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Cultural power in the online world: are we being skewed?

How does language determine what we know or how we experience the world?
As the online realm increasingly converges with our offline experiences, it raises an important question: whose knowledge dominates these new spaces? Whose voices are missing, and what are the consequences of these inequities?

Dr Martin Dittus from the Oxford Internet Institute will present his groundbreaking work into who shapes the narrative online, demonstrating why cultural representation and global participation matter.

Wikipedia is the most prominent example. As the world’s fifth most visited website it has become a new site of cultural power, shaping how people relate to the world. And while, in theory, content can be created by anyone, Dr Dittus’s research tells a different story.

There remain significant imbalances. What about Indigenous languages and knowledge? Many populations are absent in Wikipedia’s community of contributors. As a result, the knowledge of their places is not captured in the online encyclopedia, and even when it is, it is often written by people who are outsiders to these places.

Recognising this, the Wikimedia community has introduced the concept of 'knowledge equity' as an important strategic concern. "We will strive to counteract structural inequalities to ensure a just representation of knowledge and people in the Wikimedia movement."

In this event, Dr Dittus will give a keynote address that focuses on Wikipedia as well as the language geography of Google Maps. How does language influence results? As with Wikipedia, coverage varies across languages. As a result, someone searching for restaurants in Arabic may be sent to a different part of town than searching for restaurants in Hebrew.

Professor Jakelin Troy will respond with insights from Indigenous language developments and Professor Annamarie Jagose will moderate a brief conversation.

This Sydney Ideas event will open the international conference Worlds of Wikimedia: communicating and collaborating across languages and cultures, which will be held at the University of Sydney from 12-14 June.

This event was held on Wednesday 12 June at the University of Sydney.

The speaker

Martin Dittus is a digital geographer and data scientist at the Oxford Internet Institute, with a focus on mass-participation platforms and social computing. In his research he analyses and visualises emerging online practices at a large scale. Together with Mark Graham he is currently researching the information geography of Wikipedia.

Jakelin Troy is a Ngarigu woman whose country is the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. She is currently Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney. Throughout her life she has worked on issues of language loss and regeneration – work which has frequently taken her into the archive to search out words, people and ideas

Annamarie Jagose is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. She is internationally known as a scholar in feminist, lesbian/gay and queer studies. She is the author of four scholarly monographs, most recently Orgasmology, a critical consideration of orgasm across the long twentieth century. Annamarie is also an award-winning novelist. Her last novel, Slow Water, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and won the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

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