Towards a New News Ethic

Women standing in a picket line reading the newspaper PM.

The phenomenon of fake news and algorithms is forcing us to reconsider the difference between source and channel and the need for a global news ethic.

The internet has represented a change of scale on all levels that has affected the way that we access, consume and relate to information. In a few years, we have passed from a process in which our search was motivated by curiosity towards an automated system that suggests to us contents that it supposes we will like. Meanwhile, the boundaries between medium, channel and source have all become blurred, and we all believe ourselves to be transmitters and receivers of contents. This new paradigm of supposed socialisation of information is occurring in a hyper-centralised scenario where the algorithms of companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, channel and influence a high percentage of the information that we consume. How does all this affect us? What are the potential risks and benefits?


The internet has represented a revolution and a change of scale in the creation and distribution of and access to information, modifying the cognitive ecosystem on a worldwide level.

The number and diversity of people with access to receiving and emitting information has grown exponentially. This can be considered a democratising and positive fact: the average cultural level of humanity is much higher than it was hundred years ago. Since knowledge is not a good in scarce supply, the more dissemination, the better for everyone. When the bases of any society improve, the entire system improves.

However, how does this massification affect the information hierarchy? Now that many more people are talking, how can we discern who has the authority to talk about a subject? How can we define which sources are reliable? Who determines which voices become canonical, in other words, how are new reference models defined?

In the current context, the canon, as traditionally set by an institutional elite, has died to make way for an ecosystem of canons where as many hierarchies as identities and motivations that are related in each individual or each society all converge. The institutions that to date decided who ought to be the reference points in the different fields of knowledge have lost power, which is now diversified between new voices.


In recent years, society has progressively increased its awareness when it comes to consuming. As citizens we want to know where the products that we acquire have come from and we expect the rights of people involved in their production processes to be respected. This has led to the birth of initiatives such as fair trade, organic food, responsible investment funds or medicines not tested on animals.

Ethics have demanded traceability in production systems. Today, any product purchased from the supermarket incorporates a batch number that enables us, if an incident arises, to detect its origin. In this case, technology has served to improve the quality of production and distribution systems, and also of consumer service.

However, can the same be said in the news consumption field? At the height of the hyperlink era, how can it be that we spend the day talking about false news, about internet fakes? Should it not be possible to “trace” pieces of information and be able to validate the sources from which data have been extracted, in such a way that consumers have peace of mind that what they are reading has passed through various filters and quality controls and, if an incident arises, they can contact the original producer? Was this not journalism’s role?

How to Spot Fake News |


What holds the most power today? The information producer, the source, or the distribution channel?

The internet was born as an open project, one that enabled decentralised and horizontal communication between any two nodes on the network. Today, major incorporations such as Google and Facebook endeavour to concentrate information and users to the maximum, then retain them inside their environments, wanting to convert the network into a series of bunkers that are increasingly isolated from each other.

These companies want to be channel and source at the same time. When we seek weather information on Google, we do not notice which agency made the prediction (Meteocat or Aemet?). The data are presented as if the source were Google itself, while the real source appears increasingly more hidden. The same thing happens if we search for information on the stock market, the state of the traffic… or when we read the news.

These platforms demand our continual attention and do everything to ensure that we increasingly consume more information without having to leave them. Some projects like Instagram go even further and no longer allow the use of URL links.

The media have also joined in with this centralising effort. To avoid readers abandoning their website, the main newspapers no longer include in their news pieces hyperlinks to external sources.

It is necessary to be aware of this situation and to fight the growing monopoly in order to the internet continues being multi-channel and multi-source, guaranteeing, promoting and defending diversity on the web. And it is necessary to give some consideration to what the role of the fourth estate is and should be within this context.

Emotion and cognitive fact

The media are not only tending to concentrate information, but have also begun a bloody battle for clicks, because they see how their income increasingly depends on Google advertising. This means that journalists increasingly endeavour to produce click-seeking headlines, which appeal to the emotion instead of to reason and make the click irresistible.

Emotion per se is not a negative bias for the cognitive event, since curiosity has always been a source of knowledge. The risk appears when, to win clicks, many traditional media are forgetting their ethics and their style guides and are coming dangerously close to the ways of working of the sensationalist press. Popularity, number of visits, likes, retweets or similar, have caused a progressive crisis in argumentation, in favour of an increase in emotional contents, which are increasingly polarised. The headlines have lost neutrality in favour of scandals. Quality has fallen in favour of repetition.

Facebook Emojis

Emojis de Facebook

Algorithm and active searching

Added to this new scenario is the fact that we have shifted from a “search” environment to a “feed” environment or contents channel. Now we no longer consult the newspapers, but rather the news reaches us via our timelines.

