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Nuanced Orders of Truth? Systemic Competition Using the Example of Wikipedia's Community-Based Content Moderation

Nuanced Orders of Truth? Systemic Competition Using the Example of Wikipedia's Community-Based Content Moderation

The Seed Money project investigates how truth is generated on Wikipedia and how community-based content is created and negotiated. The focus lies on moderation in the area of content regulation and the way in which, for example, deletions and decisions about blocking user accounts or user-generated content take place. Which concepts of "truth" are developed within discussions in the community and then lead to inclusion and/or exclusion when producing knowledge?

The following research questions arise:
  • What concept of truth and knowledge is used? How is the production of truth and knowledge differentiated and explained?
  • Which principles of truth are negotiated? What kind of order has been established?
  • Where are the limits and where are sanctions imposed within the Wikipedia system? Has this boundary shifted, and if so, what are the characteristics and justifications of the interviewees?
The results of the study will be used to develop guidelines for nuanced content moderation that can be compared to democratic standards.

Exploring Wikipedia as an Inherently Competing System of New Orders of Truth along Existing Normative Principles

Among the major websites, Wikipedia is the only one that is non-profit and financed exclusively by donations. The online encyclopaedia is self-governed through participatory community processes and seems to have survived the media shift towards a dynamic Web 2.0. It is still a highly frequented and important place of self-information for internet users. What is less well known is the quality of its content moderation system, which is based exclusively on voluntary engagement.

From the knowledge that is produced collectively and in very participatory processes, a basis for the negotiation of the concept of truth among Wikipedians emerges. The concept of this truth, generated by the internal exchange in the Wikipedia system, describes a collective assumption of knowledge production but the definition of what truth is remains fuzzy. It is part of the study to capture the nuance of this notion of truth within the self-regulatory system of content moderation.

Although established research already exists on this aspect, especially on discussion cultures, there has been little systematic research in the area of content regulation and how exactly internal decisions are made. In particular, research on how much of this could be used in guidelines for nuanced content moderation that would meet democratic standards. This aspect of researching Wikipedia as a collective system, in which new orders of truth develop inherently in competition along existing normative principles, will be particularly highlighted in this project.

For this purpose, selected key actors in the production of knowledge and the normative-regulatory order of Wikipedia, such as administrators, check users and bureaucrats, will be asked in qualitative interviews about the area of systemic competition in the production of knowledge and consequently truth systems. The focus here will be on the limits and their shifts - because one of the guiding principles of Wikipedia, "knowledge is created through sharing", also seems to give indications of the production of truth and its collective anchoring.

Photo: César Romero, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Project Description

Further information follows soon.

Project Information


Duration: 2022-2022

Research programme:
RP2 - Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Digital Communication

Third party

Seed Money

Cooperation Partner

Studentische Mitarbeiterinnen: Lena Hinrichs, Vivienne Gold

Contact person

Dipl.-Päd. Christina Dinar, M. A.
Junior Researcher Platform Governance

Dipl.-Päd. Christina Dinar, M. A.

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-bredow-Institut
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg
Tel. +49 (0)40 450 21 7-0

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