Ideological Segregation among Online Collaborators: Evidence from Wikipedians

by Shane Greenstein, Yuan Gu, and Feng Zhu

Overview — This study analyzes the dynamics supporting or undermining segregated conversations. Among the findings: In spite of their great differences, contributors on Wikipedia tend to move toward less segregated conversations. Contributors’ positions become more neutral over time, not more extreme. In addition, the conflict resolution mechanisms and the mix of informal and formal norms at Wikipedia play an important role in encouraging a community that works toward a neutral point of view.

Author Abstract

Do online communities segregate into separate conversations when contributing to contestable knowledge involving controversial, subjective, and unverifiable topics? We analyze the contributors of biased and slanted content in Wikipedia articles about US politics and focus on two research questions: (1) Do contributors display tendencies to contribute to sites with similar or opposing biases and slants? (2) Do contributors learn from experience with extreme or neutral content, and does that experience change the slant and bias of their contributions over time? The findings show enormous heterogeneity in contributors and their contributions, and, importantly, an overall trend towards less segregated conversations. A higher percentage of contributors have a tendency to edit articles with the opposite slant than articles with similar slant. We also observe the slant of contributions becoming more neutral over time, not more extreme, and, remarkably, the largest such declines are found with contributors who interact with articles that have greater biases. We also find some significant differences between Republicans and Democrats.

Paper Information