It is important to be aware that these channels, whether news-based or cultural, are not neutral. There is an algorithm behind them that filters, orders and presents to us those pieces of news or knowledge that it is probable that we will like most according to our behaviour history.

An algorithm is nothing more than a code designed by an organisation. Who designs it or how, and with what aims – commercial or political – is an aspect that should occupy a prominent position in the social debate. Three or four companies on a worldwide level are deciding, in an opaque way, what material we are consuming in the news and cultural sphere. Progressively they are leading us to stop searching, while trapping us in a “news bubble” made to measure for us, of for all those people who comply with our same pattern. We could see it with companies such as Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 elections in the USA.

Algorithms tend towards the convergence of patterns and try, by default, to simplify our complexity. They interpret us and include us in a determined pattern, a fact that is a direct attack on our individuality. The reinforce stimuli that work, making it difficult for our tastes or interests to evolve.

Before this oh-so-powerful tool, we have the responsibility of keeping our curiosity active, of getting out of our pattern, of going to discover new things to not end up “framed” within a determined social profile, however small and segmented it may be.

In the same way that years ago we made an effort to find information on subjects that interested us (music, books, etc.), now it is necessary to make an effort to escape it. Only this way can we break with and expand our limits and tastes. We have more patterns than ever, we can tour more paths than ever before, as long as we keep our curiosity alive.

Towards a global news ethic

We humans have always needed filters to access information, Teachers, books, manuals, the media… the disseminator is a basic necessary tool for accessing knowledge.

This task, today, is assumed increasingly by machines, with the potential benefits and risks that this involves. It is necessary to keep this in mind and act accordingly. For this, it is necessary for these technologies to be open by default, developed with free programming, to be able to detect and avoid economic or cognitive biases in their design.

In an ideal world, a good algorithm could become a “good disseminator”. The good disseminator translates from the top down, adapting the discourse to the level of the recipient and respecting the original source. An algorithm could do this task, but the technology is not neutral. For this reason, it is necessary for us to incorporate ethics into the technical decision-making process.

Now we are more aware than ever that as members of a society, we are a node in a network, where we play a role. The action is collective but we, as individuals, are responsible for it. It is necessary to continue defending an open, free and decentralised internet. It is necessary to struggle for this change of scale that is the internet to go in the correct direction. We cannot accept as the only reality the biased products of large corporations. It is necessary to encourage the individual responsibility of choosing and of discovery, and the responsibility and collective power that we have as a community of users. It is necessary to differentiate between source and channel, and to fight to ensure that there is not just one single channel.

It is necessary to continue to strive to know the canon, but with the freedom e of avoiding it. Divergence shows new possibilities until it establishes new paradigms. Let’s defend them.

Case study: Wikipedia and Catalonia’s Network of Public Libraries


Location of Catalonia in Europe

This case study covers the collaboration of a whole network of Catalan public libraries with Wikipedia & Wikimedia projects. This documentation focues on the motivations for their collaboration, the activities engaging the libraries and the influence and impact of that initiative on ideas around open access and the Wikimedia community within the libraries sector.

The program builds on a few important values: in a world of lots of information, librarians are references heroes; they have research expertise; Wikimedia projects need expertise. Moreover, many libraries want to have connection to local users who are eager for knowledge. We explained Wikipedia as one more way to engage those knowledge seekers:social media is about to start talking with engaged learners; Wikipedia is a great way to start collaborating with them.

Mission and focus

We approached the project with the following mission: If Wikipedia is a virtual (online) door to knowledge and libraries are a real door (offline), we should work together to provide new levels of access to information.

To meet this mission, we focused on the following strategies:

  • Providing information to librarians on how to integrate Wikipedia into the daily work of a library
  • Sharing the movement’s wiki philosophy with librarians (i.e. collaborative work, knowledge sharing and open access to the results of this work)
  • Contributing alongside networks of libraries or cultural institutions encourages participation in the creation of open data and promotion of open access
  • Promoting digital literacy of citizens (Library users)
  • Promoting spread of local contents related to the region and to library’s specific knowledge (for theme libraries).
  • Training librarians and society on copyright terms and Creative Commons licensing



Our very first meeting in Jan 2012

GLAM-Wiki projects in Catalonia started in 2010 with an initial focus on Museums. These were mostly internationally recognized institutions, such as Barcelona’s Picasso Museum or Joan Miró Foundation joined the project; with their support, we were able to engage many others national, art & history museums.

