In just two and half years, Mossab Banat has made major qualitative contributions to the Arabic Wikipedia, led several initiatives online and offline, and has become one of Wikipedia’s most prolific contributors, especially in the medical field. Most of his online work was done using a mobile phone connected to the internet by zero-rated data.
The third year medical student, who was born and raised in Russeifa, Zarqa Governorate, Jordan, had his first experience with the internet when he left high school and joined university. Banat came upon Wikipedia searching for medical terms during his studies. Wikipedia usually showed up in the top search results.
“At this time, I had a monthly quota of 500 megabytes,” Banat recalls. “That wasn’t enough to even update the apps on my mobile phone. When I used Wikipedia, I noticed no change in my quota! That was when I first realized that I could browse Wikipedia for free.”
Wikipedia Zero is a project that aims to provide free access to free knowledge, in places where mobile data is usually unaffordable. The initiative started in 2012 in response to a growing need to help increase diversity on Wikipedia when data costs often made achieving this goal cost prohibitive.
“We use mobile phones more than computers,” says Banat. “You have constant access to your mobile almost all the time anywhere, which makes it easy for you to read and edit while traveling, between classes, etc. Wikipedia Zero is useful because it helps the young make the most efficient use of their free time.”
Banat found the Arabic Wikipedia in a poor state compared to the English Wikipedia, which motivated him to start editing in December 2013. “I searched for medically-themed articles on the English Wikipedia,” Banat explains, “where I found the Arabic equivalent for the articles weak sometimes, or Contributors flat-out didn’t exist. It felt like I had a responsibility to contribute to the encyclopedia that had helped me so much.”
Banat’s contributions quickly attracted the attention of the Arabic Wikipedia community. The scope of his work ranged from writing featured articles, developing medical content and helping newbies. His rapidly growing edit count has placed him at number four on the list of Arabic Wikipedia contributors by number of edits. Banat was nominated to be an administrator and won with the highest-ever number of support votes (as of publishing time).
His contributions were not just noticed by the Arabic Wikipedia community. In February 2016, Banat received the Cure Award from the Wiki Project Med as one of the best contributors to the project, and the most prolific contributor to it on the Arabic Wikipedia in 2015.
When he wanted to use this experience to recruit and train new volunteers to edit Wikipedia, Banat started to talk to professors at school about the Wikipedia Education Program. Educators liked how the idea could be useful in developing Wikipedia writing assignments for their students in their field of study. 32 students loved the idea and rushed to join the pharmacology and advanced cellular biology courses with him.
According to Banat, one of the reasons that encourage him and other students to edit Wikipedia is because their articles are guaranteed exposure to a large audience.
“Wikipedia is usually in the first search results,” says Banat. “When you edit an article, you know that what you’re doing is effective. The freedom of expression within the Wikipedia community is also a source of motivation.”
Big changes can sometimes be accomplished using resources everyone uses in their daily lives. Using only his mobile phone and the free access he had to Wikipedia, Banat has brought about impactful change.
“I see people typing on their mobile phones all day long, usually on social media. I wonder, where will their content end up?”
Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern