“What does the world need from us now?”
In my role as the Wikimedia Foundation’s Vice President of Partnerships, Programs, and Grantmaking, I keep coming back to the question that Maryana Iskander first posed when she joined the organization. What we believe the world needs from us naturally changes based on where we sit.
Last year, as part of our annual planning process, the WMF Partnerships team shared a list of external trends that we believed were likely to significantly impact the context in which the Wikimedia movement operates. Our focus at the time was on the changing nature of search, the astronomical rise in the global demand for content, and rich media content in particular, and the concerning rise of misinformation and disinformation. We heard from many in our movement about additional trends that our movement faces that we didn’t include in that list, but that are critical to how we as a movement operate, including the de-prioritization of investigative journalism, and the damage to GLAM institutions wrought by the global pandemic.
This year, we set out to update that list, and sought input from Foundation staff in our Global Advocacy, Product, and Trust & Safety teams to help us understand what is happening in the world that is likely to have significant implications for our movement. As was true last year, this is not a comprehensive list of threats and opportunities facing our movement, rather it is one perspective on a few of the most pressing issues we face.
And, we know that a variety of perspectives makes for a clearer picture of reality, and better-informed decisions, so we are requesting the help of the wider movement to share their thoughts on these topics. We welcome and encourage your feedback on the draft ideas below on our talk page.
Search & Content
Update from 2022: social platforms continue to disrupt traditional search engines, but AI threatens even more significant disruption
- Personality-driven experiences are increasingly drawing younger audiences to social platforms (TikTok, Instagram) and away from traditional search engines.
- Social platforms are testing out new search features to keep users engaged. Traditional search engines are testing different strategies to stay competitive and remain destinations – which reduce SEO ranking of content in external search results links.
- The explosion of sophisticated AI could benefit knowledge creation and consumption, but creates uncertainty for our role in the knowledge ecosystem.
- In just 2 months, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer web application of all time. New AI models and tools built on them could benefit knowledge creation and consumption, but the nature of AI exacerbates challenges around attribution and disintermediation.
- These trends could help us advance our mission – or erode our sustainability.
- Increased competition in search and the rise of AI present opportunities to bring free knowledge to more of the world (in new ways) than ever before. They also present major open questions and risks to our organization, projects, and movement
- Information warfare is intensifying.
- Information warfare as political and geopolitical weapon by governments and political movements is intensifying and growing more complex/subtle, while also growing more dangerous (disinformation campaigns are increasingly accompanied by physical threats, blackmail, arrests etc.).
- Machine-generated content is expanding.
- The ability of artificial systems to generate quality content is expanding, and crucially, its societal mainstreaming is unfolding fast in most major markets. How Wikimedia positions itself could help shape the field.
- Encrypted disinformation and misinformation attack vectors are growing.
- Digital privacy and information warfare fears push disinformation further into closed channels where encryption makes monitoring and prediction more challenging, allowing disinformation to thrive and polarization to further advance. As an open platform counter to this damaging trend (monitor-able, stewarded, cared for, public and open) we can show our form/method as a functionally addressing the problem.
- Wikimedia has become a legitimate target.
- In 2022, disinformation narratives and dedicated attacks against the movement, individual volunteers, and the Foundation also increased, creating increasingly severe risks for our volunteers and for the Foundation’s reputation.
Wikimedia has become more international as an organization, which means that more laws of more countries apply to us.
To protect our projects and people, we will need to comply with an increasingly broad range of laws around the world. We must be prepared to fight against harmful government actions in court and publicly advocate against harmful laws in even more countries as we continue to grow.
- More is demanded of hosting providers than ever before.
- Governments are under increased political pressure to address a grab bag of perceived harms and biases online. This year, two cases challenging seminal internet law CDA 230 will be heard by the US Supreme Court, potentially disrupting well-established intermediary protections that platforms like Wikipedia rely upon. Meanwhile, penalties for hosting harmful content are growing, including criminal liability in some cases like the UK Online Safety Bill.
- Lawmakers aren’t thinking about Wikipedia.
- Legislation continues to conflate Wikimedia with for-profit platforms. Few policy makers understand Wikimedia’s volunteer-led content moderation model. We need to educate governments and policy influencers about Wikimedia’s model – and how laws should protect and support it.
- Our relationship with for-profit tech platforms is important and complicated.
- We need each other. But to protect Wikimedia’s model, projects, and people from harmful regulation lawmakers and policy influencers must be educated about how we are different from large for-profit platforms. We can accomplish this with positive messaging to lawmakers and policy influencers about how our volunteer-led model works and movement’s positive role in society.
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