During 2011 David Parreño, a volunteer Wikimedian, became Wikimedian in Residence in a small beach town called Palafrugell. He visited all the cultural institutions in town explaining the benefits of collaborating with Wikipedia (5 pillars, wikimarkup, etc.). During this residency, he was based at the local library, where the librarian discovered the potential of these kind of collaborations. After some months, this particular Palafrugell librarian was named head of Catalan libraries. We were so lucky: It was a shortcut from a pilot project to a national level scale.

Kick off: Let’s do some training

We had then some meetings with the brand new head of Catalan Public Libraries service. There we established both assumptions and expectations and set a very basic first goal: assuming the fact that Wikipedia is now the basic source of information for citizens and librarians’ mission is to facilitate access to information; Catalan Librarians should — at least — know how Wikipedia works.

During summer 2012 Catalan government agreed to support a series of 5 regional trainings to librarians all around Catalonia (one workshop in each major city of the area). Each training consisted in a 4 hours workshop explaining what is Wikipedia, what is GLAM-Wiki, what is free knowledge and why librarians should join the projects. 150 librarians from all around the country where trained in total. With this workshop we got a basic level of understanding what is Wikipedia. The Librarians sector finally understood Wikipedia and the Wikimedia community as friends and not as an mysterious unknown enemy. One of the key succeed factor was that the workshops where not tech oriented on “how” to edit Wikipedia but on the “why”.

First results: Asymmetrical answers from the early birds

Most of the librarians where enthusiastic with the idea of collaborating with Wikipedia, but they didn’t like the media-wiki markup that much. It was 2012 and Visual editor didn’t exist yet. But we had a small group of early adopting librarians (10-20 from the workshop) who started editing Wikipedia and spreading the project among their professional colleagues and library users. In some cases, the braver librarians already conducted public wiki-training activities with library users.

We realized wiki markup was a challenge, so after a couple of meetings the Department of Culture of the Government of Catalonia agreed to fund and print 1,500 copies of the Catalan Version of the Welcome to Wikipedia PDF guide, so both librarians and library users have some quick documentation on learning how to edit.

For the first time, not a single institution but a network of libraries was allied with Wikipedia to collaborate and promoting open access and digital literacy among citizens. Initial results from the workshops and flyers were lower than expected: as a not-yet-official thematic org we didn’t know how to best manage and follow up this momentum.

Nevertheless the project not only meant that librarians were actively involved in editing Wikipedia, but also and above all that librarians were convinced about the importance of creating and disseminating open knowledge, empowering users themselves to also create articles, and encouraging more people to get involved. Libraries can, and should, play an increasingly active role on it, because librarians constitute the link between information, data, and users, just like Wikipedia.

Scale: From 10 to 100 libraries

This is a wikilibrary sticker at libraries front doors

Some of the early-adopting librarians organized edit-a-thons, wiki-takes events, and other Wikimedia activities (see list below). These model events showed colleagues that collaborating with Wikipedia was relatively easy and offered a cool way of engaging with local communities. To reward libraries that self-organized programs, we sent some stickers which could be placed in public places . This strategy of awarding planning the project in a way that libraries was self sustainable at mid term. In fact, these stickers acted as a “recognition” or a “badge” for librarians. More and more librarians wanted to organize wiki projects just because they neighbour library had a sticker and they also wanted one. This helped to move the project and little by little we increased the number of actives libraries from 10 to 30-50.

We then created a Library-specific portal (Wikiproject Libraries) in order to share the experiences of librarians and to offer a “menu of activities” so librarians could follow the projects lead by other members of their profession. This empowered librarians to opt into the Wikimedia program: the models of other colleagues made using the program much more acceptable, and reinforced their ability to get approval from colleagues and supervisors. Moreover, rather than be limited to a particular type of activity, the librarians could choose the kind of activity they felt comfortable with (editing Wikipedia, organizing a workshop or an edit-a-thon, improving WikiCommons related material, releasing Public Domain content…).

Finally we organised a contest where Libraries had their Head Writer (decapçalera): A living local writer agreed to have a favourite library and among other things, the library had to write a proper Wikipedia article about said local writer. This simple project acted as an icebreaker for the less innovative librarians, because improving this Wikipedia article was somehow a mandatory task, but it acted as an icebreaker for them. Finally, they felt editing Wikipedia wasn’t that hard.

One of the key success of this scale period was offering activities & projects for different types of libraries and personas. If you where an innovative librarian, a socializer, a shy one, a task-lover…you could do different kinds of wiki activities related to your interests and level of comfort.

