Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Wikipedia - a possible antidote for the pathologies of the internet?

This interesting article by Jeff Guo is worth a read. The early hope that the instant communication offered by the internet would knit society together has been dashed...just the opposite has happened. Echo chambers of like-minded people have reinforced political polarization and striking increases in abusive comments. Guo notes:
It’s downright startling, then, to observe what happens behind the scenes at Wikipedia. Go to any article and visit the “talk” tab. More often than not, you'll find a somewhat orderly debate, even on contentious topics like Hillary Clinton's e-mails or Donald Trump's sexual abuse allegations.
He cites research showing that Wikipedia appears to exert a moderating influence on its contributors:
An analysis of political articles shows that the site was once heavily biased toward the left, but has steadily drifted toward the center, to the point that many entries are now about as neutral as their counterparts in the Encyclopedia Britannica...over the years, individuals who edit political articles on Wikipedia seem to grow less biased — their contributions start to contain noticeably fewer ideologically-charged statements...researchers analyzed over 70,000 different articles related to American politics, tallying the different changes made by each of the 2.9 million people who edited those pages between 2001 and 2011...As the researchers followed the contributors over time, they realized that contributors were becoming much less partisan — at least, they were sounding a lot less partisan. Many started their Wikipedia careers using a lot of left-leaning or right-leaning language, but after a few years, most of them began to favor more neutral language...The researchers believe this is evidence that Wikipedia helps break people out of their ideological echo chambers.
Unlike, say, the comments section on most websites, Wikipedia has an extensive manual instructing contributors how to behave. One of the key guidelines is to “assume good faith.” The site also insists that every fact must be backed up by a reliable source. When people seek to change a controversial article, they often to have provide a persuasive argument and extensive citations to make their edits stick.

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