In fact, Maryana Iskander, who I reported Tuesday was tapped to lead the Wikimedia Foundation come January, said addressing the issue is a key focus. Iskander, who currently runs a South African nonprofit dedicated to lowering youth unemployment, said equity is a topic near and dear to her heart — and to the principles of Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia.
“This is a movement that represents the full complexity of the human race,” Iskander told me during a video interview early Tuesday, as she beamed in from South Africa.
Iskander, a Planned Parenthood alum and former federal judicial clerk, discussed her early thoughts on how to recruit a wider array of volunteer editors, an issue that also plagued her predecessor. She also outlined her early policy priorities, how she thinks sites can better handle covid-19 misinformation and what she sees as the biggest hurdles to access information on the web globally and in the U.S.
Here’s our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity:
Tech 202: What are things you’d like to see improved about Wikimedia?
I think that trying to increase the diversity of who creates knowledge, who edits knowledge, that's been the long priority of the movement and of the foundation [and] resonates massively with my own personal values. I think knowledge equity, representation, the technology itself and then [growing] the ecosystem of partners who are trying to achieve similar goals feel like important first areas.
Tech 202: On the diversity and representation front, what are ways you see to address that? I know Wikimedia launched a new initiative earlier this year aimed at combating harassment on its site.
What the movement has put together is a universal code of conduct. I think in true Wikimedia-style, that's taken a while to get everybody aligned to the same words and the same principles. The task now, how to enforce that across local communities around the world is the hard work ahead. But to be honest, we're taking it on.
Tech 202: What are the biggest hurdles to accessing information online in the U.S.?
I think we're going to have to pay close attention to [Section] 230 and the big questions that all of the platforms are facing, [though] Wikipedia is in such a different position as a different model.
I do feel the last 10 years of my work here has demonstrated that a lot of the basic access issues might technically look different, but how people understand what information is available to them, how they access it, those issues exist everywhere, and I suspect in the U.S. as well.
Tech 202: One major challenge for many tech companies right now is grappling with covid-19 misinformation. What do you see as the challenges of that, and how it might be better addressed?
Wikipedia has seen a huge amount of increased traffic around covid-19, [so we’ve] worked on a very productive partnership with the World Health Organization to provide additional credibility to that work. We’ve seen that the increase of visitors to those pages has made the extra effort really pay off.
Tech 202: You mentioned efforts to revisit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that shields digital services from lawsuits over the user content they host. Do you see Wikimedia as being generally supportive of amending the law, or against?
As you know, the Wikimedia Foundation doesn't have any editorial license over what these communities of volunteers do, so what are the lessons that can be learned from that? My instinct is that we just want to make sure that any regulatory decisions or legislation that may be passed is flexible enough for us to all keep learning.
Our top tabs
Lawmakers are investigating Facebook after a report on Instagram’s effects on teen girls
The top two lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee say they’re in touch with a whistleblower from Facebook and that recent reporting from the Wall Street Journal about internal machinations at the tech giant “may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it — including seeking further documents and pursuing witness testimony,” they said in a statement.
Blumenthal and Blackburn weren’t alone on Capitol Hill in expressing outrage after the Wall Street Journal reported the company is aware of the harmful effects its Instagram platform has on teenage girls. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) even compared the company to the tobacco industry:
When The Technology 202 asked Facebook spokesman Andy Stone for a comment on the Senate probe, he referred to an Instagram blog post about the Journal’s report that said the company stands by its research, and social media can be both good and bad.
The FTC expanded its authority to go after biased algorithms, “dark patterns” and monopolies
The Federal Trade Commission voted 3-2 to approve the resolutions, which give it the authority to demand information from companies.
“Companies engaging in conduct implicated by these resolutions should be forewarned,” Holly Vedova, the acting director of the FTC’s competition bureau, said in a statement. “The FTC looks forward to aggressively using these resolutions and will not hesitate to take action against illegal conduct to the fullest extent possible under the law.”
Peter Thiel capitalized off Donald Trump and work with the U.S. government, according to a new book
Palantir chairman Peter Thiel won lucrative government contracts and became wealthier during Donald Trump’s presidency, despite the pandemic and Jan. 6 insurrection, Bloomberg Businessweek editor and reporter Max Chafkin writes in an excerpt from his upcoming book on Thiel.
The book also reveals new details about Trump's interaction with top tech executives. At a meeting organized by Thiel and then president-elect Trump, major tech CEOs suggested that cracking down on illegal immigration was fine so long as Trump could ensure that their companies had enough skilled workers, Chafkin reports, citing notes from the meeting and five people familiar with the talks. “None of the CEOs urged restraint” on China when the conversation moved to it, he writes.
Thiel “didn’t comment for this article,” according to Bloomberg.
Rant and rave
Apple announced its newest batch of devices at a virtual event Tuesday. It wasn't quite the same, engineer and blogger Jane Manchun Wong noted:
Some parts of the announcements were beyond parody, according to our colleague Will Oremus:
The Verge's Nilay Patel:
Inside the industry
- Jacqueline Beauchere joined Snap as its first global head of platform safety. She previously worked as Microsoft’s chief online safety officer.
- Amazon hired Twitter executive Candi Castleberry Singleton as its vice president of global diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Reuters.
- Microsoft's board appointed company president Brad Smith as Microsoft's vice chair. He will continue to be the company's president.
- The FCC announced the appointees named to its Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council VIII.
- Zendesk has joined BSA | The Software Alliance as a global member. Zendesk Senior Vice President and General Counsel Shanti Ariker will join the group’s board of directors.
- New America’s Open Technology Institute holds an event on high-risk AI today at 1:30 p.m.
- Former Undersecretary of State Keith Krach and former U.S. Agency for International Development deputy administrator Bonnie Glick speak at a Center for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue event on semiconductors and supply chains on Sept. 21 at 9:10 a.m.
- SEC Chairman Gary Gensler discusses cryptocurrencies at a Washington Post Live event on Sept. 21 at noon.