By Lucy Crompton-Reid, Wikimedia UK Chief Executive
This is not the blog that I thought I was going to be writing this March. Through a combination of Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day and Wikimedia’s own project Art+Feminism, Wikimedia UK would have been involved in a wide range of events with some amazing partners across the country, training new editors and increasing coverage of women and their achievements on Wikipedia and beyond. Instead, our events have been cancelled and as of today, the Wikimedia UK office is closed and staff are all working from home, as we are gripped by a global pandemic on a scale none of us has ever lived through.
These are strange, sad and unsettling times for all of us, which are illustrating both our fragility and our interconnectedness. It’s difficult to find anything positive to focus on at a time when people are dying, museums are closing, businesses are folding and all of us are worried about ourselves and our loved ones. However I did want to share with you some of the ways in which the Wikimedia community both here in the UK and around the world is helping people through this crisis:
- Wikipedia editors are working around the clock to make sure that there is up-to-date, accurate and accessible information about COVID-19 and the social, economic and educational impact of the pandemic. This Wired article talks about the crucial role played by a London based doctor and Wikipedia contributor in the development of the COVID-19 article on Wikipedia, which is now receiving more than half a million views a day. The doctor in question was trained to edit Wikipedia by our Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library, demonstrating the importance of these programmes and the offline activities facilitated by Wikimedia UK.
- As more than 849 million children and young people are having their education disrupted as a result of the pandemic – according to the latest information released to Wikipedia by UNESCO – the value of the Wikimedia projects as the world’s biggest open educational resource has never been more crucial. Here in the UK, we are exploring how we can support universities in their transition to online learning, whilst many Wikimedia organisations around the world are working to highlight teaching and learning resources for all age groups.
- Individual editors and organisations across the global Wikimedia movement are joining advocacy efforts to encourage official bodies and international agencies to release content about the virus and associated issues under open licences. This work is ongoing and has already resulted in accurate, well researched and – crucially at this point – educational material about COVID-19 being released onto the Wikimedia projects, where millions more people are accessing this information.
Conversely, on a video call with colleagues from across the global Wikimedia movement yesterday, it became clear that some governments are using the pandemic to justify heavy censorship – including blocking Wikipedia – and roll back civil liberties. Whilst we are already seeing how a pandemic like this is creating an ideal environment for misinformation and disinformation, we must ensure that it is not used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression and curtail people’s rights to information and knowledge.
Wikimedia UK may be at home, but we’re still online. Yesterday the whole staff team met to discuss some of the implications of the office closure – and the wider COVID-19 situation – for us, our partners, our volunteer community and other contributors. We are already thinking about our programme and partnerships, and considering what events and projects will need to be cancelled but what can be rescheduled, moved online or re-imagined. We are also keen to explore ways in which we can support editors and readers during this period, as well as our members and supporters. If you would like to get in touch, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to respond as quickly as we can.
I wish you all the very best for the next few weeks and months. Please stay safe and, if you can, #StayAtHome.
If you’re able to donate to Wikimedia UK, we’d be grateful for your support.