Wikipedia Turns 10: Where Does it Go From Here?

Majority Rules

How do you protect minority rights against majority rule? Most democracies have to come up with some kind of system for that-Wikipedia has not.

The ease of editing often draws casual users in, and the discussions and fights often turn them into registered editors. But these battles are also what can drive people away.

One editor we spoke to, who identified herself as Yonmei, said that she got involved because she liked the idea of a global encyclopedia and “because I am a know-it-all and good at finding citations,” two qualities that would seem to make for a great editor. However, she stopped regularly contributing to the site a few years ago and hasn’t felt the desire to return. The turning point came in 2007 when Yonmei, who is Scottish, attempted to add an article about an event that was considered significant in her country, but was flagged for deletion by editors who didn’t see it as notable. “What’s ‘notable’ goes by majority vote. The vast majority of Wikipedia English-language editors are North American. I can only contribute information about my own country if Americans agree it’s notable. I’m not prepared to contribute under those circumstances.”

Some tussles over deletion and editing have escalated, particularly on articles concerning controversial topics (Scientology and climate change, for example) or the biographies of living or recently deceased persons. Whatever side one lands on in these conflicts, it’s easy to see how the focus on majority rule has some obvious detriments. “A system of governance of pure majority vote is always going to be frustrating to people in the minority,” Yonmei says. “How do you protect minority rights against majority rule? Most democracies have to come up with some kind of system for that—Wikipedia hasn’t.”

Goodwin, Ryan, and Yonmei agree that, during Wikipedia’s next ten years, there’s a lot of work to be done to bring in more diverse voices. These contributors could be experts or hobbyists in areas of knowledge that still need building up, editors from other countries (English-speaking and non), or just more people who haven’t felt that they could or should be part of the collaborative editing process.

Wikipedia @ 10

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