Wikipedia’s "lamest edit wars"…sez who?

by 1389 on July 4, 2007

in 1389 (blog admin), flame war, forums, politics, social media, wikis

Why do some people look askance at Wikis in general, and at Wikipedia, the 800-pound gorilla of the Wiki world, in particular? This project page, entitled Wikipedia: Lamest edit wars, reveals the human frailties that tend to weaken the credibility of what should be a valuable social media tool.

Free and open debate is a vital part of the search for truth, but is that what we’re seeing here? When it comes to certain hot-button issues, the search for truth among the Wikipedia community (such as it is) degenerates into a welter of animosity, politicking, ego-tripping, spin-doctoring, and ad hominem arguments. Evidently, the Wikipedians who wrote this project page saw no alternative but to give up on the possibility of making any further progress toward resolving these issues. Instead, they labeled these edit wars “lame,” characterized all of the participants as equally unreasonable and contemptible, and held the entire process up to ridicule.

The character flaws that give rise to such ugly disputes are, sadly, part of the human condition. All too often, they are encountered not only among independent researchers, but also among those in academia, government, and the corporate world. But it’s a matter of degree. In cyberspace, without traditions or established systems in place for resolving such things in a civil manner, incivility often runs rampant under cover of anonymity, and the interaction readily devolves into a flame war.

The problem is that incivility erodes credibility. Discussion and debate have a vital place in the process of building and supporting a wiki. But honest debate has nothing to do with bullying, manipulation, or spin-doctoring. Nor is there any room for the mistaken concept that truth can be arrived at simply by putting the matter up to a vote! For the wiki to earn the respect of the public, this debate must be conducted with respect for the other participants, for the readership, and, most of all, for the truth.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 July 5, 2007 at 11:21 pm

While I agree with several of your points, I think your analysis of the edit war page suffers from a lack of research.

No one simply threw up their hands, labeled the war “lame”, and gave up. (For one thing, that would require one version or another to remain on the page!) What you see there should be what people label as “lame” after the fact.

It’s easy to get caught up in argument and while you’re embroiled in it, think it’s the most serious thing in the world. A week later you wonder how dumb you were to waste so much time caring about whether the photo was at the top or the bottom and why you couldn’t just settle on a compromise.

And that’s the spirit of the lameness page; wars over more substantial issues shouldn’t be there.

2 July 6, 2007 at 4:11 am

Anonymity is the problem here as in so many cases on the internet. Wikipedia is a valuable resource but form my experience, the parts that are valuable are by individuals who have some authority in the subject they are contributing on and you can check that because they aren’t anonymous. It’s all to easy to be an ass when no one knows who you are. Just look at Digg for countless examples.

3 July 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm

Anonymous is partly correct – however, some of these issues may appear trivial to the outside observer, but have been used as political footballs in various ways, and are very important to specific groups of people who are personally involved. That’s why I can’t automatically dismiss all of these arguments as trivial.

I suppose that my point is that if abusive language, insults, defamation, false statements, or even veiled threats are allowed to find their way into the wiki, the outside observer sees an ugly spectacle that hurts the credibility of the wiki as a whole.

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