In a country in which our politics have tended toward the shrill, perhaps there is a new model for getting along. Strangely enough, itâ€™s Wikipedia. Or so says PhD candidate Joseph Reagle, who has been examining the culture of the online community, which seeks to document knowledge in an encyclopedic manner.
As anyone who has worked in a group knows, collaborative decision making isnâ€™t easy. (Just look at our government.) Still, somehow Wikipedia has managed it. How? Reagle says by the practice of â€œGood Faith Collaboration.â€ (This will also, not surprisingly, be the title of his forthcoming book on the subject.)
Reagle claims it has to do with trying to use neutrality (as impossible as that may seem) to deal with knowledge-building on the site, and it has to do with respecting people, and seeing them as you would yourself. This is the opposite to viewing others according to what has been labeled â€œGoodwinâ€™s Law,â€ which states that â€œAs an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.â€
According to Reagle, â€œSomething has to resist the tendency of our online conversations to the lowest common denominator, and the tendency to see each other as Hitler,â€ as reported in The Atlantic. Wikipedia uses civility and good faith to lower the shrill factor that allows people to work together. It seems like simple kindergarten dynamics, but itâ€™s also the stuff of conflict management on a very adult scale.
While we all have a natural tendency to want to correct things we see as wrong, Wikipedia has created an environment that fosters the best in people, and thatâ€™s something you donâ€™t see every day.