Stories from the anti-disinformation repository: Why Wikimedia is an antidote to disinformation

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In recent years, the proliferation of online disinformation has raised important concerns regarding the accessibility of trustworthy information. Wikipedia and other Wikimedia free and open knowledge projects provide a response to this disinformation crisis by offering accurate and reliable information in over 300 languages so people around the world can navigate the maze that is online content. The free encyclopedia’s contributions have been instrumental in empowering users and advancing the democratization of knowledge spanning various topics and disciplines. 

Wikimedia volunteer contributors work everyday to ensure that content in the Wikimedia projects is accurate, well-sourced, and balanced, and to fend off disinformation campaigns and correct misinformation. These efforts are especially crucial in regions where access to educational resources and alternative means of information are limited or censored. In 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation set out to identify initiatives and projects that communities of volunteers, affiliates, and the Foundation have developed to counter disinformation. This work led to the creation of the Anti-Disinformation Repository, a collection of all tools and activities showing why and how Wikimedia is an antidote to disinformation.

This story is part of a three-part series drawn from the repository and that showcases the Wikimedia communities’ commitment to fighting disinformation.

Improving digital databases about victims and political disappearances during the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship

In Brazil, members of the Wikimedia user group Wiki Movimento Brasil volunteers used Wikidata—a project within the Wikimedia ecosystem—to consolidate and improve the accuracy of historical records about human rights violations. Wikidata is a free and open knowledge base that can be read and edited by both humans and machines, and functions as a common source for other Wikimedia projects. Thanks to its structured data, interoperability and open-access model, it serves as a valuable resource for improving content not only within the Wikiverse, but also across various platforms and applications.

The project has enabled Wikimedians in Brazil to organize collaborative efforts and partnerships to curate data of crimes committed during the military dictatorship of 1964-1967. Sharing accurate records about past abuses is instrumental in mitigating the risk and potential impact of disinformation campaigns aimed at erasing the historical memory of dictatorship in Brazil. Wikidata has equipped researchers, activists, and the public to confront attempts to distort historical narratives, thereby safeguarding the truth and ensuring that the lessons of the past are not forgotten.

Between 1964 and 1985, the civic-military dictatorship in Brazil enforced extensive censorship and perpetrated numerous human rights abuses, including institutionalized torture, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances. Throughout this period, the clandestine curation, structuring, and cataloging of records of human rights violations played a central role in collective memory projects concerning the dictatorship. These efforts began in the late 1970s when the Brasil: Nunca Mais (in English, Brazil: Never Again) project started to systematize information about episodes of torture during the regime. The initiative was pioneered to collect testimonies from survivors and gather evidence of human rights abuses, laying the groundwork for subsequent truth-seeking and justice processes.

Since 1995, collaborative efforts between government agencies, human rights organizations, and families of victims have created four database records of political victims and disappeared people during the dictatorial period: the Special Commission on Political Killed and Disappeared; the Political Disappeared website; the Memories of the Dictatorship portal; and the report of the National Truth Commission. However, the information on human rights violations continued to have limitations, primarily due to the imprecise number of victims in each database, causing a misalignment between the records kept by the government and those documented by stakeholder groups. This discrepancy highlighted the need for establishing more comprehensive information and for consolidating grassroots efforts between different stakeholder groups. Without accurate data, there is an increased risk of disinformation proliferation, since distorted and manipulative narratives can exploit these gaps in information and further complicate efforts to achieve truth for historical human rights abuses.

Wiki Movimento Brasil and partners decided they could help to preserve the documentation of abuses and keep the memories of victims and atrocities alive. Their goal was to promote transparency and accountability, and to empower affected communities to share their narratives and seek redress. The article Completude, consistência e correção em bases de dados digitais sobre mortos e desaparecidos políticos na ditadura civil-militar brasileira (in English, Completeness, consistency, and accuracy in digital databases about political deaths and disappearances in the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship), authored by Wikimedians, explains how Wiki Movimiento Brasil and others transferred the information from all four databases to Wikidata in order to better compare them. The data transfer was then followed by efforts at computational curation that transformed the heterogeneous information into a more complete, consistent, and accurate semantic database.

Before this initiative on Wikidata to improve the information about victims and political disappearances during the dictatorship, there had not been a concerted effort to compare multiple datasets containing information about the victims, the records about their cases, and the circumstances of their deaths or disappearances. By correcting and unifying various datasets, Wiki Movimento Brasil successfully created a set of mechanisms that, as they described it, helped “to make this data complete, consistent, and correct.” Hosting the information on Wikidata ensured its integrity over time, while also guaranteeing more visibility and protecting the data from potential removal or censorship. As a result, the initiative contributed to uncovering the truth about past atrocities and preserving the memory of those who suffered the consequences of a dictatorial regime.

This initiative can serve as an inspirational model: both for new projects around the world that seek to shed light over past human rights violations, and for efforts to foster an environment of transparency and accountability for historical injustices. The lessons learned from this project can inform best practices in digital archiving, helping to ensure that memory is preserved and access to accurate and reliable information is guaranteed.

Wikimedians understand how critical accurate and comprehensive records are for promoting truth, justice, and accountability. Their decision to work together to ensure that this information is available helps victims and their families to raise their voices. It also guarantees that new generations learn about the impact of this history, encouraging them to understand and draw lessons from the dictatorship and resist new abuses. Without these efforts, many victims and their families would continue to be denied recognition and acknowledgment of the atrocities committed during the civic-military dictatorship in Brazil. These initiatives contribute to reducing a climate of impunity for past crimes, since efforts to hold those responsible for human rights abuses accountable would be hindered otherwise. 


At the heart of the Wikimedia projects’ success in fighting disinformation lies its diverse community of volunteer contributors, who dedicate their time and expertise to uphold the principles of a free and informed society. Their contributions continue to be instrumental in advancing the mission of democratizing access to information, debunking myths, combating government propaganda, and empowering entire communities to influence the decisions that affect their lives. This story is only one of the many ways in which Wikimedians work every day to improve knowledge for everyone, everywhere. 

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