Controversy, Conspiracy Theories and the Argumentative Nature of Collective Consciousness

When Henry Jenkins undertook the task of evaluating the relevance and usefulness of Wikipedia as a resource for college students he wrote that “Wikipedia empowers students to take seriously what they have learned in class…as having value in a larger enterprise.”
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This quote inspired me to analyze all the information that Wikipedia had accumulated about the Food and Drug Administration, which I had written a five page paper on for government. Because the FDA was founded in 1906 and the page about it has been the subject of countless edits and additions of information since it was was conceived in 2001.

The very first version of the FDA's Wikipedia page

The very first version of the FDA’s Wikipedia page

Hardly any of the more recent edits made to the page have been made by authors who first wrote it and a lot of information included in the early stages of the article have been either edited-out completely or consolidated from a paragraph to a few sentences to make room for more information. Some loyal editors have remained faithful to the page contributing to it for up to seven years. Most of the edits to the page have been made by editors that only visit the site a few times in the course of one day (or, in some cases, just an hour).Food and Drug Administration  Revision history   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia

The contributions by the editor "Remember" range from 2004 to 2011

The contributions by the editor “Remember” range from 2004 to 2011

The concept of “negotiation” within participatory culture which includes “discerning and respecting multiple perspectives”(Jenkins) and the idealistic “neutral point of view” where a community of writers agree “to ensure that all points of view get heard” instead of “arguing each point” breaks down with a subject as vast and marred with controversy as the FDA. This is first made apparent in the Talk section under the heading “Whither Neutrality?” where a user with the screen name “Viriditas” alleges that the claims that the FDA is “too tough on industry” and the supporting resources are propaganda created by affiliates of Koch Industries. What Viriditas is arguing for is the removal of an opinion from the article that differs from his own as well as cited sources.
Talk Food and Drug Administration   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia
Other information was paved over since the page’s first few years online. “DrThompson” added commentary to the criticism section stemming from the skepticism of the economist Milton Friedman that the FDA could keep potentially impactful drugs from reaching the market. DrThompson’s contribution related to the portion of the Criticism section of the page that concerned the FDA being “too tough on industry”- a perspective that has been largely watered-down by the broader community of editors. Today there is no trace of DrThompson’s original post or any mention of Milton Friedman.
Food and Drug Administration  Difference between revisions   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia
The flaws in participatory culture relate to any institution that is purely democratic: not only is it unstructured (which Jenkins somewhat admits when he remarks on the lack of hierarchy) but, contrary to the claim of a neutral point of view, the collective intelligence it yields is the product of multiple instances of arguments and censorship. I feel inclined to ask whether or not vandalism that expresses legitimate stances on a subject should be preserved as a part of the wider discourse?
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Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (Part One).” Confessions of an AcaFan. N.p.,  (2007, June 26). Web. March 7, 2015.

Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (Part Two).” Confessions of an AcaFan. N.p., (2007, June 27). Web. March 8, 2015.

Food and Drug Administration” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.


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