  • Workshops for librarians
  • Workshops for librarians
  • Bibliowiki stickers at the entry door of a library
  • More stickers
  • Local editathon organized by librarians

2017 update

  • More than 200 libraries, are active in the project. Not only from Catalonia but from Catalan speaking areas
  • #Bibliowikis has become a self sustainable project. Public libraries self-organize editathons, wiki takes, and other
  • They feel #1lib1ref as THEIR yearly global project. They do outreach about it in their own professional communication channels (newsletters, mailings…) > Catalan, 2nd language more active after English.
  • We tried to copy to archives but we failed.

Conclusions and outlook

The project has grown unstoppably and continues to expand itself, improving the Amical Wikimedia community. This exponential growth implies a difficulty in calculating the metrics/impact of participation of libraries numerically, since content can be created or expanded, and both options are equally good. Besides, professionals librarians can edit themselves or teach citizens to edit. It is then difficult to estimate the real impact on the number of items of such a large group of Wikipedians. It is impossible to know how many new Wikipedians have created an account because they attended a workshop wiki editing a library.

As the partnership progressed, it became clear that there is also a mutual interest between Amical Wikimedia and the librarians community: the number of female editors in Wikipedia is much lower than the male. The group of professionals of public libraries, by contrast, is made up of more than 80% women. This helps to close the gender gap on Wikipedia.

From this project, it has been revealed that the organization of Wiki activities is the perfect occasion for collaboration with other cultural institutions in a municipality framework. In some cases, local archives and local libraries which had common interests had never collaborated until Amical Wikimedia started collaborating with them, helping them create a synergy. Wikipedia behaves as a neutral playground area where no logos are needed and no fights, no bureaucracy, no board written permission: it’s a free platform that helps small institutions collaborate in an informal way. This is important for us as a result and we promote the idea: GLAM professionals feel Wikipedia is HELPING them to interact with other GLAM professionals) –>

Another intangible valuation is the win-win relationship that is generated from this project: first, the library community incorporates an open and powerful group of volunteer who help them spend their funds in an attractive way. Secondly, Wikipedia benefits from the prestige of being prescribed and promoted from the information professionals of library centers, as guarantors of neutrality and the proper use of information resources. Moroeover, we have started to share our story with other librarians networks (Land of València, Andorra, Basque Country, Italy, Spain…) Some of them have already started to copy our model, creating new communities within their respective regions. Both Amical Wikimedia, Wikimedia projects and the larger library professional network, have had an opportunity to grow. Welcoming the librarians liasons among Wikipedia volunteers, encourages sharing of best practices from both communities, increased transparency in all processes, and positive, impactful work.

  • Sharing our model with Basque Librarians
  • Sharing our model at GLAM-Wiki NL 2015
  • Catalan wikis AGM Viquitrobada took place in a Public library

Specific activities

This project is an open and adaptive initiative, where every library has its own unique characteristics that are taken into account: environment, staff, users, etc. We design a menu of recommended activities (edit-a-thons, trainings, wikitakes…); and among all possible collaborations, each library choose the one that best suits to their reality and environment. From the simplest to organize, such as a small training workshop, to the most complex, such as photographing and cataloging the monuments of the town. Everyone does what they want/can depending on their availability/desire and related communities. To create a sense of commitment in the group, we occasionally organize a joint project for all the active libraries (famous librarians, Wiki Loves…). These are some of the most notable activities/projects done:

  • Basic Wikipedia Workshop: Normally run by a local volunteer. In some cases run by librarian itself. Amical staff acts as B plan when last minute cancels of volunteers or when the workshop is in a library with no volunteers on the area. Library organises the public call to its communities and Amical tries to find a volunteer. Volunteer public transport expenses (if needed) are supported by Amical. It is a good way for starting a small community of editors. Usually 1 workshop per semester or trimester.
  • Printing Wikipedia brochure We co-printed around 3K copies of the “Welcome to Wikipedia guide” so every library got some leaflets to give to interested users. We stopped doing it when Visual editor was implemented by default on our wiki.
  • Bibliowiki sticker at doors: We designed a sticker so wikilibraries can show their users that they promote free knowledge and they are ok with answering wiki-related questions. Libraries could ask for one of these stickers only when they have self-organised a wiki activity.
  • How to use your library: Librarians include “how to use Wikipedia” in their basic educational group visit to the library. When a school visits the library, they teach how to look for information on their computers, and on Wikipedia.
  • Local edit-a-thons: Public libraries are the best at promoting local content and engaging with local specific communities. When organizing an edit-a-thon, Amical commits to send a volunteer trainer, and the library looks for the rest of the attendees: this way we don’t burn experienced users and we welcome newbies.
  • Wiki takes your town: Using the Wikilovesmonuments existing heritage lists to organize an “out of the library” activity, where small teams take a photo scavenger hunt of heritage buildings around the community. Afterwards an Amical volunteer helps with the upload procedure on Wiki Commons.
  • Wiki reading clubs: Most of public libraries have reading clubs. An innovative layer is asking to one of the readers to improve the page concerning the writer or the novel on Wikipedia and to introduce the writer or the novel to the rest of the group of readers on their next meeting.
  • QRpedia: Some libraries in collaboration with the local tourism board organized contests or events to better document and translate local heritage buildings on Wikipedia and later on printed QRpedia codes around the town.
  • Yearly Bibliowikis meeting: To give a sense of community, we organise a once a year a morning meeting with all active wikilibrarians so they can share experiences, fears, and challenges. Lunch is funded by Amical.
  • Librarian trains a Librarian: We encourage expert wikilibrarians to teach and train their colleagues so we can reach more librarians. We treat wikilibrarians as a regular Wikipedia editor, asking them to volunteer.
  • Fav writer: A Public Library chooses a favorite local living writer and works with volunteers to bring their article up to Good Article status. The writers then engage with the library in other activities.
  • Leading a local Wikiproject: Some librarians have gone further and started a Wikiproject:their town. Starting to write about history, people, economy of their town

