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Countering the Systemic Bias on Wikipedia : An Interview With Emily Temple-Wood

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"I love to collect information, and I love that I get to share that information with the world," says Emily Temple-Wood, a veteran editor on English Wikipedia. Emily, who likes reading encyclopedias from cover-to-cover, finds writing on Wikipedia a transition from being a consumer to a creator of knowledge.

Her first attempt at writing on Wikipedia was in 2005, when she was 10 years old. She wrote a page about her little sister saying that she was a "stupid butthead", which got removed from Wikipedia instantly. As she grew older, she knew that she could do more productive things on Wikipedia.

In 2007, when Emily Temple-Wood created an account on Wikipedia, she was just 12 years old. She started off by categorizing and cleaning up existing wikipedia articles. Eventually, she found it and useful to contribute knowledge to Wikipedia. Her first interest was endangered languages. She created several articles related to endangered languages and became dedicated to Wikipedia.

Emily, now 19, has written over 200 articles on Wikipedia. Lately, she has been writing about rare genetic diseases, Islamic history and mythology. Her pet project is Wikiproject: Women scientists, an initiative to create and expand articles about women scientists. "WikiProject Women Scientists is growing into a nice space for contributing to this less-covered area and we are gaining some active participants, so that is great! I'm so glad to be a part of something that is making a real difference on Wikipedia," she says. She is also an administrator on Wikipedia, a trusted editor who has been granted the technical ability to perform special actions on English Wikipedia.

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Emily is an undergraduate student at the Loyola University in Chicago, majoring in molecular biology with additional two minors : Arabic and Islamic world studies. She aspires to go to graduate school and get an MD/ PhD in medicine to fulfil her dream of becoming research physician. She has basic knowledge of Arabic, Korean and French and wants to be a fluent speaker of these three languages someday. She is undergoing training as an emergency medical technician along with her undergraduate studies. Because of the many real-life commitments, Emily is not being able to spend as much time for writing articles as she wants.

"First of all, I schedule time to edit, either with workshops or with friends. Editing with friends makes it a lot easier to make the time for it. I also edit as I read. Like many of us, I use Wikipedia every day to look up facts and whenever I see something that needs to be fixed, I do it. Treating my editing as a social endeavor has been really helpful and definitely motivates me to contribute more, and I think that's my message to fellow women. Have fun together while editing - enjoy food and drink and socialize! Some people take Wikipedia too seriously and make it an anti-social space a lot of the time, so you can counter that by enjoying wiki-socialization in real life and being serious online.", says Emily when asked about how she manages her time to be able to do a variety of real-life and online volunteering.

She is also a Individual Engagement Grantee of the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia. In her role as a grantee, she is aiming to create a new model for bringing women into the Wikimedia movement and creating more content to fill the coverage gap with topics related to women, especially biographies of women. She is trying to change the gender situation on English Wikipedia where only around 10-25 percent of all contributors are women. She is also looking forward to create a best practice kit for running workshops on systemic bias. Systemic bias is an insidious problem on Wikipedia, where women, people of color, and non-Western topics are severely underrepresented. She thinks that her biggest contribution to the Wikipedia community has been helping to bring awareness about the systemic bias problem. She has attended three international conferences, where she presented her learnings and experiences in working with Wikipedia. She finds it exciting to get to travel around the world and meet amazing Wikipedians from different language communities.

Emily thinks that "women's voices are so important in this [Wikipedia] community and [women] need to speak up, especially because there are so few women participating in the movement". She asks women "to trust in their own competence and jump in, and don't take criticism too hard," to be a successful writer on Wikipedia. You can view Emily's userpage on Wikipedia here.

Copyright notes: Image by Fuzheado (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons