Wikimedia Ethics/Ethics on Wikipedia and the Internet

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"Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world. When a mainspace article is edited, it is possible that the edit may be viewed by thousands or even millions of readers. It is therefore necessary to ensure that when one edits an article, some principles are followed." - A draft copy of the Wikipedia code of ethics
Wikimedia Ethics


Handling of disputes[edit]

How are disputes handled on the Internet? How are disputes handled on Wikipedia? Which system will promote the best ethics?

On Wikipedia, disputes are resolved mostly using an open, public form of dispute resolution that is visible to the average reader of Wikipedia. As with virtually all systems of dealing with dispute resolution, this system has its advantages and disadvantages.

By allowing the average reader to see dispute resolution, the average reader can learn from the mistakes from others and ensure that these works are produced ethically. Contributors are also discouraged from engaging in unethical and argumentative behavior on wiki due to the threat of the issue being taken to dispute resolution. Also, contributors will be able to have constructive and open discussions with other users when the open system is used.

On other websites, dispute resolution, if it exists, is normally closed and rarely intervenes except for in the most extreme of cases. This can mean that two contributors to a website such as digg or facebook may start large arguments with other contributors without following some basic standard of ethics.

The closed system of dispute resolution does, however, have some advantages from an ethical standpoint. It means that some arguments and information which contributors would rather not made public are kept private.

Other websites often simply ban users from contributing to their sites if they are holding discussions which are intended to cause annoyance. This system can often be best for preventing people contributing to discussions on a website to annoy others.

Wikipedia may be improved from the actions on other sites in several ways. By banning contributors who are promoting poor ethics or attempting to anger other users, an ethic of good behavior might form across Wikipedia.

Other websites may benefit from the Wikipedia model. By having open discussion and intervening early, contributors will be able to have constructive and open discussions with other users.

What issues are involved with ethical issues on the internet? What issues are involved with ethical issues on Wikipedia?[edit]

There are many ethical issues involving the internet and Wikipedia, and most of them will not be covered in this essay. One of the ones that are often considered important is the inclusion of rumors on Wikipedia. In all articles, especially Biographies of living people, Wikipedia has a duty to portray the subject accurately. One way to increase the accuracy of articles is to ensure that Wikipedia does not include unverified rumors.

An example of a time when including unverified rumors on Wikipedia has had unexpected consequences is described at Chris Benoit mystery editor confesses: claims "terrible coincidence" on Wikinews. The article, and its corresponding talk page, shows how the inclusion of one unverified posting of a death, which occurred a few hours after the addition, resulted in conspiracy theories and accusations of murder. This incident probably would not have occurred if Wikipedia had not carried unverified rumors, and demonstrates the benefits of following a code of ethics when writing.

Another issue which needs to be considered when looking into ethical issues on the English Wikipedia is anonymous or pseudonymous editing of Wikipedia. It can be argued that anonymous or pseudonymous editors are less likely to follow basic ethical standards when editing Wikipedia. This is due to the fact that people feel required to follow ethical standards when they can be tracked in real life.

Banning anonymous or pseudonymous editing on Wikipedia, however, is likely not to be an appropriate solution. Considering that almost all Wikipedians do not provide their real name, Wikipedia would not be able to sustain a good number of well updated articles without these editors.

An alternative to requiring users to edit under their real name is attempting to attach a level of responsibility to edits at Wikipedia, so people will still be able to contribute using a pseudonym, while having the sense of responsibility attached with real names. The issue with this is that some users will not have that sense of responsibility, so may not contribute constructively. This issue is one that appears to have no clear solution.

This problem also extends across the internet, as many sites do not require editing with a real name. One site, Citizendium, is growing at a faster rate than Wikipedia did at its origin,[factual?] despite the fact that editing with a real name is required.

How have such processes evolved over time on the Internet? How have such processes evolved over time on Wikipedia?[edit]

The Wikipedia policy on Biographies of living persons is one that has developed significantly to meet growing standards for ethics on Wikipedia. At its formation, the policy only stated that "biographies of living persons deserve a special sensitivity," while now it says that any controversial material must be "removed immediately and without waiting for discussion." This is different to the usual Wikipedia policy on forming a consensus, which says that a consensus should be formed before any controversial removals of content.

On the Internet, guidelines over ethics have developed to fit with new projects which claim to run on a higher ethical standards, such as Citizendium, which says that it focuses on "reliability and quality" through methods such as requiring contributors to provide their real name. Another group of citizen cyber-journalists has proposed a model Blogger Code of Ethics, adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Tim O'Reilly has similarly called for a Blogging Code of Ethics.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]