Wikipedia coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic

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March 2020 message to English Wikipedia's readers about COVID-19, written by Katherine Maher, then-executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation WMF coronavirus pandemic message 2.png
March 2020 message to English Wikipedia's readers about COVID-19, written by Katherine Maher, then-executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation

The COVID-19 pandemic is covered in Wikipedia extensively, in real-time, and across many languages. This coverage extends to many detailed articles about various aspects of the topic itself, as well as many existing articles being amended to take account of the pandemic's effect on them. Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects' coverage of the pandemic – and how the volunteer editing community achieved that coverage – received widespread media attention for its comprehensiveness, reliability, and speed. [1] [2] [3]



One of several infographics provided by the World Health Organization to Wikipedia; this one pertains to conspiracy theories about 5G FACT- 5G mobile networks DO NOT spread COVID-19.svg
One of several infographics provided by the World Health Organization to Wikipedia; this one pertains to conspiracy theories about 5G

In mid-March 2020, Noam Cohen of Wired said editors' work on articles related to the pandemic demonstrated "that Wikipedia has also developed a conscience." [3] Cohen described how Wikipedia's efforts to combat misinformation related to the pandemic differed from some other major websites and opined, "Unless Twitter, Facebook and the others can learn to address misinformation more effectively, Wikipedia will remain the last best place on the Internet." [3]

Wikipedia experienced an increase in readership during the COVID-19 pandemic. [4] As of April 2020, according to the newspaper Dawn , since reports of cases in Wuhan emerged in December 2019, Wikipedia editors have averaged 163 edits per hour (to pandemic-related pages). [5] Across all Wikipedia languages there were approximately 4,500 Wikipedia pages related to the pandemic as of 23 April 2020. [5]

In his article "Why Wikipedia Is Immune to Coronavirus", Omer Benjakob of Haaretz wrote, "Wikipedia has stepped in to provide relief. So much so that it has become the go-to source for COVID-19 information." [2] Editors have worked diligently to remove misinformation. [6] [7] The World Health Organization announced it was working with the Wikimedia Foundation to help freely license its infographics and other material on COVID-19 to help in the work's effort to fight misinformation related to COVID-19, with plans to do similar in the future for other infectious diseases. [8] [9]

According to Wikimedia Foundation spokeswoman Chantal De Soto, as of the end of July 2020, more than 67,000 editors had collaborated to create more than 5,000 Wikipedia articles in 175 different languages about COVID-19 and its many impacts. [10]

Jevin West, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, said in August 2020 that Wikipedia has handled COVID-19 "overall, exceptionally well." [10]

In January 2021, the BBC remarked that in 2020 hundreds of Wikipedia editors had covered just about every aspect of the pandemic. [11]

In June 2021, Jackson Ryan of CNET reported on Wikipedia's "endless war" over the COVID-19 lab leak hypothesis. Some editors were reported to have been caught setting up "sock puppets" accounts to reinforce their own point of view and push dubious sources. Other editors were reported to have expressed concerns about possible Chinese state actors suppressing discussion of the hypothesis, without providing definitive evidence. [12]

In August 2021, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales wrote in Al Jazeera that "When the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it, volunteer editors on Wikipedia acted in real-time to combat disinformation and ensure the world had access to science-based health resources, across 188 languages and every continent. Through an open, decentralised model, Wikipedians created unparalleled amounts of accurate, life-saving content." [13]

One study found that Wikipedia's coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic during the first wave from January to May 2020 referenced trusted media sources and high-quality academic research. [14] Another study observed that Wikipedia's traffic tended to match the intensity of other COVID-19 discussion in the media ecosystem, rather than the ongoing and steady severity of the pandemic. [15]

English Wikipedia

Screenshot of a template on English Wikipedia displaying a collection of articles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as of 3 April 2021 Screenshot of the Template for the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic on the English Wikipedia as of 2021-04-03.png
Screenshot of a template on English Wikipedia displaying a collection of articles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as of 3 April 2021

A year after its first creation, the main COVID-19 pandemic Wikipedia article in English had become the 4th most viewed article on the website of all time, with almost 32,000 inbound links from other articles. [1]

