Do you know who Ada Lovelace is? She is considered the world's first computer programmer. I never would have known that the first computer programmer was a woman, if it wasn't for one website: Wikipedia. It's the site many people go to seeking quick biographical information -- in my case, what Lovelace looked like, her legacy. But today, if you click on Lovelace's name above, you won't have access to the Wikipedia page linked to it. You'll have to click around among Google search results to get a broad view of different accounts and opinions of her to make sure you have a complete, balanced picture. Looking Lovelace up on Wikipedia today isn't possible for a two very important reasons: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).
As a female contributor to Wikipedia, since 2004, I've come to terms with my geekiness. I have written over 200 articles for Wikipedia -- on subjects ranging from the history of small towns in Tennessee to artist Louise Nevelson (and yes, I have a life!). But I've also had to recently come to terms with something not as fun as my geekiness: Only 9 percent of people who contribute articles to Wikipedia are women. Face this reality: We're the 6th most popular website on the Internet, and the majority of the content on it has been written by men. That includes articles on menstruation, vaginas ... oh, and Ada Lovelace. Her article was written by guys too. Don't get me wrong, we appreciate those guys who care about quality educational content, especially about our private parts. But wouldn't it be great if those articles were written by women?
As I write this at 11:15 pm on January 17, I watch our team of staff and volunteers slowly black out Wikipedia, and I realize something: We 9 percent are losing our voice on the 6th most popular website in the world during this blackout. Meaning that if Wikipedia was to "go dark" forever, the implications would be devastating, not only on a broad level, but also with regard to the representation of women online. While women may contribute to Facebook more then men, our voices get heard there only by family and friends -- and their friends and friends of friends, if we're lucky. Women don't get heard as users of Google, the most popular website on earth (and neither do men, for that matter). But in contributing to Wikipedia, women not only get heard, we help build the site. We participate. Whether it's the content we write or the photographs we take -- we can control and curate what Wikipedia shares. Through our voices (neutral, of course, this is Wikipedia, after all), we can represent the voices not being heard: the voices of women who aren't currently represented as well on Wikipedia -- feminists, musicians, scholars -- on subjects women enjoy. It's not that this subject matter isn't represented, it is just represented poorly. For example: For a long time the article "hairdresser" redirected to the article about barbers. Recently, I and a team of editors helped create the article and write the history of hairdressers. Oh, and the article about fashion? It doesn't even mention Coco Chanel. Wikipedia isn't complete if everyone isn't contributing, and everyone isn't.
So what can you do to make Wikipedia a stronger, more diverse landscape of free information? First, help us get past this sensitive situation regarding potential censorship by the United States government. SOPA and PIPA would allow the federal government to control user generated content online -- meaning that websites like Wikipedia and others, which rely on your contributions, could be permanently "blacked out" or have user-generated content removed if the feds get their way. Second, contribute to Wikipedia! Get involved in the community: write or help improve an article about a subject you love, throw an editing party with your friends, and realize that your contributions really do make a difference. Large or small, they are read by millions of visitors a day. Imagine what your contributions to the world's free encyclopedia could do for other women reading.
And if for no other reason, do it for Ada. Do it for the women who have came before us -- on behalf of them. Share their stories so that other generations will discover quality content, for free, online, about these amazing women. Do it for those women who are exploring their sexuality for the first time, or perhaps learning about their partner's newly diagnosed illness. Do it to learn more about culture and about what inspires you.
SOPA and PIPA have been developed to deprive us, regardless of gender, of control over one area of our lives where we still can have control -- what we contribute to the Internet. If we cannot control where our voices are heard and what information we share, what does that mean for generations after us? Wikipedia was founded on the principle of sharing free knowledge with the world. If that's not empowering, what is?
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