Wikipedia - Fighting the Coronavirus 'infodemic'

06:13 PM May 14, 2020 | Team Udayavani |

As the number of coronavirus cases has shot up to more than 78,000, Indians across the country are faced with new orders to curb the spread of the pandemic from lockdowns and travel restrictions to curfews and work-from-home directives. At the same time, there is a thirst for news and information about the pandemic and its effects, giving rise to hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and a tide of misinformation.


The World Health Organisation has warned against an “infodemic” of inaccurate information “that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” This is the monumental challenge that local Wikipedia volunteers are tackling as they add, review, and improve COVID-19 information in English and ten other Indic languages on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia articles about the pandemic are capturing global attention, with more than 20 million views on the main pandemic article on English Wikipedia since January 2020. Given Wikipedia’s citation policies, each of these articles is supported by reliable, verified sources of information and many of them are under special protection to prevent the spread of misinformation.

“I started editing Wikipedia because I thought that as a doctor and a researcher, it was my responsibility to provide the world with accurate information,” said Netha Hussain, who has been a Wikipedia contributor for nearly ten years. “With COVID-19 cases rising in India, this personal mission for me has become even more important. This is the reason why I’m working with so many others in India to ensure that we collaborate across different efforts to provide public with the latest and most up-to-date data and information.”

Wikimedia volunteers recognize that there is a critical lack of health information available online in Indic languages and have started widespread efforts to make information freely accessible to all Indians. This issue becomes even more urgent during a global health crisis when people are in dire need of relevant, up-to-date, and accessible information. Volunteers are focused on adding health information to Wikipedia in 10 Indic languages, as well as contributing  to the English language Wikipedia article about the coronavirus outbreak in India. The page has received an average of 200,000 visits per day since early February.


The Wikiproject India initiative is working closely with various groups to improve information about India in Wikidata, the central database that organizes information across Wikimedia projects. The Wikidata Covid-19 task force has recently built a Covid-19 Dashboard for India that shows national, as well as state-wide trajectories of the spread of the disease.

“Wikipedia readers get the latest number of cases, and the number of people who recovered by districts and states. The data is sourced daily from reputable organizations like the World Health Organizations, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as from bulletins published by local governments,” said Jinoy Tom Jacob, who has been a Wikipedia contributor since 2017. “This is why Wikidata is so important to this work, because it collects and organizes the numbers from the bulletins in a way that enhances Wikipedia articles about the pandemic.”

As COVID-19 cases across India grow, Wikipedia projects are partnering with others to join their efforts. One initiative, SWASTHA – a play on the Sanskrit word for health – works with India’s National Health Authority and Ministry of Health as well as with international pandemic control experts from Johns Hopkins University in the United States and the World Health Organisation in Switzerland.

In addition to local partners, COVID-19 information on Wikipedia is supported by WikiProject Medicine, which includes doctors and experts from around the globe. WikiProject Medicine has produced more 35,000 medical articles across different languages that are monitored by more than 150 editors.

In 2014 at the height of public health concerns around the Ebola virus, volunteers with WikiProject Medicine translated the article about Ebola into more than 50 different languages so people living in affected communities could access neutral, reliable information about the virus. These efforts were later recognized when Wikipedia was classified as one of the trusted internet sources for information about Ebola in The New York Times.

Wikipedia and its sister projects follow an open editing model designed to prevent bias. This model gives people of all backgrounds and political persuasions the ability to edit articles, bringing people together across borders and cultures to create neutral information about everything from arts and culture, to more serious topics like coronavirus. Against all odds, Wikipedia’s volunteer editors are holding back the tide of coronavirus misinformation


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