Tim Farley asks ‘why do people edit Wikipedia?’ No mention of activism as motivator.


Tim Farley, author of Skeptools and of unique interest to the WWHP project, shares with his readers this past January what some academics consider a rich question. Why do people edit Wikipedia?

He brings up a (preliminary) study by Sciences Po, Harvard Law School, and University of Strasbourg, which wind up citing social image and reciprocity as the main motivators.

Wishing to seize the information in the study and apply it to promoting his particular branch of online activism, Farley says:

Efforts like Guerrilla Skeptics clearly feed the reciprocity motive, by allowing contributors to communicate directly with each other. Such projects should also be sure to reward top contributors, so they can reap social image rewards in their own community and the larger skeptic community as well.

Reciprocity is something that’s pretty easy to account for, probably in most social behaviors online across any social platform with significant adoption so this is something neither new or insightful. ‘Social image’ is quite broad and again, probably accounts for most social behaviors away from keyboard as much as on. So again, nothing insightful here.

Also – absolutely no mention of ‘activism’ as a motivation. I’m surprised Tim Farley did not mention it and here is where insightful data would be useful. Thankfully TIm’s site itself is its own case study of what motivates activism online – ideologies and ideological wars. What is motivating editors to adopt Wikipedia as a service is activism and Tim Farley is the grand wizard of online activism for the skeptic movement.

Tim’s a pretty astute guy. I don’t think he’s a dummy and I think he already knows what works and what motivates people to be active on Wikipedia. After all, his own Wikipedia initiatives inspired Susan Gerbic to create GSoW and who knows how large Tim Farley’s own ‘invisible’ army of activists operate on Wikipedia or elsewhere.

I’m hoping Wikipedia, and preferably Wikimedia Foundation – will realize that what is bringing people to Wikipedia as it evolves is online activism, around potentially any issue. What motivates it specifically is the knowledge that if you don’t edit on Wikipedia to the agenda of what you believe to  be true, then your ideological opponent will.

It doesn’t take a case study from Harvard to see that given that dynamic, it is only a matter of time (if not already) before Wikipedia is nothing more than a culture of various ideologues warring over information and for every ideologue editor’s POV that makes it onto Wikipedia is motivating more readers to join Wikipedia to contradict them.

There is no question that online activism on Wikipedia will continue to create more sock puppets, more COI, more disruption than any other threat to Wikipedia requiring no more motive than the very real conflict of idea and the human need to know that what they believe is really true.






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