How to reproduce it in your own city/area

Note: Section based on [1] Model projects design by the Wikipedia Library

Wikimedia workshop oriented to librarians

When talking to a librarian you need to adapt a general Wikimedia workshop to an information professional.


  1. Local library or regional library makes the open call to sector professionals.
  2. Make sure attendees create a Wikipedia account in advance (so you avoid the top 5 limitation)
  3. Focus speech on benefits and mission of Wikipedia as a way of facilitating information to society. Align speech with libraries mission.
  4. Talk about Wikimedia projects. Some focused librarians don’t like Wikipedia but love WIkidata, Wikiquote, Wikisource…offer the menu and let them choose
  5. Talk about Wikimedia activities: edit-a-thon, workshops, online contests…


  • Skills: Public speaking
  • People: We use the technique of a online coordinator and an on site coordinator. This way we can scale our activities
  • Time: 4 hours recommended

Wiki takes your town


  1. Check out if there is a list of monuments of your town in your home language Wikipedia. Here you can check some lists in English
  2. Contact the existing amateur photo groups of your city or look at some social media local tags on Instagram or Twitter and contact these communities
  3. Print some your list of local monuments. If you live in a big city, you can suggest routes or divide the list by areas.
  4. Offer some beverages at the end of the event to make sure people come back to the library once the route is finished
  5. While scheduling the event make sure you have 1 hour or so at the end so participants can upload content on Wikimedia Commons once back at the library.


  • Skills: local Copyright legislation on monuments
  • People: 1 librarian and one Wikimedia Commons volunteer
  • Time: 4 hours recommended

Wiki Reading clubs


  1. Before reading the book, ask a group member if they want to improve/translate the Wikipedia article about the author or about the book’s topic
  2. The club member must edit the Wikipedia article while reading the book
  3. At the next meeting, they will present the article and comment it to the group


  • Skills: Wikipedia editing
  • People: 1 librarian leading the activity
  • Time: 1 hour for writing emails and follow up and some minutes the day of the event

Other general Quick Tips

  • Scaling: We planned the project in a way that is self substainable on mid term
  • Cost: The economic issue is thus another undeniable attraction: libraries do not need to have extra economic resources to contribute to Wikipedia, and to create more of a digital presence for their local knowledge. Moreover, the central printing of the editing Wikipedia guides helped alleviate the cost to individual organizations.
  • One for all it doesn’t work: Some librarians are not that used to “start their own projects”
  • Once you edit, you are a Wikipedian: we tried to avoid the “them and us” terminology. We are all wikipedians. Librarians ARE wikipedians, don’t help Wikipedians -> we tried to welcome everybody into the wiki community.
  • Governance: The project is managed by library staff and volunteers of Amical Wikimedia. Amical’s project coordinator spend 20% of their FTJ coordinating the whole project, in a decreasing way.
  • Who is active: Open list of active libraries: We have an open list of active wiki libraries so they all can compare with each other, ask and share experiences.
  • Giving voice to librarians on outreach activities: We gave voice to librarians when being interviewed about Wikipedia. Instead of answering why we work with librarians, we asked media to talk directly with them. And we invited active wikilibrarians or the head of service when presenting the project at GLAM conferences, so other professionals hear the story from a librarian professional, not only from an enthusiastic volunteer.

