From Town-Halls to Wikis: Exploring Wikipedia's Implications for Deliberative Democracy

Journal of Public Deliberation 6 (2) (2010)
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This essay examines the implications Wikipedia holds for theories of deliberative democracy. It argues that while similar in some respects, the mode of interaction within Wikipedia represents a distinctive form of “collaborative editing” that departs from many of the qualities traditionally associated with face-to-face deliberation. This online mode of interaction overcomes many of the problems that distort face-to-face deliberations. By mitigating problems that arise in deliberative practice, such as “group polarization” and “hidden profiles,” the wiki model often realizes the epistemic and procedural aspirations of deliberative democracy. These virtues of the Wikipedia model should not, however, lead to the simple conclusion that it ought to replace traditional face-to-face deliberation. Instead, this essay argues that the collaborative editing process found within Wikipedia ought to be viewed as a promising supplement to traditional deliberation. These two modes of communication ought to be viewed in Madisonian terms – as distinctive forms of interaction that check and balance the vices of one another. When combined, the wiki model promotes the virtues of inclusion and accuracy at large scales, while the face-to-face model excels in conditions of localism and promotes the virtues of solidarity and social capital.

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Andrew T. Forcehimes
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


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