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Catalan Wikipedia – where activists meet to create change

Although Catalan is sometimes considered a minority language, Viquipèdia is the 19th largest Wikipedia site with 743,000 articles

Wikipedians Àlex Hinojo, Carme Fenoll, Núria Ribas, and Xavier Dengra
Wikipedians Àlex Hinojo, Carme Fenoll, Núria Ribas, and Xavier Dengra / Francesc Meseguer/Xavier Dengra/Núria Ribas/Lea Beliaeva Bander

Lea Beliaeva Bander | @leabander | Barcelona

February 17, 2024 02:15 PM

February 17, 2024 04:17 PM

In January 2001, the world saw the birth of a new English-language online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, which would grow to become one of the ten most visited sites on the internet. Created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the idea was to create a free content encyclopedia that would be written by volunteers.   

In March of the same year, the Catalan version, called Viquipèdia, followed, the third Wikipedia site to be created.  

Although Catalan is sometimes considered a minority language, estimated to be spoken by around 10 million people worldwide, Viquipèdia is the 19th largest Wikipedia page.  

"We have almost reached 745,000 articles," says Xavier Dengra, an editor and digital activist. "So we are really close to three-quarters of a million, which will be a huge milestone." 

Dengra is one of about 1,200 Catalan editors, or Wikipedians, and he started more than 15 years ago as a high school student when he realized that the information he was looking for – a recipe for mashed potatoes – was not available in Catalan.  

"I couldn't find the article. And there was a sentence that said, 'This article doesn't exist yet, but you can help edit it.' And I said, 'Okay, let's go'. And from that moment on, I've felt drawn to the project, to the idea of sharing the knowledge that I have." 

Xavier's story is far from unique; in fact, many Wikipedians start when they come across a page with a red link, indicating that the article doesn't yet exist.  

"You start because you see something that's wrong or missing, like a source, and then you end up editing a larger number of pages," explains Núria Ribas, who is part of the 15% minority of female Wikipideans. She is also the president of Amical Wikimedia, a Catalan association that promotes the editing of Wikipedia in Catalan. 

Àlex Hinojo also caught the editing bug back in 2007 and has since contributed to more than 80,0000 articles on a variety of topics. 

All articles on Wikipedia are collaboratively edited, as some write new entries, others add sources, and still others correct spelling or add photos.  

Good faith, reliability and vandalism  

Given that the platform is open to anyone who wishes to join, the reliability of Wikipedia's sources is open to question.  

"We assume good faith," says Xavier, but adds that the most important part of being an editor is to always cite sources when editing and to avoid topics that are personal. 

"Edit whatever you want, but please don't edit about your family or workplace – we call that conflict of interest, he explains. 

To improve reliability, Amical Wikimedia joined forces with Catalan libraries in 2012. Their latest collaboration is part of the 1Lib1Ref campaign, or One Librarian, One Reference (known as 1Bib1Ref in Catalan and Spanish), which invites librarians to edit or improve articles by adding citations.  

By participating in this campaign, librarians who edit at least one article by adding a reference add "credibility" to a Wikipedia, that "sometimes has problems with sources and traceability," explains Carme Fenoll, a Wikipedian and a coordinator of the Catalan libraries and the collaboration. 

On the other hand, when someone deliberately adds false information or deletes entire pages, as happened to the Wikipedia biography of Donald Trump during his 2015 presidential campaign, this constitutes vandalism.  

It often happens with polemic topics, and Xavier stresses that "it’s not actually a joke or funny" because it undermines the quality of the articles and increases the workload of the Wikipedians. 

Language and culture activists 

According to Xavier, Catalan Wikipedians are "language activists." "We all share a love for the language and want to see Catalan flourish in the future," he says. 

For Àlex, being a Wikipedian means "contributing to your own culture and language and making your reality accessible to more people.

He stresses that the best way to get an accurate picture of your own history and culture is to learn about it in your own language, because an encyclopedia – even one like Wikipedia, which strives for neutrality – is "a biased source."  

"If you look up the terms 'nation', 'freedom', 'liberty', 'state' in Spanish, Catalan, English, or French, you will get different ideas," says Àlex, adding that the Catalonia's Reapers' War (La Guerra dels Segadors in Catalan) is translated as the 'Mutiny of Catalonia' (la Sublevación de Cataluña) in Spanish.  

"We have another article called the 'Conquest of Mallorca', when the Catalan people went to Mallorca, but it says that we conquered Mallorca, not that we invaded it, so this shows the bias of every single piece of knowledge." 

However, both Àlex and Xavier agree that different versions of history are not necessarily bad. 

"It's good that not every Wikipedia in every language is homogeneous, because it represents a diversity of culture, which is what Wikipedia aims to create," says Xavier. 


Bias on Wikipedia 

Although Wikipedia strives for neutrality and diversity, the Catalan Wikipedians point to some major weaknesses of the encyclopedia, related to gender bias and Eurocentrism. 

On Viquipèdia, nearly 85% of all editors are male, while that number is 90% on Wikipedia as a whole. "We need more women on board, not just to participate, but also to reduce a lot of the bias that the project has," Àlex says. 

"As a society, we have gender bias, Eurocentrism, and every bias that we could acquire, and in that sense, Wikipedia is a reflection of society, and we have black holes," admits Núria, who along with Àlex urges more editors to join the project.  

Edit-a-thons to diversify and build community 

The main way to attract more editors and improve the content of Wikipedia is through edit-a-thons, which are in-person or online events where Wikipedians improve specific topics and create new biographies.  

Through edit-a-thons the number of biographies written about women in Catalan has increased from 15,000 to nearly 40,000 in six years, meaning that biographies about women now make up 20% of all biographies in Catalan. 

Another benefit of edit-a-thons is that they can create a sense of community, explains Núria, who says she was "born as a Wikipedian" at a Viquidones (Wikiwomen) edit-a-thon. 

"We have Catalan people or people editing in Catalan pretty much all over the globe, but sometimes you can feel isolated, so it's good to be part of a group that gets to together from time to time and have a sense of community," she says, adding that the community is what has kept her editing for more than ten years.  

Digital activism in a polarized time 

Núria, Àlex and Xavier see editing on Wikipedia as a form of digital activism.  

"Digital activism is related to free knowledge," says Xavier. "There aren’t that many projects left like Wikipedia that promote participation, horizontal collaboration." 

Similarly, Àlex says we live in an era of "the ego internet: 'Give me a like', 'give me a retweet'," he imitates. "We do it the other way around, and I give my time to the community because I want to educate people, and I want people to have access to knowledge in their language."  

For Xavier, Wikipedia helps create a freer and more democratic internet, which he says has seen "increasing privatization" of information that was once free over the past decade.  

Becoming an editor "is probably the best way of making a difference if you're an activist," says Àlex, adding, "And it's so easy to become an editor, you just go to an article and click 'edit'. 

Núria concludes that "if you want a different reality, you have to start creating it or writing about it, otherwise it doesn't exist." 

Listen to the latest episode of our podcast Filling the Sink to learn more about the Catalan Wikipedia.