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What It's Like To Be A Filipino Wikipedian In The Era Of Fake News

Meet one of the editors behind the now infamous Mocha Uson Wiki update
by Khatrina Bonagua | Apr 24, 2018
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Wikipedia has been the subject of scrutiny since it started focusing on a controversial issue: fake news. Last February, FHM.com.ph wrote an article, Wikipedia Releases List Of Philippine Fake News Sites, where we reported about the website’s current stand on the issue of fake news in the country. The article trended online—some netizens mocked us for using Wikipedia as resource, while some (who actually read the article) defended and praised Wikipedia for actually making a stand (read more here).

In an effort to continue fighting fake news, Filipino Wikipedians updated the entry of Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson with a list of all the fake news and misleading information she has shared on her social media accounts. The list is extensive, and even caused an editing battle between established Wikipedia editors and supporters of Uson. (Read about it here)

There seems to be an online war between those who believe that Wikipedia is a legitimate source of information and those discrediting their reputation. This comes as no surprise, since Wikipedia's current format allows netizens to edit select entries. To help us understand the situation more, FHM.com.ph found a man fighting for Wikipedia's reputation as a legit source of information.

Meet “Sky Harbor”

Meet Josh Lim, a 27-year-old Filipino Wikipedia Editor. Lim started volunteering for Wikipedia 13 years ago when he was just 14 years old.

“Like many in my time, we were looking for outlets where we could nerd out,” Lim tells FHM.com.ph.

He recalls the first article he ever edited for the site—the Lupang Hinirang entry. I actually had an interest in national anthems at the time, and I noticed that the article for Lupang Hinirang was incomplete, so I decided to expand it. Everything else followed from there.”

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Over the years, Lim edited everything from Philippine-related topics to post-hardcore music. “I write very mundane things: streets, rotondas, interchanges,” he shares. “I do dabble in other topics as well. Diplomacy is one, and I’ve been writing about Philippine embassies recently. I’ve also done some editing on articles relating to local politics.”

Today, under the username “Sky Harbor,” Lim has edited around 25,000 articles in multiple languages for the website. Aside from editing, Lim and his fellow Wikipedians also organize various programs to promote the use of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. According to Lim, there are currently around 400 Wikipedians all over the country (but only a subset are members of the Wiki Society of the Philippines). And as much as possible, they try to meet regularly even if their work is mostly done online.

“In the last seven years, we’ve promoted Wikipedia as an educational resource. We've taught various groups of people how to edit the site and use its vast resources, and we've generated content through our programs. In 2011, I organized Southeast Asia’s first photo scavenger hunt, and in 2014, I was one of a number of Wikipedians who helped organize a massive effort to document our country’s built heritage.”

A legit keyboard warrior

“There’s a certain thrill to being part of such a hugely influential project,” Lim answers, when asked how it feels to be recognized as a leader for the Wiki community.

“One thing that I love about Wikipedia is that when you contribute to it, you really feel like you’re part of something bigger. After all, there are hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of editors out there worldwide, and we’re all doing our part to make the world’s knowledge a little more complete. You really feel like you’re helping people better understand our country.”

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And Lim, who understands that Wikipedia is perceived as unreliable because of its community-based editing processes, has chosen to make his mark and make a change through writing. “It’s one thing to be a casual observer, but another to really look at the project for what it is and to contribute to it.” Wikipedia's message is clear: “Empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.” But Lim wants to reiterate that working for Wikipedia is, and will always be, free. “I can assure you that I haven’t been paid a single centavo to do the work I do. If I was, I’d be a very wealthy man right now,” he jokes. “But seriously, it's wrong for me to profit from the fruits of others’ labor or from the content that we make, which we freely give."

He adds: “We just want to make sure that Filipino Wikipedians have a community they can run to and look up to. If people decide they want to edit someday, they can always reach out to us and we’ll do our best to help them.”

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Wiki’s new fight 

One of Wikipedia's latest projects is to promote the website as a resource that can fight disinformation and fake news.

“It’s simple," Lim explains. "Fake news and misleading information have no place on Wikipedia. An encyclopedia’s business is in documenting the world’s knowledge, and we do precisely that. Knowledge in itself is supposed to be truthful, objective, and impartial. How is fake news knowledge if it’s designed to misinform and mislead the public? How is misleading information knowledge, given its name?”

Aside from editing entries on personalities and Philippine issues, Lim and other Wikipedians have also teamed up with Bantayog ng mga Bayani to get them their first Wikipedian in residence. A Wikepedian in residence, according to Lim, is a “Wikipedian who helps build Wikipedia content using their resources, books, and media.” They've also started holding editing workshops for the new residents and Wikipedians.

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“If we allow disinformation and fake new to run wild on Wikipedia, I strongly feel that people would question the credibility of our content, and we have a responsibility to prevent that,” Lim reiterates. 

Lim reveals that he wasn't solely responsible for editing Mocha Uson’s page. This was done by a team of Wikipedians. 

“I will tell you this: people have been interested in editing Mocha’s page because she is an interesting character in all of this,” he discloses. “I think on the one hand, Mocha Uson is an enigma, like many other Filipino celebrities. People edit her Wikipedia page to complete her page, if you will. The media has covered her extensively, and luckily for us we have a treasure trove of information that we can use to build an article about her: from where she was born, to where she went to school, and even her career as part of the Mocha Girls.”

Based on the recent edits on the website, Lim admits that there is a genuine interest surrounding Uson and fake news. “Mocha has said some very crazy things, all of which have been documented. Some people, therefore, feel that this is something that Wikipedia ought to mention given the current political environment. I certainly belong to that camp, if only because Mocha is a government official and we have a responsibility to keep her responsible for the things she says and the things she does as Assistant Secretary for Social Media under this President.”

The legacy continues

Despite the trolling and the bashing from detractors, Lim—and other Wikipedians—have no plans of stopping their fight against misleading information. Also, they promise to continue providing free information for the public.

“I believe we are making an impact. While we don’t have hard data on this, anecdotal evidence suggests that people do read our content, and people do take Wikipedia content seriously,” he shares. “According to the data that we have on hand, we see spikes in reading activity during June and July, coinciding with the start of the new school year. This means that students overwhelmingly rely on Wikipedia for information, especially when it comes to the critical lessons they need to master in their first few weeks of school.”

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He also calls for aspiring and experienced editors to lend their services for the benefit of the country. “I certainly hope that people see this as a call for them to be involved. We’re not a big community, and ultimately we need as many people as possible to help keep Wikipedia as accurate as possible.”

 

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