Wikipedia and Direct Democracy

Disclaimer: I’ve studied for this essay extensively, however, I will not claim to be an expert. If you believe I’ve made a mistake, then don’t hesitate to contact me.

What is the cycle of anacyclosis? Simply put, a hierarchy goes through multiple stages as it advances through time.

As defined by Plato, you start out with the just rule of the one, kingship. Over time, the king turns tyrannical or the kingship falls into the hands of a tyrant, transforming the kingship into a tyranny. Soon after, the just rule of the few is established.

An oligarchy—The personal favorite of Plato. Eventually, the oligarchy turns tyrannical and becomes an aristocracy. Eventually, its the reign of terror all over again and the people take control. The just rule of the many.

Democracy. Yet not even the people are immune to corruption, as eventually mob rule takes control and the tyranny of the majority is displayed for all to see.

This is the cycle of anacyclosis. How does this relate to Wikipedia? For one, Anacyclosis is a page on Wikipedia. Shocking, I know! But there is a far more ‘subtle’ relationship with Wikipedia. To no one’s surprise, there are certain rules in place to prevent people from turning each and every page into a bunch of ASCII turds. At the core of all these rules is the idea of community consensus.

As you can probably tell from the name, to say that ‘the community consensus on so-so is yes’ means that for the most part, the community has agreed that the answer is yes.

Community consensus decides everything in Wikipedia. From whether or not using a certain adverb is okay in a specific article to site-wide regulation and guidelines.

Whether or not it’s a truly good or bad system isn’t something that I feel I have the expertise to talk about. However, there are still interesting observations that can be made in relation to real-life politics. In particular, anacyclosis.

The first thing I want to talk about is minority views and community consensus abuse.

What do I mean by community consensus abuse? Let’s give an example.

Let’s say we have an article about Green Lemons. A group of trolls stumbles upon this article and use their many sock puppet accounts in order to ‘hijack’ the article and claim that a green lemon is a type of mango. Due to the multiple accounts supporting this change, it appears as if community consensus is very clear on the matter. In fact, if the trolls have been clever, mixing true and false using ‘proper’ sources, they can even draw in normal non-troll editors and make them believe a lie!

Realistically, this example would never happen. It’s way too obvious and administrators would shut them down in a day. But this usually isn’t what smart trolls do. The good ones tend to be very subtle; confusing the issue and building reputations as reasonable editors.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that misinformation can stick around for very long periods of time via abuse of verified sources.

However, It isn’t a terrible situation. Editors tend to be a very intellectual and skeptical bunch, keeping the worst vandalism at bay. And beyond that, community consensus is a great way to make editors feel included.

Going all the way back to my original point, I would argue that these symptoms show that Wikipedia is (for the most part) a direct democracy.

Now, this is fascinating for a variety of reasons. How does a direct democracy differ on the internet versus real life? Are they close to mob rule? If they are, are they aware and attempting to stop this?

Let’s start with the interesting connotation of it being a digital democracy. How is it different from a real democracy?

A major difference is that it’s very easy to sockpuppet and game the system if you’re dedicated enough. Hijacking an article is, relatively speaking, child’s play.

Wikipedia is, for the most part, mob rule. When it comes to scientific and academia, this doesn’t usually matter. But my goodness, politics, and religion is a bloody land mine. The most recent example I can think of is the Ocasio-Cortez article. I’ve gone through hundreds of posts and talked to several people, and all of them found her through her ‘Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t understand X’ type videos. Even heavily liberal news sites such as ‘Vox’ have mentioned her mistakes. And yet despite multiple proposals to include a small mention of this, it’s never seen in the article. Each proposal is shut down relentlessly.

Simply put, it’s hard enough justifying having a minority opinion under mob rule. But in Wikipedia? Boy oh boy. Imagine talking to a massive hive mind all wearing Guy Fawkes masks to hide their identity.

How users operate inside of this system is still fascinating, though. Editors will go to ridiculous lengths to justify certain opinions. I remember reading through a debate between several users where one was confused as to why a certain ideology was being misrepresented. Another user chimed in, claiming that user one held a minority view and that they wouldn’t change the article to make the ideology sound less insane, because clearly, the hive mind mass could never be wrong!

When user one pointed out that several scientists held similar views to him, user two claimed that they were “no-name, minority” scientists, their opinion not worthy of inclusion. What user two isn’t mentioning is that said scientists were fairly respected, and even had five thousand word entries on Wikipedia itself!

At least until they revealed they believed in user one’s ideology.

All of this goes to show that many of the problems already associated with direct democracy are exacerbated under a digital mask that makes users unaccountable. That’s not to say it’s all bad. The best parts of direct democracy really shine in Wikipedia. Participation is easier. Deliberation is encouraged.

As long as you don’t have an opinion on anything, you’ll be fine. (An acute summary of the entire internet.)

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