Out in the Open

Prolific Wikipedia editor explains how our framing of history can make us more empathetic

After making over 1.8 million Wikipedia edits, Justin Anthony Knapp has come to believe that there's 'a big difference between what really happened and how we frame it
Justin Knapp has made over 1.8 million Wikipedia edits since 2005. (Wikipedia)

Justin Anthony Knapp doesn't consider himself an expert in anything, but that didn't stop him from becoming the first person to make one million edits to the English-language Wikipedia pages.

He concerns himself with many problems across Wikipedia, including how to frame pages that are part of political disputes, using correct sources, excluding political propaganda and, of course, whether people are using hyphens correctly. 

The goal of Wikipedia is to have only objective and verifiable facts featured on its pages, but there are some topics that require some finessing from editors to ensure the page isn't framed in a biased way. 
Justin Anthony Knapp (Courtesy of Justin Anthony Knapp)

"An example of a values-based or preferences-based dispute was over how to frame and how to name the movement which is associated with conservatism that we might call the 'pro-life movement' or that we might call 'anti-choice'," Justin explains.

"In this case, what ended up happening was there was this sort of compromised name which ended up being the 'anti-abortion movement'."

Justin thinks it's important to draw a distinction between history and historiography and hopes that by making Wikipedia articles as objective and fair as possible, users will be able to understand events and issues from a multitude of perspectives.

"There's a big difference between what really happened and how we frame it. And there's also a big difference between an infinite set of facts which are true and nobody can deny them and what's really important ... the idea is that the facts won't change, the occurrences won't be any different, but maybe we can be more empathetic."

This story originally aired on November 19, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Rewriting History".