Wikimedia Saving Civilization
- This article is on Wikiversity to invite a wide-ranging debate on the issues raised herein, subject to the standard Wikimedia rules of writing from a neutral point of view, citing credible sources, and treating others with respect.
This article describes how the Wikimedia Foundation seems to be ideally placed to counter recent increases in polarization of the international body politic. This includes the increasing popularity of xenophobic leaders like Donald Trump in the US, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Teresa May and Boris Johnson in the UK. It also includes increases in extremist violence from the suicide mass murders of September 11, 2001, to mass murders in Norway in 2011, at Charlie Hebdo in 2015 and in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in early August 2019 (days before this was written).
Narendra Modi in India is stoking ethnic conflict over Kashmir. This may play well with his base in India, but it is a giant game of Russian Roulette: A miscalculation on either side could produce a nuclear war.
Climate scientists have simulated a “minor” nuclear war between India and Pakistan, concluding that it would likely generate a “nuclear autumn” with substantial food shortages world wide leading to the deaths from starvation of between 1 and 2 billion people.
The simulated nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan represents only 2 percent of the US nuclear arsenal, which suggests that a nuclear war involving the US or Russia would be vastly worse, likely producing a nuclear winter lasting at least 5 years during which 98 percent of humanity would starve to death if they did not die of something else sooner. A growing number of experts and senior politicians have expressed such concerns. For example, Stanford Engineering Professor Emeritus Martin Hellman has estimated that the probability is at least 10 percent that a child born today would die prematurely from a nuclear war. More on this appears in the Wikiversity article on “Time to nuclear Armageddon”.
This article outlines two things that Wikimedians might do to help reduce these risks. First, we review research by Daniel Kahneman that helps people understand why humans are so easily led to support such violence.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. He is NOT an economist, even though he won the prize in economics: He is a research psychologist. He won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics by inventing ways of asking people questions, that showed that the standard economic models of the “rational person” are NOT how people actually think. Perhaps most importantly, he documented the following:
- 1. Everyone makes most decisions based on what comes most readily to mind.
This is Kahneman's “Fast thinking”, described in his 2011 book on Thinking, Fast and Slow.
- 2. We are capable of more careful thought and search for more information, but we are not very good at identifying when we need this “slow thinking”.
Another problem Kahneman identified is that:
- 3. People judge information sources based on how well they match their preconceptions.
We often do not even see things we do not expect. When we do see them, we often reject them as not credible.
Combining this with research on the media suggests that:
- 4. Media organizations everywhere exploit this tendency to “segment” their markets.
Social media carries this to an extreme called “microsegmentation.”
The apparent decline in cross-partisan collaboration in the US Congress over the past 40 years may have been driven by the growth in media expoitation of this human tendency to prefer media that reinforce our preconceptions. This effect can explain this apparent increase in "segmentation" and "microsegmentation". The result is increased Balkanization of the US and international body politic. Media organizations that better learn how to manipulate this earn audience loyalty while driving this Balkanization to benefit those who control media funding and governance.
Conversely, media organizations that do NOT support this Balkanization threaten those who control their funding and governance.
This suggests that mainstream media organizations everywhere, whether commercial like ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox in the US or so-called "public" media like PBS and NPR in the US or the BBC in Britain, they are essentially required to do this or risk losing funding.
Fortunately, this imperative to drive Balkanization does not apply to audience-sponsored media like Wikimedia Foundation projects or listener-sponsored radio stations like members of the Grassroots Radio Coalition or the National Federation of Community Broadcasters or affiliates of the Pacifica radio network.
Kahneman's research explains why it's so easy for media organizations to amplify misunderstanding and conflict. This in turn can explain the recent increase in extremist violence and the rise of leaders like Trump and Modi.
It also provides a vision of how audience-funded media can help reduce these risks.
Wikipedia has been identified as one of the very few media outlets to counter this natural exploitation of these fundamental defects in how people think and make decisions. Peter Binkley in an invited 2006 article for a Canadian Library Association journal said that on controversial topics "the two sides actually engaged each other and negotiated a version of the [Wikipedia] article that both can more or less live with. This is a rare sight indeed in today’s polarized political atmosphere, where most online forums are echo chambers for one side or the other”.
