Norms, minorities, and collective choice online

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Norms, minorities, and collective choice online
Authors: Henry Farrell, Melissa Schwartzberg [edit item]
Citation: Ethics & International Affairs 22 (4): 357-367. 2008.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
Database(s):
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-7093.2008.00171.x.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
Added by Wikilit team: Yes
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Norms, minorities, and collective choice online is a publication by Henry Farrell, Melissa Schwartzberg.


[edit] Abstract

Building on case studies of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos, this essay argues that different kinds of rules shape relations between members of the majority and of the minority in these communities in important and consequential ways. Adapted from the source document.

[edit] Research questions

"In this essay, we argue that we should try to capture variation by paying more attention to the decision rules governing choice within collectivities on the Internet. As best we know, all of the sociologically "interesting" collective endeavors on the Internet are characterized by rules or norms; that is, blogs, online discussion groups, and other such forums of communication may appear chaotic and anarchic, but are characterized by informal rules that shape conversation. More generally, rules structure the choices made by participants in a wide variety of endeavors, and hence influence the outcomes of these choices. Surprisingly, there is remarkably little work that seeks to examine these rules, and even less that tries to compare the relative effects of different rule systems. To the best of our knowledge, there is no existing literature whatsoever among political scientists and political theorists on this topic, despite the fact that new forms of interaction provide an extraordinary laboratory for understanding how diverse rule sets work.

Building on case studies of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos, we make three basic claims. First, we argue that different kinds of rules shape relations between members of the majority and of the minority in these communities in important and consequential ways. Second, we argue that the normative implications of these consequences differ between online communities that seek to generate knowledge, and which should be tolerant of diversity in points of view, and online communities that seek to generate political action, which need less diversity in order to be politically efficacious. Third, we note that an analysis of the normative desirability of this or that degree of tolerance needs to be tempered with an awareness that the actual rules through which minority relations are structured are likely the consequence of power relations rather than normative considerations."

Research details

Topics: Policies and governance [edit item]
Domains: Philosophy and ethics, Political science, Sociology [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Case [edit item]
Theories: "Much work in political science and political theory, ranging from the arguments of eighteenth-century political theorists, such as Condorcet and Rousseau, to modern social-choice theory, concerns the relationship between decision rules and collective choice. It is emphatically clear that the former have important consequences for the latter. Individuals' preferences and beliefs are not only channeled but shaped by the rules governing decision-making." [edit item]
Research design: Case study [edit item]
Data source: N/A [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: N/A [edit item]
Unit of analysis: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia language: Not specified [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"We believe that the case studies outlined above—brief and preliminary though they surely are—support our basic claim that we can learn a lot about the consequences of collective projects on the Internet by looking at how the specific rules of these projects structure collective choice. In particular, we argue that it is revealing to look more closely at how these rules structure relations between majorities and minorities in both epistemic and political contexts. First, it is clear not only that the rules of these communities structure relations between majorities and minorities, but that the problem of majority-minority relations is key to their internal governance. In contrast to many offline political communities, the most important problem in Wikipedia and the Daily Kos is often to prevent the tyranny of the minority from consistently overwhelming the majority. More generally, many forms of social activity on the Internet are much more open than their offline equivalents; it is extraordinarily easy to become a member of Wikipedia or the Daily Kos, to start commenting on a blog, and so on. This bias toward openness is part of what gives the Internet its "generative" character.22 However, it also means that collective online projects are vulnerable to disruption by outsiders who do not share the goals of the project, because they do not agree with them, because they enjoy being "trolls," or because they have harmful economic incentives (for example, they can profit by publishing spam comments). Second, we suggest that different collective projects, with different collective goals, may reasonably look to different balances of majority-minority relations. Here, Scott Page's account of the benefits and drawbacks of diversity is a useful starting point.23 Page suggests that heuristic diversity (differences, roughly, in points of view) is very valuable to knowledge generation. However, he also notes that diversity of final goals may make group coordination more difficult, and that heuristic diversity often tends to be correlated with diversity of goals. Thus, it is highly plausible that such collective projects as Wikipedia, which stress knowledge generation, ought to be more tolerant of minorities, even when those minorities have goals that are at odds with those of the majority, as long as those minorities bring different heuristics (and thus different forms of knowledge) to the collective project. Such collective projects as the Daily Kos, which stress collective action, face different trade-offs: for them, the diverse knowledge and heuristics that minorities may bring to the project may often be outweighed by the ways in which those minorities would disrupt their ability to engage in collective action. This tradeoff—which we believe is crucial—is often ignored in contemporary work deploring the ways in which the Internet creates ideological cocooning effects.24 Some degree of cocooning is likely a necessary by-product of political efficacy. This assessment suggests that some of the differences in how the rules of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos handle majority-minority relations are normatively justified. It should not, however, be taken as arguing that these rules are functionally appropriate means for achieving their respective goals of heuristic diversity and political efficacy, or that the trade-offs in the two communities are necessarily the right ones. To the contrary, there is good initial evidence that these rules and norms emerge, at least in part, from power struggles among individuals with different objectives within these projects. At best, the resulting norms are likely to reflect unwieldy compromises. We do not have sufficient evidence to trace specific rules back to specific struggles, but we do have enough to feel confident that these rules often arise less from consensus than from sharp disagreements, as in offline communities."

