Meet Irfan Ahmed, the man behind @PakistanEdits — a Twitter account that has recently been making waves on social media through its automated live tweets on Wikipedia edits related to Pakistani content. Ahmed, a young graduate from FAST-NU and a partner at a software startup, currently dedicates only a few hours per month to @PakistanEdits (which runs on BOTS, a software application that runs automated tasks) but his initiative is unique for Pakistan’s online presence.
@PakistanEdits came about as a hobby for Ahmed but quickly transpired into an aggressive online social movement. “It started off as a social experiment this summer, when I realised it was imperative to observe the edits anonymous Pakistanis are making on Wikipedia, and their contribution to Pakistan’s online data reserves, information and knowledge sharing,” he explains. The initiative’s popularity can also be attributed to Ahmed’s meticulous sense of timing, as it appeared when the country’s political climate was changing, specifically after the August 14 Azaadi March, 2014. A significant number of Pakistanis turned to the internet and social media to express themselves at the time and many used Wikipedia as a platform.
Tweets exhibiting individual reactions to the @PakistanEdits Twitter account.
In less than a few weeks, @PakistanEdits has live tweeted over 15,772 times. This confirms that Pakistanis are spending a considerable amount of time editing Pakistan-related content on Wikipedia. Currently, a large percentage of the contributions are related to political vandalism and self-promotion. “I’m trying to ensure that Pakistani contributors realise that the modifications are reviewed by Wikipedia and unauthentic, non-credible data is automatically scrubbed out,” says Ahmed. For example, an entire article on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been trashed by Wikipedia, owing to the damaging nature of the contributions. Another article, purported to have information about Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s romantic relationships rumouring a scandal, was heavily edited as well. Other content that continues to be edited numerous times is the list of the richest Pakistanis and their net worth. “People must focus on contributing positively instead,” he adds.
A snapshot from the @PakistanEdits Twitter account. A majority of the entries made by anonymous users are based on political vandalism and promotion.
Apart from defamation, there is also a problem when it comes to determining the credibility of the entries. Ahmed believes that while information shared on Wikipedia is not entirely authentic, citations can make data slightly more credible. “Validity and credibility of the content is always a problem. Some of the valid Pakistani content is related to Pakistan’s nuclear history, list of army generals, regional languages and so on,” he says. “The aim is to make Wikipedia’s Pakistan-related content a valid public source and less of a political engine for promotion.”
@PakistanEdits has also been endorsed by the Wikimedia Foundation Pakistan affiliate, represented by Saqib Qayuum. The chapter is aimed at promoting Wikipedia by organising activities that educate the Pakistani public about the availability and use of free and open educational content, which includes the ability to access, develop and contribute to Wikipedia. “Hundreds of thousands of people use Wikipedia daily and millions of Pakistanis visit the website monthly but despite this, Pakistan is under-represented and this has disadvantaged the Pakistani image on Wikipedia,” says Qayyum. He adds that even though over 20,000 Pakistan-related articles are being edited on Wikipedia, only less than 50 are considered to be of superior quality in terms of content. The content that is deemed substandard is be due to a number of reasons such as lack of authentic information and data, poor writing skills and intentionally misleading content that can taint Pakistan’s image.
Irfan Ahmed currently runs the @PakistanEdits Twitter account single-handedly but hopes that users will make it a positive online resource over time.
Both Ahmed and Qayyum feel that Urdu content on Wikipedia is seriously underrepresented and insufficient. It appears that English somehow remains a comfortable language for online users, despite Urdu being the native language for Pakistanis. According to Qayyum, less than 50% of the total contributions to Urdu Wikipedia come from Pakistan. “The rest originates from US and India, surprisingly.” Ahmed also hopes that people can start contributing in Urdu more often and contribute to the local language and culture through the
@PakistanEdits initiative. “Pakistanis must collectively take interest and promote Urdu on Wikipedia, instead of indulging in useless content promotion that would eventually be deleted,” he says.
Irfan Ahmed, who runs the @PakistanEdits Twitter account.
While Ahmed has managed the initiative single-handedly so far, a collective responsible online movement is required for @PakistanEdits to take off successfully — authentic contributions must come from the hundreds of anonymous editors who are involved or aspire to take part in generating content that would uplift Pakistan’s online image.
Anum Pasha is an international development professional and a Lahore-based writer. She tweets @crazyyycatladyy
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 26th, 2014.