Commentary: Are we in a recession? Don’t ask Wikipedia

EDITING BOTS OR HUMAN BEINGS

But if angry disputes and temporary suspension of editing are so common, why don’t we remember them?

Because they always settle down.

We know this because social scientists, fascinated by Wikipedia’s belief that we can successfully crowd-source even the most abstruse or technical knowledge, have spent years studying how the site is edited.

For example, researchers have long understood that Wikipedia edits tend to increase sharply in response to intense politicisation of a current issue, as well as in response to other major social disruptions, such as the outbreak of disease. But no matter how large the initial flurry of Wikipedia alterations when an event that grabs the public’s interest, over time the editing patterns regress to the mean.

On the other hand, although editing bots on Wikipedia engage in sustained and often destructive warfare, their influence may be waning.

An analysis published in April 2022 reviewed all references added to Wikipedia articles through June 2019 and found not only a large upswing in sources denoted by such identifiers as ISBN or DOI, but also that the great majority of additions were made by human beings (that is, not bots) who were registered users (that is, not anonymous). In other words, no matter what fights are going on, the sourcing of actual facts seems to be getting better.

Yes, in Wikipedia editing as elsewhere, the Resistance lives. And as the recent struggle over the definition of recession reminds us, whatever one wishes to call the opposite sentiment lives as well. The editors are volunteers. Some are experts, some are amateurs; some are calm, some aren’t. It’s not surprising that major arguments sometimes break out, and can at times become petty and vicious.