Decolonising the internet: Whose knowledge is it?


“What kind of people we become depends crucially on the stories we are nurtured on.”

This quote by Nigerian journalist and critic, Chinweizu Ibekwe beautifully sums up the need to decolonise much of the knowledge that we have been passed on for so long. Be it curated histories, salvaged anthropologies, non-inclusive health and science standards or dominating languages, much of what we read, think and consume has been formed and developed by western, mostly-male perspectives. 

internet wikipedia knowledge
Image: Whose Knowledge?

In the olden times, it was books and scriptures. Today, the same knowledge has been transferred to the world wide web where information is available in less than 7% of the world’s 7000 languages. The most common platform of accessing any information, Wikipedia, too is reportedly ‘colonial’. Studies conducted by Oxford Internet Institute show how ‘84% of Wikipedia articles focus on Europe and North America, and most articles written about the Global South are still written by those in the Global North.’ Moreover,  ‘20% of the world (primarily white male editors from North America and Europe) edits 80% of Wikipedia currently.’

With more than three-quarters of internet traffic coming from the Global South and with more than half of internet servers being in Europe and America; the construction of the internet has largely been western. The consequences of this have been, and could still be in the future, disastrous in terms of the gaps in knowledge and power-relations that we have come to internalise in a world that is slowly moving towards gentrification; as languages are lost and indigenous cultures are corrupted. 

The post-colonial world is slowly realizing this and attempts towards decolonising the world has become of interest for several social scientists and activists of the Global South. The diversity of the theories that have followed from various regions and the agency it has given to the colonised, has truly come to form the spirit of the movement. Holding salvage anthropologists accountable, calling out the white saviour complex, encouraging intersectional and inclusive approaches and understanding indigenous voices, several social initiatives have now emerged at the forefront of the movement, seeking to decolonise minds. One organisation strongly carrying this movement is doing so by decolonising the world wide web. ‘Whose Knowledge’ is a “global campaign to centre the knowledge of marginalized communities (the majority of the world) on the internet.”

Image: Whose Knowledge?

Working to ‘radically re-imagine and re-design the internet’; Whose Knowledge is a UK-based initiative working with women, people of colour, LGBTQI communities, indigenous peoples and others from the Global South to build and represent more of all of our knowledge online. Founded by Adele Vrana, the former Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Wikimedia Foundation and Anusuya Sengupta, former Chief Grantmaking Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation; Whose Knowledge has been running several unique campaigns and activities to not just make the public information online more inclusive and authentic, but also exploring and minimising the harms and online violence caused by ‘political and socio-economic dimensions of digital surveillance’.

Some of Whose Knowledge’s most successful campaigns include the #VisibleWikiWomen that aims to shed light on the contribution and knowledge of women to light, that has often remained invisible. Through online edit-a-thons, it plans to bring ‘5000 images of notable women’, with a ‘special effort to increase the images of influential black, brown, indigenous and trans women’ to Wikimedia Commons that includes the 299 language versions of Wikipedia. 

They are also in the process of creating a ‘State of the Internet’s Languages Report’, with Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and Oxford Internet Institute (OII) to outline the existing inequalities in languages online. The report draws upon the contributions and reflections received from their open call on  ‘Decolonising the Internet’s Languages’. 

Whose Knowledge has also been partnering with several community action groups, such as Equality Lab to organize the ‘Dalit History Month’; Okvir, a feminist LGBTQI group in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have been collecting digital histories for a queer archive and more. Keeping the conversation alive, through their social media handles; along with delivering talks at various educational institutions including SOAS; Whose Knowledge is committed to ‘build and defend an internet of, for and by all.’

To achieve this, they have put out an open call for volunteers to support them in their social media endeavours, producing podcasts, content curation and more — find out how to get involved.

Learn more about Whose Knowledge.

Devyani Nighoskar is a SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. Check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo

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