under the Wikipedia hood

Intrigued by a work of art by Allan Chochinov, I went looking at the Wikipedia entry on “Freedom of Speech” and opened the behind-the-scenes page where you can see all the revisions to that entry. It has been revised 2,551 times, almost once per day, since 2005, by people sitting at 1,142 different computers (or IP addresses, to be precise).

The Freedom of Speech article itself is only about 6,000 words long. It strikes me as a little miscellaneous (frankly), with extensive citations from well-known authorities like J.S. Mill as well as minor figures. Its opening sentence, “Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s ideas via speech,” is actually controversial. (Political right–or moral right? Should you only be free to communicate ideas?)

But what I appreciate most is the large array of obsessive, pseudonymous, multinational, uncivil, unregulatedĀ discourse that is collectively generating the 6,000 words about “Freedom of Speech.” Samples:

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.