What makes some wiki communities more subject to governance capture?
08-18, 02:00–02:10 (UTC), Room 324
Language: English

For about 10 years, Croatian Wikipedia was, in large part, controlled by small tight-knit group of administrators who introduced far-right bias and disinformation. Despite many similarities, the same thing does not seem to have occurred in the Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, or Bosnian Wikipedias. This lightning talk will describe results from an in-progress research project that uses an analysis of a series of interviews we have conducted to outline a theory that seeks to explain why.

Between at least 2011 and 2020, the Croatian language version of Wikipedia was, in part, taken over by a small group of administrators who introduced far-right bias and outright disinformation. Dissenting editorial voices were reverted, banned, and blocked. Serbian Wikipedia is roughly similar in size and age, shares many linguistic and cultural features, and faced similar threats from actors with similar goals and approaches, it seems to have avoided this fate. Neither did the Bosian or Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia language editions. What makes some Wikipedia editions more vulnerable to systematic disinformation campaigns through governance capture than others?

We will present a short talk based on an academic research project that analyzes a series of interviews with members of Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia communities as well as others in cross-functional platform-level roles. We propose that the convergence of three features—high perceived value as a target, limited early bureaucratic openness, and a preference for personalized, informal forms of organization—produced a window of opportunity for governance capture on Croatian Wikipedia that was largely absent on the others. Our findings illustrate that the governing infrastructures through which online communities organize and moderate themselves can play a crucial role in systematic disinformation campaigns and other influence operations.

What is the experience level needed for the audience for your session?

Everyone can participate in this session

How will you deliver this session?

Pre-recorded: The speaker or speakers will pre-record the session with the duration specified in the program; the recording will be played during Wikimania

How does your session relate to the event themes: Diversity, Collaboration, Future?

This project is about research on collaboration dynamics in wikis. Although it is an analysis of events from the past, it is future looking in that it tries to argue for a set of approaches that Wikimedia projects can use to design more robust governance systems, especially for smaller communities.

See also: pre-recorded video

In my day job, I teach and do research at the University of Washington. I am also an active editor on several wikis and work with the Wikimedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation community to support academic research related to wikis and Wikimedia in a number of ways. Please see my user page on meta for more information.

This speaker also appears in:

Zarine Kharazian is a PhD student in the Department of Human-Centered Engineering at the University of Washington, where she works at the Center for an Informed Public. Her research focuses on how online communities across a variety of platforms govern and are governed as they navigate disinformation, cyber-enabled influence operations, and related online harms. She was previously Associate Editor of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, where she edited and conducted investigations on online influence operations and conducted trainings in open-source investigation techniques for journalists and civil society. Zarine is originally from Yerevan, Armenia.