Similar projects in other contexts

  • Wikipedia in de Openbare Bibliotheek (Dutch)– A collaboration between Wikimedia Netherlands and the Sectorinstituut Openbare Bibliotheken — a library association.
  • BiblioWikiAsturias (Spanish) – a project in Asturias Spain, which follows much the same model as the Catalan Library Network.
  • #1lib1ref – Campaign that engaged Global Libraries, to add “one more reference to Wikipedia”. The concept also uses
  • METRO Library Consortium WIR – a project with the Metropolitan New York Library Council.

Other documentation

Text originally published here

Africa from the West: a Biased View

Africa is clearly subject to systemic bias: it is under-represented from the point of view of participation, content, and perspective.

The exhibition Making Africa invites us to reflect on how little we know about Africa, and on the fact that we have historically looked at the continent from a Western or Eurocentric perspective, through our own categories and codes. What do we actually know about Africa? Who talks to us? How and why do they do it? Why don’t we know more? How do we look at it?

Questioning the Map

A map is a symbolic representation that draws attention to the relationships between elements within a surface or a space. For many years, the map of Africa was described and drawn under the influence of European or Western colonialism. This gave rise to a historical bias in the way we see the continent and the way we approach a reality that has been presented to us as very remote: Europe as a frame of reference that determines and defines other codes, other categories, other realities. Africa as the “other”, as a share of alterity. As everything that we are not: as that which helms us to define ourselves.

Humans use contradictory geographic and conceptual divisions, in line with our interests. We refer to the concept of “Europe” as the humanist continent par excellence, placing ourselves at the centre of knowledge, with inevitable consequences on our mental map of the rest of the world. Similarly, we often say “America” when we mean the United States, and create subsets like “Latin America”, the “Arab World”, “Black Africa” and the “Catalan Countries” to talk about countries or territories with a shared language or culture. But we don’t use concepts like the “Christian Countries”. Why not? Another interesting example is the change in the way we use the word “Mediterranean”, which used to refer to a centre, and is now employed to refer to a border. A conceptual shift from the Mediterranean as a cradle of civilisations, uniting three continents as one, to the use of the term to define the shoreline of Southern European countries, in comparison to Nordic countries, and even to refer to a border separating us from a world other than our own.

We even use asymmetrical concepts such as Global North and Global South, in which Australia happens to form part of the Global North while China falls into the South. These concepts and others such as “developing countries”, “emerging countries”, and “third world” only contribute to creating a hierarchy in which other parts of the world are placed in different categories, on other levels, where interaction as equals becomes more difficult. These terms more or less inappropriate ways of of avoiding the use of the word “inferior”.

That said… how and when do we refer to the concept of Africa? Can Africa be approached as one whole? Is it appropriate to talk about Africa as a cultural, geographical, or economic unit? If a syntagm is a word or phrase that form a meaningful syntactic unit at the moment that it is written or spoken, we cannot say that Africa behaves as one. Neither as a homogeneous division nor as a unit of knowledge. There are clear cultural, linguistic, and economic differences among the different communities that live in Africa. One characteristics that most African countries do have in common is their colonialist legacy, either as heirs or victims of the same past. Africa is a system made out of elements that interact among each other, and in order to understand it we have to examine these relationships and how they affect the whole, which takes on a meaning beyond the sum of its parts.

So let us rethink the map. Let us question it. Given that all important words are polysemic, let us think about what meaning we or others intend when using the term “Africa”.

Rethinking history

As Nigerian feminist activist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí says, the modern age was marked by a series of historical processes, including the European colonisation of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This process stimulated the development of capitalism and industrialisation, and also the consolidation of nation-states, the increase of regionally inequalities within the international system, and the stratification of the world’s population based on race and gender, leading to a global European-American hegemony.

Africa’s history has been defined and told from the perspective of the West, creating a clear bias in the way we see the continent. The Western narrative concerning African has focused on a historical vision of a “needy” continent, rather than on Africa’s contributions to the history of humanity. Africa is clearly subject to systemic bias: it is under-represented from the point of view of participation, content, and perspective, which means that our starting point is an erroneous a priori model. In order to get around this, we need to increase the number of voices who talk about and from Africa, as well as its contextualisation within global discourse. And we should de this while avoiding superficial quotas or paternalist approaches, recognising valid interlocutors, with a sincere acceptance of the other. This realisation has led some theorists to argue in favour of the decolonisation of knowledge. In 1984, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe defended this idea in an interview in which he quoted an African proverb that is included in the CCCB exhibition: “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

But Western systems of social and knowledge managements are very inflexible, and the academic world only accepts the existence of other groups if they adapt to their own ideas and methodologies. Unfortunately, we often see multiculturalism or integration in term of other groups adapting to our canon.

