- Randall Livingstone, Doctoral Candidate, School of Journalism & Communication, University of Oregon
Much recent work has collectively explored the possibilities and limitations of open-source content development from both technical and human perspectives. And while critical at times of Wikipedia’s growth, governance, and influence, most of this work observes with optimism that barriers to improvement are not firmly structural, but rather that barriers are socially constructed, leaving open the possibility of important and lasting social change.
This study considers one such collective effort, that of the WikiProject: Countering Systemic Bias. Through an online survey and online interviewing, I will explore the motivations and level of engagement of these Wikipedia editors, querying their thoughts and opinions on the presence of Western bias on the world’s largest online encyclopedia and what can be done to combat it. In addition, I seek to explore these editors’ thoughts on their role as social actors in an expanding online democratic space.
There are two guiding research questions for this study. The first question (RQ1) asks what motivates these Wikipedia editors to participate in a collective action to combat bias on Wikipedia. The second question (RQ2) asks more generally about these editors’ opinions on the presence of bias on Wikipedia, their ability to change this bias, and their self-perceptions of their roles as online social actors.
For this study I am primarily interested in surveying and interviewing members of WikiProject Countering Systemic Bias. I am committed to doing so in a responsible and unobtrusive matter. Recruitment practices will adhere to the following rules:
- Editors who have signed on to the WikiProject Countering Systemic Bias members page (~360) will be contacted:
- through a one-time invitation on their user talk page, and/or
- via email if enabled on user space (if an email is sent, only a "you've got mail" template will be posted to the user talk page)
These are the only personal outreach methods that will be used. If a user chooses not to respond, she or he will not be contacted again. If a user chooses to take part in the survey, they have the option to express interest in a follow-up online interview, which will be conducted at a time and via a the method preferable to that user.
- In order to gauge both the qualitative and statistical significance of data collected from WPCSB, I will also contact a random sample of general Wikipedia editors (~360). These editors will be selected in the following manner:
- From the English Wikipedia main page, the "Random article" tool will be used to arrive at an article.
- From the "View history" page of the article, the 10th most recent editor will be selected. This editor will be contacted in the same manner as the WPCSB editors. If the 10th most recent editor is a bot, the 11th most recent editor (or next eligible editor) will be contacted instead.
Additionally, a project description with my contact info will be posted to the WikiProject Countering Systemic Bias discussion page.
This project has received IRB approval from the Office for Protection of Human Subjects at the University of Oregon (a copy of the approved protocol is available upon request). As the invitation message states, by completing the survey, users are providing informed consent to participate in the study; users may skip any question(s) and/or withdraw at any time.
Benefits for Wikipedia
In addition to advancing our knowledge about Wikipedia and online participation in general, this study could have several direct benefits for the Wikipedia community:
- The research gives a voice to a collective of editors devoted to combating bias on Wikipedia.
- The research helps us better understand how content bias is perceived on Wikipedia.
- The research explores specific motivations of action-oriented editors and considers Wikipedia as a potential platform for positive social action.
Sharing our Findings
I am fully interested in sharing this project's findings with the Wikipedia community. I am planning to:
- Create an easy-to-read executive summary of our findings, link it to the WPCSB page and the project page, and share the report via mailing lists.
- Publish/share the findings in academic journals and communication studies conferences.
Wikipedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects Protection
This research is a graduate student project for Livingstone. As previously stated, the project has been reviewed and approved (protocol #E69-11) by the Office for the Protection of Human Subjects at the University of Oregon on 9/23/10. This Institutional Review Board (IRB) ensures that our research protocol and methods will conform to strict standards of informed consent and openness of data collection methods.
On 10/2/11, the OPHS approved a modification to recruit, survey, and interview a random sample of editors (protocol #08262011.108).
- Survey launched (~ May/June 2011) available here
- Data collection (May – August 2011)
- Interviews with interested editors (July – September 2011) (NOTE: Due to big (good) life events, interviews will now begin in mid-to-late September.)
- Executive summary available (~ December 2011)
I certainly welcome your feedback and input. Please contribute to the discussion page, or feel free to contact me directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.