The "Coronavirus" page was created in 2003. The "2019–2020 China pneumonia outbreak" Wikipedia article, which evolved into the English Wikipedia's main article about the pandemic, was created on 5 January 2020 by a user from China. Wikipedia entries were subsequently created for "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" and "Coronavirus disease 2019". [11] [6] By 9 February, the main article had been edited more than 6,500 times by approximately 1,200 editors, and six of the primary Wikipedia articles about the pandemic were viewed more than 18 million times. Other early entries included an overview of the pandemic by country and territory, a timeline, and another focused on xenophobia and racism. The Wikipedia pages about bats as food, the Corona beer brand, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Wuhan also saw increased editing. [6] The "In the News" section of the English Wikipedia's main page got a special section with links to essential information about the COVID-19 pandemic. [2]

As the pandemic spread, editors worked to keep up with the barrage of new information and misinformation being added to the site. Information on Wikipedia was used to create data visualisations and shared on Reddit, Twitter, and other social media platforms. [6] More than 2,100 editors had contributed to the main article about the pandemic by 19 March. [16]

Viewership of WikiProject COVID-19, WikiProject Medicine, and WikiProject Viruses during March 2020 Wikiproject viewership march 2020.png
Viewership of WikiProject COVID-19, WikiProject Medicine, and WikiProject Viruses during March 2020

In mid-March, an editor created WikiProject COVID-19, a WikiProject dedicated to the disease and pandemic. Volunteers have worked to translate short entries into Wikipedias of other languages. The WikiProject had 90 members by 24 March. [10] [17] Members of WikiProject Medicine, including James Heilman, [3] have also worked to improve coverage of COVID-19. [6] Heilman was featured on CBS Morning News in May. [18]

Wikipedia editors deleted and later restored an entry called "2020 Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus hotspot in Delhi", which project co-founder Jimmy Wales said "was incredibly poorly written and had zero sources." [19] [20] Wales responded to accusations on Twitter stating that Wikipedia did not accept payment for the article's deletion. [21] [22]

Readership spikes have reflected significant developments in the disease's spread. "COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan" saw a traffic spike in late March, with daily page views ranging from 80,000 to 100,000; the article ranked number 72 for the month's most read pages. In early April, Wikimedia projects received 673 million page views in a 24-hour period, the highest in five years. [5] English Wikipedia had 283 coronavirus articles by then, with the main entry receiving more than 17,000 edits and 20 million views. [7] Entries about the pandemic received 240 million views by 23 April 2020, with the page about misinformation related to the pandemic receiving an average of 14,000 views per day. [5]

German Wikipedia

There are hundreds of Wikipedia articles about the coronavirus pandemic at German Wikipedia. Editors began writing about the pandemic in January 2020, when the outbreak was advancing in China. The main article about the pandemic and the entry for the disease's spread in Germany were being accessed approximately 150,000 and 100,000 times per day, respectively, as of March 2020. [17]

Indian languages

Logo for WikiProject COVID-19 at Urdu Wikipedia WikiProject COVID-19 Urdu Logo.svg
Logo for WikiProject COVID-19 at Urdu Wikipedia

Wikipedia had COVID-19 information in nine Indian languages by 27 March 2020: Arabic, Bangla, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. SWASTHA (acronym for Special Wikipedia Awareness Scheme for the Healthcare Affiliates), [23] a division of WikiProject Medicine, is working with Johns Hopkins University, India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and National Health Authority, and the World Health Organization to improve coverage. [24] [25]

Urdu Wikipedia's entry for coronavirus was viewed more than 12,000 times by 23 April 2020. [5] Development of Wikipedia's coverage on COVID-19 led to public consideration among Indian people of Wikipedia's coverage of other topics. [26]

Japanese Wikipedia

There are over one hundred Wikipedia articles about the pandemic at the Japanese Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article "Abenomask" (アベノマスク) drew attention due to its deletion request. The word refers to a government plan involving reusable clothmasks. Some said that the name was an insult against Shinzo Abe, others that it was not an insult and showed usage in Sankei Shimbun , a conservative and right-wing newspaper. [27] The community decided that it should not be deleted. [28] [29] [30]

Spanish Wikipedia

The main article about the pandemic at Spanish Wikipedia was created by an editor from Costa Rica on 19 January 2020. By mid April, the article had been edited more than 5,000 times, included 350 references, and received more than 5 million views. The entry was being monitored by approximately 175 editors at the time, receiving an average of 80,000 views per day. [31]


According to Wired , BridgeDb, a project that connects bioinformatic identifiers, is creating coronavirus gene and protein mapping databases from information supplied by Wikidata, a sibling project of Wikipedia, as part of a collaboration with Wikidata's WikiProject COVID-19. [32] WikiProject India, on Wikidata, set up a task force and created a central database depicting the national and state-level trajectories of the spread. [33]

Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports Wikimedia movement projects, including Wikipedia, had employees work remotely. The foundation's then-executive director, Katherine Maher, has encouraged editors and readers to work together to improve Wikipedia's coverage of COVID-19. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

History of Wikipedia Historical development of Wikipedia

Wikipedia began with its first edit on 15 January 2001, two days after the domain was registered by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Its technological and conceptual underpinnings predate this; the earliest known proposal for an online encyclopedia was made by Rick Gates in 1993, and the concept of a free-as-in-freedom online encyclopedia was proposed by Richard Stallman in December 2000.

English Wikipedia English-language edition of the free online encyclopedia

The English Wikipedia is the English-language edition of the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. It was founded on 15 January 2001 as Wikipedia's first edition and, as of October 2021, has the most articles of any edition, at 6,400,564. As of October 2021, 11% of articles in all Wikipedias belong to the English-language edition. This share has gradually declined from more than 50 percent in 2003, due to the growth of Wikipedias in other languages. The edition's one-billionth edit was made on 13 January 2021. The English Wikipedia has received praise for its enablement of democratization of knowledge and extent of coverage.

Wikinews Free-content news wiki; project of the Wikimedia Foundation

Wikinews is a free-content news wiki and a project of the Wikimedia Foundation. The site works through collaborative journalism. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has distinguished Wikinews from Wikipedia by saying "on Wikinews, each story is to be written as a news story as opposed to an encyclopedia article." The neutral point of view policy that Wikinews claim to have, has an aim to distinguish it from other citizen journalism efforts such as Indymedia and OhmyNews. In contrast to most projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikinews allows original work under the form of original reporting and interviews.

Criticism of Wikipedia Overview of criticism Wikipedia has received

Most criticism of Wikipedia has been directed towards its content, its community of established users, and its processes. Critics have questioned its factual reliability, the readability and organization of the articles, the lack of methodical fact-checking, and its political bias. Concerns have also been raised about systemic bias along gender, racial, political and national lines. In addition, conflicts of interest arising from corporate campaigns to influence content have also been highlighted. Further concerns include the vandalism and partisanship facilitated by anonymous editing, clique behavior from contributors as well as administrators and other top figures, social stratification between a guardian class and newer users, excessive rule-making, edit warring, and uneven application of policies.

Wikipedia Multilingual free online encyclopedia

Wikipedia is a free content, multilingual online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteers through a model of open collaboration, using a wiki-based editing system. Individual contributors, also called editors, are known as Wikipedians. It is the largest and most-read reference work in history, and consistently one of the 15 most popular websites ranked by Alexa; as of 2021, Wikipedia was ranked the 13th most popular site. A visitor spends an average time on Wikipedia of 3 minutes and 45 seconds each day. It is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, an American non-profit organization funded mainly through small donations.

Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia Opposing theories of Wikipedia

Deletionism and inclusionism are opposing philosophies that largely developed within the community of editors of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The terms reflect differing opinions on the appropriate scope of the encyclopedia and corresponding tendencies either to delete or to include a given encyclopedia article.

Conflict-of-interest (COI) editing on Wikipedia occurs when editors use Wikipedia to advance the interests of their external roles or relationships. The type of COI editing of most concern on Wikipedia is paid editing for public relations (PR) purposes. Several Wikipedia policies and guidelines exist to combat conflict of interest editing, including Wikipedia:Conflict of interest and Wikipedia:Paid-contribution disclosure.

Gender bias on Wikipedia Gender gap problem in Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects

Gender bias on Wikipedia, also known as the Wikipedia gender gap, refers to the fact that Wikipedia contributors are mostly male, that relatively few biographies on Wikipedia are about women, and that topics of interest to women are less well-covered.

A WikiProject, or Wikiproject, is the organization of a group of participants in a wiki established in order to achieve specific editing goals, or to achieve goals relating to a specific field of knowledge. WikiProjects are prevalent within the largest wiki, Wikipedia, and exist to varying degrees within sister projects such as Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikidata, and Wikisource. They also exist in different languages, and translation of articles is a form of their collaboration. Unrelated wikis have also used the term, for example OpenStreetMap. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS News noted the role of Wikipedia's WikiProject Medicine in maintaining the accuracy of articles related to the disease. Another WikiProject that has drawn attention is WikiProject Women Scientists, which was profiled by Smithsonian Magazine for its efforts to improve coverage of women scientists which the profile noted had "helped increase the number of female scientists on Wikipedia from around 1,600 to over 5,000".

