Religion has become one of the most contested and “vandalized” topics on Wikipedia, the collaboratively edited online encyclopedia.
In a July 24 Religion News Service article (with support by Google), Sarah Pulliam Bailey notes that religion is among several of the top 100 altered topics on Wikipedia. She cites a recent list by the FiveThirtyEight Data Lab, among the most edited topics on the site are Jesus, the Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muhammad, Islam and Scientology.
Volunteer editors of Wikipedia, known as Wikipedians, often face a challenge in stopping online hate speech directed toward religious subjects, people and groups.
Bailey reports that Mormonism has been another contested topic, with church adherents and opponents often sparring via their additions and subtractions of controversial topics related to the religion, particularly polygamy and sacred but secret temple rituals.
Part of the tension comes from the diverse makeup of Wikipedians—“a large percentage self-identify as atheists, followed by Christians, Muslims, ‘Pastafarians’ (devotees of a satirical religion known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and Jews,” she adds. Most of the edits to Wikipedia articles, especially the ones on religion, are made by men, with women accounting for just seven percent of the edits, according to a 2011 University of Minnesota study.
It is particularly the smaller religions that have the most passionate editors, although the more obscure ones are covered less adequately. One editor says that “An enemy (or friend) of a `cult’ in Equador could find sources supporting their personal positions and the obscurity of the topic in English will make it hard or impossible for most of us to confirm or deny.”
He adds that by using Wikipedia’s rules of independent verification, it can be difficult to confirm facts about religions and religious figures, “especially when there’s a range of opinions about what events took place and what they mean.”