Wikipedia brings political opponents together

“A neutral point of view”, or the requirement that articles must present all significant viewpoints in a balanced manner, is one of Wikipedia’s three core principles. This approach is valued by many of its readers, especially those seeking impartial information at times of heated political debate.

During the presidential election campaign in the United States, a group of six researchers from Barcelona Media and the University of Southern California published the results of a study showing that “despite the increasing political division of the US, there are still areas in which dialogue is possible and happens”. Specifically, these places include the discussion pages of Wikipedia, where users of both political persuasions debate and contribute to the creation of encyclopaedia content covering political subjects.

The research project was presented this year at the 32nd INSNA (International Network for Social Network Analysis) Conference and involved a quantitative survey of the interaction among Wikipedia users who had indicated their political affiliations (in terms of the parameters of political life in the United States) on their user pages.

In their summary, the researchers stated that, “in contrast to previous analyses of other social media, we did not find strong trends indicating a preference to interact with members of the same political party within the Wikipedia community… It seems that the shared identity of “being Wikipedian” may be strong enough to triumph over other potentially divisive facets of personal identity, such as political affiliation”.

The title of the article, “Jointly They Edit”, was chosen as a reference to the well-known phrase “Divided We Blog”, which was coined in a 2005 article on the “trend of ‘cyber-Balkanisation’ in the political blogosphere, with liberal and conservative blogs tending to link to other blogs with a similar slant and not to one another”. The same polarising trend was observed for retweets on Twitter.


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