So how can we make it possible for African institutions to contribute to the global canon without being assimilated? Is the concept of the canon even relevant today? Is it right that African universities should be able to talk about local content but not be considered as valid to talk about science? Would a scientific journal published at the University of Nairobi have the same weight as one published at Harvard? How can we relate to other forms of knowledge, including those which don’t have a written tradition? What elements really favour epistemological exchange? As we can see, there are still many questions that need answers

The dual perspective

Along these lines, Oyěwùmí makes some very interesting reflections on gender analysis from an African perspective, challenging some pre-established Western assumptions.. She questions the very dichotomy between man and woman, for example, linking it to the central role of the nuclear family in European culture as a specific space in which the woman’s role has been historically predefined, and where women fight for liberation. Oyěwùmí provides this necessary double perspective, showing that our reality is not the only reality possible, and our categories are not the only categories possible. She describes examples of different systems of social and family organisation in different African communities, where, historically, the role of women has little to do with the role of women in the West.

Another example, this time from the Arab world, is the Spanish-Syrian Arabist researcher Sirin Adlbi Sibai, who studies Islamic feminisms and offers an overview of the situation, while suggesting the creation and development of a decolonical Islamic discourse. Sirin Adlbi Sibai shows us a different way of seeing Islam, particularly Islamic women, based on the premise that contemporary Islamic thought is also influenced by the classic forms of power imported from Western modernity. She also points out that intercultural dialogue will continue to be difficult if we in the West assume that our own categories are universal and insist on using them to try and understand other cultures and other value systems.

In the midst of the current identity crisis, Europe needs Africa more than ever. We are in the process of reaffirming and questioning ourselves, but we are strengthening our own codes and denying the rest, building walls and boundaries that delimit our identity. By trying to turn Europe into a safe space in this way, the rest of the world becomes, by definition, not safe. This awareness of our own fragility has given rise to populisms that are on the threshold (or already inside) several European parliaments, with identity discourses that reject and criminalise the other for being different.

One way of fighting this discourse of fear is to learn more about the other. As Carlos Bajo explains in an interesting article in this same blog, the internet and social media are leading thousands of African voices to speak up and claim their share of attention. Hundreds of groups and collectives have sprung up, carrying out political and social actions in order to dismantle the current status quo in different African countries. After centuries of silencing them, the least we can do now is lend an ear. We can all increase the diversity and the number of voices we absorb every day on our timelines, and try to find this necessary dual perspective. Africa as a mirror that addresses, defines, and questions us.


Wikidata: The New Rosetta Stone

Archive of marine geological samples of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany, 2007

With more than fifteen million items compiled in the space of just three years, Wikidata is set to become the main open data repository worldwide. The eagerly awaited promise of linked open data seems to have finally arrived: a multilingual, totally open database in the public domain, which can be read and edited by both humans and machines. A lot more free information, accessible to many more people, in their own language. The structure of the Wikidata information system and the open format allows us to make complex, dynamic queries, such as: what are largest cities in the world with a female lord mayor or the number of ministers who are themselves the children of ministers, to name just two of innumerable examples. Wikidata is a new step forward in the democratisation of access to information, which is why the most important thing right now is the questions we ask ourselves: what information do we want to compile? How can we contextualise it? How does this new tool affect knowledge management?

With the introduction of the Internet, we now assume that information is just a click away. Thousands of people around the world post their creations online without expecting anything in return: guide books, manuals, photos, videos, tutorials, encyclopaedias and databases. All of it information at our fingertips. To ensure that the sum of all this knowledge reaches all human beings in their own language, free of charge, the Wikimedia Foundation runs many projects, free of charge, with one of the most successful being Wikipedia. The English version of Wikipedia reached five million entries in October 2015. But this version is culturally biased, with an over-representation of Western culture. In fact, it only includes 30% of the items entered in the other 287 languages that form part of the Wikipedia project, which now has a total of more than 34 million articles. Many of the articles that refer to a particular culture only exist in the language of that culture, as can be seen just by looking at the maps of geolocated items. There is a lot of work to be done: it is estimated that in order to cover all human knowledge, an encyclopaedia today should have over 100 million articles. Now that we know that it is possible and that everything is just a click away, we want to have the biographies of all the Hungarian writers available in a language that we understand, and we want it now. Local wiki communities around the world try to compile their own culture in their own language as best they can, but they often have limited capacity to influence the main body of the overall project. There are thousands of articles about Catalans in the Catalan version of Wikipedia, but there are not so many in the Spanish version, much less the French, and much, much less the English version. How can we disseminate our culture internationally if we’re still trying to compile it in our own language? How can we access information that is not written in any of the languages that we are fluent in? The defense of online multilinguism entails as many challenges as opportunities.

