Wikimedia Foundation calls for protection and fair treatment of Wikipedia as UK Online Safety Bill becomes law

UNITED KINGDOM, 19 SEPTEMBER 2023 — The Wikimedia Foundation — the nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects — is calling on the UK government and independent regulator to ensure the implementation of the Online Safety Bill does not harm Wikipedia, and other projects that the public relies on to create and access free, reliable knowledge. The Bill today completed all parliamentary stages and will soon become the United Kingdom’s latest addition to a growing body of internet regulation.

In the years since the Bill was first introduced, the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia UK — the national charity for open knowledge, bringing together practical and policy expertise about Wikimedia and other Wikimedia projects — have strongly warned of the tremendous threat the Bill posed to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Wikipedia is available in more than 300 languages; its 61 million articles are created by a global community of volunteer editors, who determine the online encyclopedia’s editorial policies and guidelines that ensure content is neutral and based on reliable, published sources. The Bill also poses risks to other public interest projects such as open science initiatives, crowdsourced UK heritage repositories, and online archives. 

Unfortunately, although these concerns were elevated in numerous forums — including meetings with the government, Parliamentary debates, prominent media outlets, and an open letter — Wikipedia and its sister projects, as well as other public interest projects, were not exempted from the Online Safety Bill. 

“It is simply inconceivable to imagine the UK without access to Wikipedia, the world’s largest online knowledge repository. The Online Safety Bill’s passage may be the end of a chapter, but we are determined that it will not be the end of our story in the UK,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, Vice President of Global Advocacy at the Wikimedia Foundation. “The Bill includes requirements that invalidate Wikipedia’s volunteer-led model of creating and moderating content, threatening the encyclopedia’s ability to function in the UK.

We will continue to voice our concerns to the UK government and engage the independent regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), to ensure that the law’s implementation acknowledges Wikipedia’s value and safeguards its unique collaborative model. We are firm in our commitment to protect the best of the internet for future generations.”

In recent months, the Foundation has publicly highlighted how the Bill directly interferes with Wikipedia’s community content moderation model, which allows volunteer editors to share verified, well-sourced information on the encyclopedia. The Bill does not distinguish between public interest sites that rely on community decision-making and large for-profit technology companies, which the Bill was originally designed to address, that have employees who moderate content. It also imposes age verification, which is incompatible with the website’s commitment to user privacy and freedom of speech.

“At a time when powerful forces are seeking to erase and manipulate the world’s knowledge around many topics, the UK government’s failure to exempt Wikipedia from the Online Safety Bill is harmful to the global community of Wikipedia volunteers and readers, as well as to the Foundation’s work to support them,” said MacKinnon. 

Wikipedia is an essential tool for sharing and consuming knowledge. In August 2023, while the Bill was in its final stages in Parliament, people in the UK viewed English Wikipedia more than 836 million times. Wikipedia is also used to preserve and promote cultural heritage in the UK, including Indigenous and minority languages such as Welsh. The Welsh language version of Wikipedia is the single most popular Welsh language website in the world, with over 7.5 million views every month, and is an official component of the curriculum in Wales.

As the Bill now heads to Royal Assent, we remain deeply concerned about its impact on the future of Wikipedia in the UK. We hope the UK Government and Ofcom will protect the best parts of the internet — public interest projects like Wikipedia that uplift civil society and promote access to knowledge online.

For more information on the Wikimedia Foundation’s position on the Online Safety Bill, read our blog posts from Sept. 2023, June 2023, May 2023Nov. 2022, and March 2022.   

About the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and other Wikimedia free knowledge projects. Our vision is a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We believe that everyone has the potential to contribute something to our shared knowledge and that everyone should be able to access that knowledge freely. We host Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects; build software experiences for reading, contributing, and sharing Wikimedia content; support the volunteer communities and partners who make Wikimedia possible. The Wikimedia Foundation is a United States 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with offices in San Francisco, California, USA.

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