International Conflict Observatory
Binkley's observation suggests a way to reduce the level and lethality of conflict: Encourage supporters of different sides in conflict to come to something like Wikipedia and actually engage each other and negotiate a description of a conflict that all can more or less live with.
We cannot do this on Wikipedia, because it's an encyclopedia, and much of what needs to be done to reduce conflict would be original research.
However, we can do this using Wikiversity, as documented in the Wikiversity article on “International Conflict Observatory”. As more people come to see, like Binkley, that Wikimedia projects like Wikiversity and Wikipedia as a neutral space for honest information about conflicts, it could have a major impact in reducing the lethality of conflict and opening spaces for win-win resolutions of conflicts.
Another thing that Wikimedians might do to reduce the lethality of conflict and facilitate resolution is to encourage the growth of noncommercial social media. Activities with this aim include the following:
- Research and compare alternative noncommercial social media platforms like Mastodon (software) and summarize those comparisons on Wikiversity. Mastedon and some 30 other noncommercial social media platforms use the Fediverse network with almost 3,000 servers supporting close to 6 million users, who made a quarter of a billion posts by 2019-06-14.
- Help activists in compatible efforts like Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement understand that progress on the issues that concern them is slow at best, precisely because mainstream media everywhere cannot afford to offend the people who control media funding and governance. These activist groups can get more people supporting their issues by devoting some time to helping convince others to stop using “Antisocial media” and use instead noncommercial platforms like Mastedon and the Fediverse.
- Plan future actions in joint with leaders of compatible projects like Fediverse and Extinction Rebellion.
- Experiment yourselves with the social media platforms that seem most valuable to you and most likely to convince your acquaintances to switch from “Antisocial media” to a similar noncommercial social media platform.
The funding of commercial media outlets depends on convincing their audiences to do things contrary to their best interests. People love Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp or other “Antisocial Media”, to use the name of a 2018 book by Siva Vaidhyanathan. Most seem ignorant of the fact that people whose posts suggest xenophobic world views often receive posts that reinforce those tendencies. Those messages appear, because someone is paying that social media platform to convince users of that platform to do counterproductive and sometimes even criminal things. People who don't share those worldviews are not likely to see those posts. Vaidhyanathan claims this system amplifies conflict.
If a critical mass of the customer base of commercial media can be diverted to noncommercial media, it can force the remaining commercial media to provide more honest information or face an even greater erosion of their audience.
Wikipedia is by far the world's most successful free, open source software project -- so successful, in fact, that it threatens many of the most powerful people in the world. It's blocked in Turkey and has been partial blocked in China. People with power pay others good money to corrupt Wikipedia to prevent the public from getting information they need to act responsibly. One effort to counter this phenomenon is discussed in a Wikimania presentation on “Sockpuppet detection in the English Wikipedia”. The effectiveness of sockpuppet detecion can be increased by convincing more people to use noncommercial social media and reduce their use of commercial media.
- Atul Singh; Manu Sharma (10 August 2019), "What Lies Behind India's Bold Bet on Kashmir?", Fair Observer, Wikidata Q66397335
- Eric Margolis (11 August 2019), "Hair-Trigger Nuclear Alert Over Kashmir", Common Dreams NewsCenter, Wikidata Q66398359
- "Article 370 revoked: International media calls Narendra Modi government's move 'dangerous blunder'", Firstpost, 6 August 2019, Wikidata Q66398914
- Owen B. Toon; Alan Robock; Michael Mills; Lili Xia (2017), "Asia Treads the Nuclear Path, Unaware That Self-Assured Destruction Would Result from Nuclear War", The Journal of Asian Studies, 76 (02): 437–456, doi:10.1017/S0021911817000080, Wikidata Q58262021<!- Asia Treads the Nuclear Path, Unaware That Self-Assured Destruction Would Result from Nuclear War -->
- Christine Blackman (17 July 2009), "Chance of nuclear war is greater than you think: Stanford engineer makes risk analysis", Stanford News, Wikidata Q66424609
- Peter Binkley (2006), "Wikipedia Grows Up", Feliciter (2): 59–61, Wikidata Q66411582
- Siva Vaidhyanathan (12 June 2018), Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-084118-8, Wikidata Q56027099