy. It’s the culture of the platform that is greatest hindrance.) For Wikipedia to tackle the issue, they have to fundamentally alter the composition of their organisation and that’s not a simple thing.

Perhaps most importantly, this isn’t an issue that is specific to Wikipedia. In the unaired portions of my interview, I also praised Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales for their commitment to staying not-for-profit, not having any trackers on the site, and for staying independent. These are no small feats and they are by no means common within the Valley. The problem is a wider one — it is systemic in that it affects mainstream technology in general. And is, itself, the symptom of systemic inequality within the world in general. (We live in a world, according to an Oxfam study, where 80 of the richest people have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population combined — that’s more than 3.5 billion people.) If we’re serious about making real change, we must tackle the core problem: inequality. And we can’t do that by remaining within a system that encourages an ever-widening gulf of inequality.

The solution to the Wikipedia (and Silicon Valley) problem is to work for greater equality in society in general and to build alternatives that are decentralised. We must approach technology in a non-colonialist manner. So the opposite of what Facebook is doing with Free Basics, for example. Instead of the White Man making technology and bringing it to “the natives” (a modern twist of old-school colonialism: “white man bring fire”), we must support local communities so that they can build their own technologies which reflect their own cultures and needs.

If you want to understand the greater issues around this, take a look at some of talks, where I go into it in greater detail:

The BBC interview this morning was live, so you can hear it in its entirety at the 36:00 minute mark.

The last couple of weeks have been lots of development on @aral’s side, and a lot of house-hunting on my side.

We’re not having much luck finding a suitable place to live in Malmö, mostly because the majority of rental companies require tenants to have a Swedish ID number. You can only obtain said ID number once you have a Swedish address, so you can see our dilemma! We’re now considering finding a temporary home in Malmö for a couple of months, to give us time to find a more appropriate place once we have ID numbers. If anyone has any leads on either front, please let me know!

We’re going to visit Malmö from the 26th-29th January in the hope we can secure a place (at least temporarily) to move into.

Oskar status:

No problem with the colder weather!