Data is beautiful. Data is information.

For this reason among many others, in 2012 the Wikimedia foundation created Wikidata: a collaborative, multilingual database that aims to provide a common source for certain types of data such as dates of birth, coordinates, names, and authority records, managed collaboratively by volunteers around the world. This means that when a change of government occurs, for example, simply updating the corresponding element on Wikidata will automatically update all the applications that are linked to it, be it Wikipedia or any other third-party application. It means that we do not have to constantly reinvent the wheel. This collaborative model helps to reduce the effects of the existing cultural diglossia, given that small communities can have a greater global impact in a more efficient manner. In the medium term, all Wikidata queries will include data from all over the world, not just from the cultures or historical communities with greater power to influence. A search for “doctors who graduated before they turned 20”, for example, will not only display French and English doctors, but also doctors from Taiwan and Andorra.

This project opens up a whole new world of possibilities, for collaboration and for using the data: Wikidata game allows users to make thousands of small contributions while playing, even from a mobile phone while waiting for a bus. Inventaire allows people to share their favourite books, and Histropedia offers a new way of visualising history through timelines. Meanwhile, scientists from around their world are uploading their research databases, and the cultural sector is building a database of paintings from all over the world . All of these projects run on the Wikidata engine, which is becoming a new international standard.

And why Wikidata and not some other project? Internet standards do not necessarily become accepted because of their ability to generate authority, but because of their capacity to generate traffic, or their capacity to be updated. The winner is not the best, but the one that can assemble the greatest number of users and be updated more quickly. This is one of the strengths of the Wikidata project, given that thousands of volunteers are constantly updating the information. As a result, any application or project based on big data can take advantage of all of this structured knowledge, and do so free of charge. All of this means that we have to reconsider the role that traditional agents of knowledge (universities, research centres, cultural institutions) want to play, and the role or the possible role of the repositories of authorities around the world, now that new tools are mixing and matching and creating a new centrality.

Cultural institutions, for example, have to deal with the challenge of the lack of standard matching criteria used to document artworks in their catalogues, such as for example: dimensions with frame, without frame, with or without passe-partout, descriptions in text format, number fields… institutions have to bring order to their own data at home before opening up to the world. Being open means interoperability. Many institutions are already adapting: authority file managers such as VIAF are openly collaborating with Wikidata, and MoMA has also started using it in its catalogue. In Catalonia, Barcelona University, in collaboration with Amical Wikimedia, is behind one of groundbreaking projects in this field, which aims to create an open database of all works of Catalan Modernism.

Data is not knowledge. Data is not objective.

Data in itself is not knowledge. It is information. With the emergence of a new, very dense ecology of data that is accessible to everybody, we run the risk of trying to over-simplify the world: a description, no matter how detailed, will not necessarily make us understand something. Knowing that Dostoyevsky was born in 1821 and died in 1881 and that he was an existentialist is not the same as understanding Dostoyevsky or existentialism. Now more than ever, we need tools that will help us to contextualise information, to develop our own point of view, and to generate knowledge based on this information, in order to promote a society with a strong critical spirit. And we shouldn’t forget that data in itself is not objective either, even though it supposedly purports to be neutral. Data selection is a bias in itself. The decision of whether or not to analyse the gender, origin, religion, height, eye colour, political position, or nationality of a human group can condition the subsequent analysis. Codifying or failing to codify a particular item of information within a data set can both inform and disguise a particular reality. Data is useless without interpretation.

The impact of the emergence of Wikipedia on traditional print encyclopaedias is common knowledge. What will be the impact of Wikidata? In line with the wiki philosophy, the work is done collaboratively in an asymmetric but ongoing process. We can all collaborate in the creation and maintenance of the content, but also of the vocabulary, of the properties of different items, and of the taxonomies used to classify the information. We are deciding how to organise existing information about the world, and we are doing it in an open, participatory manner, as an example of the potential of technology. We know that human knowledge evolves cumulatively, and that Western culture is essentially inherited. Our reality is determined, in a sense, through the technological, social, political, and philosophical advances of those who came before us. This means that today’s generations don’t have to discover electricity all over again, for example. We enjoy the fruits of the efforts of our ancestors. But the Internet, for the first time, allows us to be involved in a phenomenon that will mark human history: we are defining and generating a new information ecosystem that will become the foundation for a possible cognitive revolution. And we are lucky to be able to participate, question, and improve it as it evolves. Together, we can participate in a historic project on a par with humanity’s greatest advances. We can create a new Rosetta Stone that can serve as an open, transparent key to unlock the secrets of today’s world, and perhaps as a documentary source for future generations or civilisations. Let us take responsibility for it