Contentious Knowledge In Online Environments

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Noriko HARA , School of Informatics & Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
This paper addresses “co-production of knowledge” (Jasanoff, 2004) in the context of social media. With the prevalence of Web 2.0 applications, such as Wikipedia and Twitter, laypeople are more often contributing to knowledge production, which ranges from sharing travel tips to product assessment (e.g., Allen, 2010). Similarly, the practice of producing scientific knowledge is no longer solely in the hands of experts, and the boundary work (Gieryn, 1983) between experts and non-experts has been recently challenged. This tendency is more visible in “scientific” knowledge that is contentious, such as climate change, alternative medicine, hybrid cars, child vaccinations, and alternative and renewable energy sources. There is no “correct” knowledge, but rather what exists is contentious knowledge through its co-production among experts and laypeople. With these situations in mind, this paper examines how contentious knowledge is constructed in a social media environment, namely Wikipedia. More specifically, this study empirically investigates online discussions in regard to Wikipedia entries on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Disaster that occurred in March 2011 in Japan as well as child vaccinations (i.e., MMR and Thiomersal). Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia with over 280 different language versions and over 4 million articles just in English. In addition to the articles that are more visible to the general public, Wikipedia provides an online discussion space for each article. This offers a rich socio-technical milieu for examining how scientific knowledge is negotiated in an open online environment. This study aims to examine who is included and who is excluded in the co-production of knowledge in a social media environment and to discuss the mechanisms in which co-production of knowledge occurs. The implications of the findings are relevant to studies of scientific knowledge as well as consumers of scientific knowledge.