KARACHI: While most technology platforms have stepped up efforts to deal with the proliferation of coronavirus information online, global numbers indicate that users are switching to Wikipedia as a trusted source to share and find Covid-19 updates.

Around 4,504 Wikipedia pages have been created to record different aspects of the pandemic, its spread to different countries, the race to find a treatment and viral conspiracies. Of the total pages, the English-language articles on Wikipedia about the virus alone have registered over 240 million views.

Earlier in April, the Wikipedia Foundation observed a record five-year high with over 673 million page views in a single day across its projects. The volume of traffic was largely — if not entirely — to Covid-19 Wikipedia articles.

The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia.

The popularity indicated by page views of Wikipedia articles about Covid-19 often reflect major developments in the timeline of the pandemic. “For example, on March 12, 2020, the day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified Covid-19 as a pandemic, the main English Wikipedia article about the pandemic had over 1.4m views alone, an increase of 73 per cent from the day before the WHO’s announcement,” a Wikimedia spokesperson told Dawn.

Deluge of misinformation

The popularity of these pages indicates how public interest in accessing Covid-19 information is growing as the outbreak rages on. Even when most of the pages in around 164 languages are under special protections that limit who can contribute to the articles, Wikipedia has observed an average of 163 edits per hour since December 2019 — when the first cases were reported from Wuhan, China.

Editors battle misinformation

“In December, we only recorded 36 edits on Covid pages in comparison to March, where we recorded 248,791. Since then, we have seen an edit per minute, and at least 2,000 edits per day to coronavirus-related pages across different languages,” the spokesperson said.

Like other technology platforms, readers can find misinformation on Wikipedia as well. However, instead of viral hoaxes and false cures, a dedicated page titled ‘Misinformation related to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic’ is actively charting and debunking falsehoods related to the outbreak.

On a daily average, over 14,000 people are accessing the page to read about the type of Covid-19 misinformation being spread around the world.

In Pakistan, according to the misinformation page on Wikipedia, religious and scientific misconceptions related to coronavirus were widespread. For instance, it cites a survey research conducted by Ipsos, saying that 82pc of the people in Pakistan believed that performing wuzu/ ablution five times a day would keep them protected from contracting coronavirus.

Editing challenges for Pakistan

The main Covid-19 page for Pakis­tan — “2020 coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan” — is ranked 72 of the most viewed pages for March.

The page on average is accessed by 34,039 users. During late March, there was a huge spike in traffic, with the main article alone recording daily page views between 100,000 and 80,000.

According to Shawnqual, the most active editor on Pakistan’s main Wiki article, the page has been extended confirmed protection. This means that only Wikipedia accounts with a previous contribution of 500 edits can make changes. However, with the limited number of editors, maintaining accuracy had become very challenging, he said.

“It is the statistical information which has become very challenging lately. Since April 4, the NIH had stopped publishing daily reports on its website. The province tally and live tracker by the government are often not in sync. The news outlets report a higher count,” the editor told Dawn over email.

The key to maintaining accuracy on the platform, according to its editors, is sourcing. “A short sentence with a credible source will make it the page but a paragraph even if written by a doctor without referencing will not. There were also many instances of using tweets as sources, which although maybe from ministers aren’t considered proper or reliable sources,” explained an editor.

‘Reach 10 times more than WHO website’

To help readers stay informed in South Asia, Indian group SWASTHA (Special Wikipedia Awareness Sche­­me for The Healthcare Affilia­tes) has created pages in Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bhojpuri, Arabic and other languages.

According to Abhishek Suryawanshi, SWASTHA founder and director, Wikipedia’s reach is 10 times more than the traffic received by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organisation websites and 300 times more traffic than Indian government’s official website.

“Our aim is to localise information and closely follow developments in the region. This way we can chart examples of local misinformation and cultural challenges during the Covid outbreak,” Mr Suryawanshi told Dawn.

He said that after Hindi, Urdu was the most read local language on the platform. The Urdu page on coronavirus has over 12,000 views.

In India, Wikipedia has been criticised for aiding Islamophobia.

Recently, Wikipedia deleted a page called ‘2020 Tableeghi Jamaat coronavirus hotspot in Delhi’, with readers accusing the editors of bribery.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the article was removed as it was poorly written and had zero sources.

“We are looking for volunteers, medical schools and organisations in the region to work on Wikipedia projects during the pandemic. We want to maintain neutrality,” Mr Suryawanshi said.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2020

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