Commercial use of Wikimedia projects refers to any business or product selling content from Wikipedia or Wikimedia projects which it freely took. Wikimedia projects use free and open copyright licenses which means that anyone may share the information for any purpose.

COVID-19 misinformation False or misleading information about COVID-19

COVID-19 misinformation refers to any kind of subject about the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in misinformation and conspiracy theories about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messaging, and mass media. False information has been propagated by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent public figures. Multiple countries have passed laws against "fake news", and thousands of people have been arrested for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. The spread of COVID-19 misinformation by governments has also been significant.

Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic Aspect of viral outbreak

Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has varied by country, time period and media outlet. News media has simultaneously kept viewers informed about current events related to the pandemic, and contributed to misinformation or fake news.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social media Aspect of viral outbreak

During a time of social distance and limited contact with others, social media became an important place to interact. Social media platforms are meant to connect people and helped the world remain connected, largely increasing usage during the pandemic. Since many people are asked to remain home, they have turned to social media to maintain their relationships and to access entertainment to pass the time.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on journalism Consequences of COVID-19 outbreak for media and publishing

The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted the journalism industry and affected journalists' work. Many local newspapers have been severely affected by losses in advertising revenues from COVID-19; journalists have been laid off, and some publications have folded. Many newspapers with paywalls lowered them for some or all of their COVID-19 coverage. The pandemic was characterized as a potential "extinction event" for journalism as hundreds of news outlets closed and journalists were laid off around the world, advertising budgets were slashed, and many were forced to rethink how to do their jobs amid restrictions on movement and limited access to information or public officials. Journalists and media organizations have had to address new challenges, including figuring out how to do their jobs safely and how to navigate increased repression and censorship brought on by the response to the pandemic, with freelancers facing additional difficulties in countries where press cards or official designations limit who can be considered a journalist.

Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind Covid-19 and Plandemic: Indoctornation are a 2020 conspiracy theory video and film, respectively, both of which were produced by Mikki Willis and promote misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Both feature Judy Mikovits, a discredited American researcher who has been described as an anti-vaccine activist. The first video, in addition to promoting various conspiracy theories, also features Willis and Mikovits discussing viruses in general and Mikovits herself. Willis produced the first video with a low budget under the name of his production company Elevate Films. Three months after the video's Internet release, the second film Plandemic: Indoctornation, which also includes other people, was released by another distributor.

Wikipedia and fact-checking Process of maintaining reliability on Wikipedia

Wikipedia and fact-checking includes the process through which Wikipedia editors perform fact-checking of Wikipedia, and also reuse of Wikipedia for fact-checking other publications, and also the cultural discussion of the place of Wikipedia in fact-checking.

Various kinds of software have been developed and used for mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. These include mobile apps for contact tracing and notifications about infection risks, digital passports verifying one's vaccination status, software for enabling – or improving the effectiveness of – lockdowns and social distancing in general, Web software for the creation of related information services, and software for the research and development for COVID-19 mitigation.

Netha Hussain Indian-Swedish medical doctor, clinical neuroscientist, blogger, Wikipedian

Netha Hussain is an Indian-Swedish medical doctor, clinical neuroscientist, blogger, Wikipedian, researcher and medical analyst. She also goes by the username Netha Hussain in Wikipedia. She is known for her efforts to tackle the spread of misinformation in Wikipedia about the origin of the coronavirus.

Alaa Najjar Physician and Wikimedian

Alaa Najjar is a physician, Wikipedian and internet activist, who was named the Wikimedian of the Year at Wikimania in August 2021 by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales for his pioneering role in the development of the Arab and medical communities as well as for his role in the development of COVID-19 topics.

Deletion of articles on Wikipedia

Volunteer editors of Wikipedia delete articles in the online encyclopedia on a regular basis, following processes that have been formulated by the site's community over time. The most common route is outright deletion of articles that are clearly in violation of rules of the website. Other mechanisms include an intermediate collaborative process that bypasses a full discussion, and full discussion at the dedicated forum called Articles for deletion (AfD). As a technical action, deletion can only be carried out by a subset of editors who have been assigned particular technical privileges by the community, called administrators. A deletion that has been carried out can be contested by appeal to the deleting administrator, or on another discussion board called Deletion review (DRV).


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Further reading