[edit] Comments


Further notes[edit]

Facts about "Norms, minorities, and collective choice online"RDF feed
AbstractBuilding on case studies of Wikipedia and Building on case studies of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos, this essay argues that different kinds of rules shape relations between members of the majority and of the minority in these communities in important and consequential ways. Adapted from the source document.al ways. Adapted from the source document.
Added by wikilit teamYes +
Collected data time dimensionN/A +
ConclusionWe believe that the case studies outlined We believe that the case studies outlined above—brief and preliminary though they surely are—support our basic claim that we can learn a lot about the consequences of collective projects on the Internet by looking at how the specific rules of these projects structure collective choice. In particular, we argue that it is revealing to look more closely at how these rules structure relations between majorities and minorities in both epistemic and political contexts. First, it is clear not only that the rules of these communities structure relations between majorities and minorities, but that the problem of majority-minority relations is key to their internal governance. In contrast to many offline political communities, the most important problem in Wikipedia and the Daily Kos is often to prevent the tyranny of the minority from consistently overwhelming the majority. More generally, many forms of social activity on the Internet are much more open than their offline equivalents; it is extraordinarily easy to become a member of Wikipedia or the Daily Kos, to start commenting on a blog, and so on. This bias toward openness is part of what gives the Internet its "generative" character.22 However, it also means that collective online projects are vulnerable to disruption by outsiders who do not share the goals of the project, because they do not agree with them, because they enjoy being "trolls," or because they have harmful economic incentives (for example, they can profit by publishing spam comments). Second, we suggest that different collective projects, with different collective goals, may reasonably look to different balances of majority-minority relations. Here, Scott Page's account of the benefits and drawbacks of diversity is a useful starting point.23 Page suggests that heuristic diversity (differences, roughly, in points of view) is very valuable to knowledge generation. However, he also notes that diversity of final goals may make group coordination more difficult, and that heuristic diversity often tends to be correlated with diversity of goals. Thus, it is highly plausible that such collective projects as Wikipedia, which stress knowledge generation, ought to be more tolerant of minorities, even when those minorities have goals that are at odds with those of the majority, as long as those minorities bring different heuristics (and thus different forms of knowledge) to the collective project. Such collective projects as the Daily Kos, which stress collective action, face different trade-offs: for them, the diverse knowledge and heuristics that minorities may bring to the project may often be outweighed by the ways in which those minorities would disrupt their ability to engage in collective action. This tradeoff—which we believe is crucial—is often ignored in contemporary work deploring the ways in which the Internet creates ideological cocooning effects.24 Some degree of cocooning is likely a necessary by-product of political efficacy. This assessment suggests that some of the differences in how the rules of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos handle majority-minority relations are normatively justified. It should not, however, be taken as arguing that these rules are functionally appropriate means for achieving their respective goals of heuristic diversity and political efficacy, or that the trade-offs in the two communities are necessarily the right ones. To the contrary, there is good initial evidence that these rules and norms emerge, at least in part, from power struggles among individuals with different objectives within these projects. At best, the resulting norms are likely to reflect unwieldy compromises. We do not have sufficient evidence to trace specific rules back to specific struggles, but we do have enough to feel confident that these rules often arise less from consensus than from sharp disagreements, as in offline communities. disagreements, as in offline communities.
Data sourceN/A +
Doi10.1111/j.1747-7093.2008.00171.x +
Google scholar urlhttp://scholar.google.com/scholar?ie=UTF-8&q=%22Norms%2C%2Bminorities%2C%2Band%2Bcollective%2Bchoice%2Bonline%22 +
Has authorHenry Farrell + and Melissa Schwartzberg +
Has domainPhilosophy and ethics +, Political science + and Sociology +
Has topicPolicies and governance +
Issue4 +
Pages357-367 +
Peer reviewedYes +
Publication typeJournal article +
Published inEthics & International Affairs +
Research designCase study +
Research questionsIn this essay, we argue that we should tryIn this essay, we argue that we should try to capture variation by paying more attention to the decision rules governing choice within collectivities on the Internet. As best we know, all of the sociologically "interesting" collective endeavors on the Internet are characterized by rules or norms; that is, blogs, online discussion groups, and other such forums of communication may appear chaotic and anarchic, but are characterized by informal rules that shape conversation. More generally, rules structure the choices made by participants in a wide variety of endeavors, and hence influence the outcomes of these choices. Surprisingly, there is remarkably little work that seeks to examine these rules, and even less that tries to compare the relative effects of different rule systems. To the best of our knowledge, there is no existing literature whatsoever among political scientists and political theorists on this topic, despite the fact that new forms of interaction provide an extraordinary laboratory for understanding how diverse rule sets work. Building on case studies of Wikipedia and the Daily Kos, we make three basic claims. First, we argue that different kinds of rules shape relations between members of the majority and of the minority in these communities in important and consequential ways. Second, we argue that the normative implications of these consequences differ between online communities that seek to generate knowledge, and which should be tolerant of diversity in points of view, and online communities that seek to generate political action, which need less diversity in order to be politically efficacious. Third, we note that an analysis of the normative desirability of this or that degree of tolerance needs to be tempered with an awareness that the actual rules through which minority relations are structured are likely the consequence of power relations rather than normative considerations.ions rather than normative considerations.
Revid10,886 +
TheoriesMuch work in political science and politicMuch work in political science and political theory, ranging from the arguments of eighteenth-century political theorists, such as Condorcet and Rousseau, to modern social-choice theory, concerns the relationship between decision rules and collective choice. It is emphatically clear that the former have important consequences for the latter. Individuals' preferences and beliefs are not only channeled but shaped by the rules governing decision-making.ed by the rules governing decision-making.
Theory typeAnalysis +
TitleNorms, minorities, and collective choice online
Unit of analysisN/A +
Urlhttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-7093.2008.00171.x/full +
Volume22 +
Wikipedia coverageCase +
Wikipedia data extractionN/A +
Wikipedia languageNot specified +
Wikipedia page typeN/A +
Year2008 +