Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2017/Sources/Washington, DC, strategy salon with US policy experts and leaders - June 22, 2017

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On June 22, 2017, the Wikimedia Foundation brought together an esteemed group of US policy experts and leaders in Washington DC to discuss the future of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement. Over dinner, a three hour conversation unfolded. The conversation was facilitated by Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, and the guiding question for the evening was “What do you see as the greatest challenge to the integrity of the internet and open discourse?”

Attendees[edit]

Key Insights[edit]

  1. The internet is a reflection of human society, and the internet’s successes and failures are society’s as well.
  2. Trust and truth are under threat, and this threat needs to be taken seriously.
  3. Wikipedia’s ability to function without relying on ads  creates an opportunity to lead in a world where government surveillance and resulting dysfunction are fast becoming the norm.

Conversation Notes[edit]

The success and dysfunction of the Internet is a reflection of us as humans.[edit]

  • The problems of the Internet are not sign that something is inherently wrong with the platform.  
  • People blame “the Internet” for the decline of open, honest discourse, but the Internet is simply a reflection of people and the connections between people.  
  • This is not a new problem. The difference today is the scope and speed of the issue.
  • Also, the internet touches people more intimately that many other modern mediums or platforms
  • How do you build communities that can have civil conversations?

Truth and Trust are under siege[edit]

  • Agnotology: the study of ignorance (http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=11232)
  • In the 50s,  big tobacco learned that they needed to sow doubt
  • Wikipedia’s decision architecture seems to have figured out a way to get people to talk to each other
  • Certainty has killed discourse
  • How can we use technology to reduce the shouting?  Who, if anyone is taking on this work?
  • The western world has forgotten how to deal with the effects of reduced trust and increased, if false, certainty.  We should look to other cultures and societies to help us relearn this
  • In this era, does Wikipedia need to become something else in order to reach these other cultures and incorporate their knowledge?
  • Teachers, librarians and professors: “if I’m going to choose people to trust, I’m choose the people who teach humans and teach civil discourse.”
  • News, and what is considered newsworthy, is part of what’s gone wrong with public discourse. When we see constant death and destruction held up as the most important news of each day we lose track of the things and actions that are going well and bring us together.  The decline of local media has exacerbated this issue.

Government Surveillance and Dysfunction as a threat[edit]

  • We have created all these platforms that are supposed to be open, but they’ve been exploited by people.
  • People want to connect on the internet, but in many places that connection is a threat due to government surveillance
  • There is not an alternative place to go have discussions and learn that doesn’t have ad revenue as it’s driving source. This is the time for Wikipedia to step up into this space.  

Written Feedback[edit]

“The generation and dissemination of knowledge should remain your core goal. The need for this endeavor is only growing as “facts” become contestable. The threat to your mission is the degradation of reliable sources. Using multiple sources to anchor your facts is essential. Your reputation is your future. Your reputation depends on credible assertions.” - David Vladeck

“Apply your vision with the best tools and technology using your inclusive methodology to serve as many publics as you possibly can.” - Gene Kimmelman

“Truth and trust matter to the world and society more than ever. Your model for creating shared public facts offers as away forward for every country in the internet age, based upon citable evidence. Thank you for your commitment to knowledge creation and sharing!” - Alex Howard

“Your greatest strength is your community — both online and off — engage them frequently — both online and off.” - Brian Wesolowski

“Wikimedia can be a preeminent actor in addressing the biggest problems facing our information ecosystem. All you know about ‘information politics’ and the way people can challenge each other over information can help us work our way out of the most severe problems the information ecosystem faces. You are a sociological and political science miracle of the networked age and you can exploit that by helping other actors in the system learn from the hard-won gains you’ve made” - Anonymous

“Wikimedia has an important role to play in saving the internet” - Rebecca MacKinnon