Manipulation Among the Arbiters of Collective Intelligence: How Wikipedia Administrators Mold Public Opinion

New paper by Sanmay Das, Allen Lavoie, and Malik Magdon-Ismail: “Our reliance on networked, collectively built information is a vulnerability when the quality or reliability of this information is poor. Wikipedia, one such collectively built information source, is often our first stop for information on all kinds of topics; its quality has stood up to many tests, and it prides itself on having a “Neutral Point of View”. Enforcement of neutrality is in the hands of comparatively few, powerful administrators. We find a surprisingly large number of editors who change their behavior and begin focusing more on a particular controversial topic once they are promoted to administrator status. The conscious and unconscious biases of these few, but powerful, administrators may be shaping the information on many of the most sensitive topics on Wikipedia; some may even be explicitly infiltrating the ranks of administrators in order to promote their own points of view. Neither prior history nor vote counts during an administrator’s election can identify those editors most likely to change their behavior in this suspicious manner. We find that an alternative measure, which gives more weight to influential voters, can successfully reject these suspicious candidates. This has important implications for how we harness collective intelligence: even if wisdom exists in a collective opinion (like a vote), that signal can be lost unless we carefully distinguish the true expert voter from the noisy or manipulative voter.”