Wikipedia Has Gender Bias

Not only is it bad for women, it's bad for the qualities that make the Internet useful.

Technology has historically been a stereotypically male domain - after all, the famous names in the field are mostly men. But that started to change with social media - females actually outnumber males on Facebook and Twitter.

However, biases against women still pervade many places on the Internet. Some research from the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering shows that not only is that bad for women, but bad for the qualities that make the Internet useful, namely access to information. In this case they studied Wikipedia, which is designed to use the expertise of thousands of editors who write the articles and try to make sure they are accurate and unbiased.

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Wikipedia has become a go-to source for people over the last 10 years. Shyong (Tony) Lam, a U of M doctoral student, noted that a smaller number of female editors has skewed Wikipedia's coverage towards topics of interest to males.

The team used self-reported gender information from more than 110,000 editors between 2005 and 2011. They explored three broad areas related to the gender gap. They found that only 16 percent of new editors joining Wikipedia in 2009 identified themselves as female, and those people made only 9 percent of the edits by the editors who joined in the same year. Female editors were more likely to stop editing and leave Wikipedia when their edits are reverted as newcomers.

They also found that Wikipedia entries about topics of particular interest to female editors were a lot shorter than those of interest to males. One area this showed up was in articles about movies - evidently movies geared to women got short shrift compared to those geared to men.

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But the real problem is the way the gender gap affects building the community that makes the site function. For example, the researchers found that female editors are more likely to become administrators. Another thing: contrary to stereotype, women who edit Wikipedia are a lot more likely to take on controversial topics, are more likely to get blocked, and more likely to have their contributions reversed.

This adds up to a bad situation for Wikipedia. If there are gender biases that make women less likely to participate, then that could cut into the number of people willing to take leadership roles.

Wikipedia isn't the only area this kind of thing has come up. Back in 2006 Slashdot came under fire for being a sexist environment, as noted by Annalee Newitz.

The research is being presented at the WikiSym conference in California in October.