Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Wikipedia and Reddit

About Wikipedia and its role in politics…

“(…) Wikipedia is committed to making its articles as unbiased as possible. The aim is not to write articles from a single objective point of view-this is a common misunderstanding of the policy-but rather, to fairly and sympathetically present all views on an issue.”

This is part of one of the policies of Wikipedia. It just reminds me to some sort of “news” publication that went around social media in my country. Presidential elections are going to take place in Paraguay in April, 21st and there is too much debate not only about the candidates’ proposals but also about the candidates’ doubtful backgrounds. There is not any concrete proof or evidence but there are rumors and some past events which involves one of the candidates in drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. The news publication (in Spanish) that was shared on Facebook shows a screen shot of “Wikipedia” and said “According to Wikipedia, Horacio Cartes (the presidential candidate) is a drug-dealer and a cigarette smuggler”. 

I have 2 observations about this issue:

1.       From my perception, I doubt that there is many people in my country who knows that Wikipedia is not a, let’s say official, “reliable” source and rather is just a platform where people collaborate with information about a variety of issues. In fact, the article makes clear that but at the very end. In the fast pace we live there might be some people who didn’t make it until the end of the article. I am not defending or being against this candidate, but the consequences of this fact are that people might believe what was included in Wikipedia and once it went around social media or even become viral it might be hard to stop or make people change their perception about this candidate.

2.      Of course, people working for his campaign detected this issue and they immediately changed the information and now you can read that he is just a “businessman and politician”. This led me to think how permanent or accurate the information might be and how it would be interesting to have a tool or feature that allows you to track these changes, at least to see, how the information about a same topic was being shaped up along a certain time period. This is something that one of our classmates, Wade, mentioned some time ago as well.

I think that the study mentioned in the reading “Peer Production and Sharing” that noted that the “difference in accuracy was not particularly great” among Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica might be too optimistic. Whether is true that vandalism acts can be corrected within minutes in Wikipedia, I can go now and just write back that this presidential candidate was a drug dealer and it can become an endless back and forth between the supposedly “vandals” and  the “supposedly” true about this person.

About Reddit…an interesting site to explore and play with…

            The reading also provided good examples of Slashdot, Project Gutenberg and other sites. I think one of the most current and commented sites that serves sort of the same function as those mentioned in the reading is Reddit. This site was created in 2005 and serves as a portal where people submit links or stories and others, the “redditors” can comment and rate them. In addition, the site offers cool features I think like one named IamA where one user who has an interesting life experience, job or something uncommon allows “redditors” to ask this people questions about anything or almost anything as they said in their site. I think this might be an interesting new site to explore, I already joined and I think they’ve done a good job in creating a diverse community. This example of Reddit also shows as the reading described that the merely function of posting a story from another site into a particular one is “itself an act of relevance production”.
            This is a video that talks a little bit more about Reddit and they show very cool activities they have done to create community...

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).

Daily Me

The entire time I read the first half of this article all I could do was shake my head and scream "No! No! No!" inside my head to myself. The idea of totally personalized media feed scared the bejesus out of me! I mean imagine it....a world where you only got what you wanted to hear/see/watch with no intrusion from the outside world. How incredibly dull and lame that would be! A cocoon of your own likes and interests to bore yourself to death. How would you ever learn anything or grow! How could you relay what you know to others who would have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. The ultra-niched world would have everyone so fragmented and isolated that I couldn't imagine how boring and useless even following media would become. For me, the exposure to new ideas and stories is WHY I read the news, not to avoid them. 
There is so much that's just fundamentally wrong with this idea of only consuming the media you want. So after my inner voice caught its breath from yelling, I realized that Cass Sunstein also saw the inherent flaws with the "Daily Me" type of media consumption. As she so aptly points out, exposure to new ideas facilitate and nurture democracy. In addition they give us all common experiences so we can relate to one another. If we were all in our own private bubbles with nothing to make us cringe or feel uneasy, what would be the point of living? It would seem like a bland Orwellian existence where we are fed our congee or gruel of media every day through a tube. We don't even take notice as we dumbly blink, swallow and digest the bare necessity of information. GULP!
It reminds me of the story of the fable about the emperor with no clothes. If you are surrounded by yes men telling you things you want to hear then you'll be tricked and fooled into believing just about anything. 

Polarize me

Perhaps the reason is arbitrary, but on any given political map Democrats and liberals are identified with the color blue and Republicans and conservatives with red. The graphic above describes the party or ideological associations of blogs that link to left-leaning liberal or right-leaning conservative websites. The graphic is from a 2005 study from the International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining that measured the ideological polarization in the political blogosphere during the 2004 election. The lines between the nodes indicate where each blog linked to. What is interesting about the map is that there is not a whole heck of a lot of shared linkages between liberal blogs and conservative blogs.

Sunstein’s (2006) article attributed this phenomenon to group polarization, in which “members of a deliberating group typically end up in a more extreme position in line with their tendencies before deliberation began” (p.92).  The primary reason for this, according to the author, is because of informational influences. Sunstein described that when a limited number of opinions and arguments are shared the views then become more entrenched. Furthermore, as the graphic shows, views become more sharply polarized when they are validated by others who share those points of view. This creates a kind of “group think” where arguments within the group seem persuasive, and arguments outside the group just seem to make one’s blood boil. 

Networked communication can mean that listeners, readers, and viewers don’t need to receive their information from anywhere or anyone they don’t want to. We can select the news or issues that align with our points of view, and thus validate the views we already have. On one hand I suppose it feels good to know that others are out there who feel and think the same. On the other hand, as the graphic above demonstrates, it can mean that not much contrary opinion gets through the self-selecting filters. 

Sunstein, C. (2006). Infotopia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.