Wikipedia Edit Wars: The Web Encyclopedia as a Political Battleground

On: September 21, 2009
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About Thomas Wielemaker
Graduate of UvA's MA in New Media New Media and Digital Culture, Thomas Wielemaker currently works as new media strategist whilst also pursuing his interests in information visualization.


The United States is a vast expanse of landscape in which millions of people hold a myriad of differing opinions. Due to its open editing policy, many of these opinions have found their way on to Wikipedia. With high internet penetration statistics and its origins in the US, Wikipedia has exploded over the last eight years. The statistics on the site seem to confirm this with English leading other languages on Wikipedia with over two million articles more than any other language. Each page has been edited an average of 18.57 times. Considering how close the last three elections in the United States have been, it stands to reason that warring opinions on the internet have led to modifications of Wikipedia articles.

In fact, Wikipedia has named this phenomenon. It is called “post-election edit war syndrome” but usually begins just prior or during the election itself. This editing war has been known to last anywhere between twelve hours and three months.

Now, ten months on from the 2008 presidential election in the United States, a Democrat is in the White House and the policy changes that he is preparing to make have already caused demonstrations and pickets across the nation. Although Wikipedia has already established that changes in power lead to editing wars on their site, quantifying the number of edits made to specific pages might lead to deeper insights into the political tendencies of Wikipedia editors and highlight misleading edits to pages that may influence public opinion.

Once the information for the 2008 US elections is quantified it might make for interesting comparisons with edit wars caused by future elections in other countries. It may be in our interest to sponsor democratic processes in government but online democratic processes should concern us as well. If there are issues in developed countries over misleading, politically motivated edits in Wikipedia, then what problems of misinformation or misrepresentation might arise in other countries where internet penetration is limited to the elite? Think of the problems that arose in Iran in the summer of 2009. Internet sites became a major outlet for expressing distaste in the government.

This research would be carried out through a combination of Wikipedia’s own statistics and cross-referencing claims on contested entries with the facts to establish any sort of pattern. The results would also reflect people’s increasing reliance as the internet as a source of reference in less developed countries.


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