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Students Tweak Wikipedia En Masse at ‘Edit-A-Thon’

By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

She didn’t until Monday, but poet Jenny Zhang now has her own Wikipedia page. That’s thanks to a handful of Harvard undergraduates, who gathered in a Sever Hall classroom with laptops on Labor Day and took to the online encyclopedia in what they termed an “edit-a-thon.”

With the stated purpose of changing and adding Wikipedia pages related to feminist, BGLTQ, and human rights issues, the group of about eight students went on an editing spree, taking out phrasing they saw as offensive and otherwise tweaking the site.

In a mass email advertising the event, student-run feminist publication Manifesta Magazine described the event as part of a movement to “dismantle the patriarchy” on Wikipedia.

For example, Erica X. Eisen ’16, a former Crimson arts chair, beefed up the text on the Wikipedia page on American feminism, deeming it “too short” and what the site considers a “stub,” or an article too short to provide proper encyclopedic coverage of a particular topic.

The group on Monday focused on editing pages highlighted by several collaborative pages, called “WikiProjects,” where users gather to propose and make changes to articles related to a certain topic.

For example, a WikiProject page on feminism calls for people to “find, expand, create and identify all the substantive topics in feminism and women's rights and to expand the presence of these topics on Wikipedia.” Among other things, the page suggests that users delete a comic strip stereotyping lesbian women.

Users with an account can join a WikiProject, even if they lack expert knowledge of the particular topic. Users can choose to delete a page or copy edit it, checking its content for accuracy and basic facts. Monday’s event at Harvard focused primarily on WikiProjects relating to women and indigenous Americans and pages about disability and discrimination.

According to Talia Weisberg ’17 and Terilyn S. Chen ’16, both writers for Manifesta Magazine, they are not alone in organizing Wikipedia editing sessions. Other colleges and organizations on Harvard’s campus have hosted such events, they said.

Wikipedia, which itself hosts a page on edit-a-thons, highlights a 2013 meetup devoted to editing the site at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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