How Wikipedia Influences Judicial Behavior


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Mixed Wikipedia assessments are reflected in the article “List of Wikipedia Scandals”, which is found under a Wikipedia web address. Beyond review, billions of users regularly flock to the anonymously editable online encyclopedic knowledge bank for just about anything, but it’s unclear how this unauthoritative source influences our discourse and decisions. . Can we measure how living in a Wiki world plays out in reality?

Researchers from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT and Maynooth University, Ireland, have proposed a user-friendly stress test: create new legal articles on Wikipedia to examine their impact on decisions legal judges.

They began by developing over 150 new Wikipedia articles on Irish Supreme Court decisions, written by law students, half of which were randomly selected for upload where they could be used by judges, clerks , lawyers, etc. group. The other half was kept offline, and this second group of cases provided the counterfactual basis for what would happen to a case in the absence of a Wikipedia article about it (the “control”) .

They then looked at two measures: whether the cases were more likely to be cited as precedents by later court decisions, and whether the argument in the court judgments echoed the linguistic content of the new Wikipedia pages.

It turned out that the influx of articles tipped the balance: getting a Wikipedia article increased a case’s citations by more than 20%. The increase was statistically significant, and the effect was particularly strong for cases that supported the argument the citing judge was making in their decision (but not the other way around). Unsurprisingly, the increase was greatest for citations by the lower courts – the High Court – and mostly absent for citations by the appellate courts – the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. The researchers suspect this shows that Wikipedia is used more by judges or court clerks who have a heavier workload, for whom Wikipedia’s convenience holds greater appeal.

Their statistical model essentially compared the amount of change in citation behavior for the treatment group (first difference: before versus after) and how that compared to the change that occurred for the control group (second difference: treatment versus control ).

“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized field experiment that studies the influence of legal sources on judicial behavior. And because randomized experiments are the gold standard for this type of research, we know that the effect we see is causation, not just correlation,” says MIT researcher Neil Thompson, the lead author of the research. “The fact that we wrote all of these cases, but the only ones that ended up on Wikipedia were the ones that won the proverbial ‘coin flip’ allows us to show that Wikipedia influences both what judges cite and how from which they write their decisions. Our findings also highlight an important public policy issue. With a source as widely used as Wikipedia, we want to ensure that we are building institutions to ensure that information is of the highest quality. The conclusion that judges or their staff use Wikipedia is of far greater concern if the information they find there is unreliable.”

Online test

In 2018, Thompson first visited the idea of ​​proving the causal role that Wikipedia plays in shaping knowledge and behavior by examining how it shapes academic science. It turns out that the addition of scientific papers, in this case on chemistry, changed the way the subject was discussed in the scientific literature, and scientific papers added as Wikipedia references also received more academic quotes.

This led Brian McKenzie, an associate professor at Maynooth University, to make a call. “I was working with students to add articles to Wikipedia when I read Neil’s research on Wikipedia’s influence on scientific research,” says McKenzie. “There were only a handful of Irish Supreme Court cases on Wikipedia, so I contacted Neil to ask if he would design another iteration of his experiment using court cases.”

The Irish legal system has proven to be the perfect test bed, as it shares a key similarity with other national legal systems such as the UK and the US – it operates within a hierarchical judicial structure. where the decisions of the higher courts then bind the lower courts. Moreover, there are relatively few articles on Wikipedia about Irish Supreme Court decisions compared to those of the United States Supreme Court – during their project, the researchers increased the number of such articles tenfold.

In addition to examining the case citations made in the decisions, the team also analyzed the language used in the written decision using natural language processing. What they found were the language fingerprints of the Wikipedia articles they had created.

So what might this influence look like? Suppose A sues B in federal district court. A argues that B is liable for the breach of contract; B takes note of A’s version of the facts but maintains that they did not give rise to any contract between them. The assigned judge, aware of the heavy work already delegated to his clerks, decides to conduct his own research. By examining the conclusions of the parties, the judge concludes on a preliminary basis that there is not really a contract and that he must rule on behalf of the defendant. To write his official opinion, the judge googles some previous decisions cited in B’s brief that appear similar to the case between A and B. Confirming their similarity by reading the relevant case summaries on Wikipedia, the judge paraphrases part of the Wikipedia text. entered in its draft opinion to complete its analysis. The judge then renders his judgment and publishes his opinion.

“The text of a court’s judgment itself will guide the law as it will become a source of precedent for subsequent judicial decision-making. Future lawyers and judges will examine this written judgment and use it to decide what its implications are in order to that they can treat ‘similar’ cases in the same way,” says co-author Brian Flanagan. “If the text itself is influenced, as this experiment shows, by anonymously sourced internet content, that’s a problem. For the many potential cracks that have opened up in our ‘information highway’ that is the Internet, you can imagine that this vulnerability could potentially lead to adverse actors manipulating the information If already relying on readily available analysis of legal issues, it is incumbent on the legal community to accelerate efforts to ensure that this analysis is both comprehensive and expert.

Psychology and Wikipedia: Measuring the impact of journals through Wikipedia citations

More information:
Trial by Internet: A Randomized Field Experiment on Wikipedia’s Influence on Judges’ Legal Reasoning (July 27, 2022). Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Jurisprudence, editor Kevin Tobia, Cambridge University Press, Available on SSRN: …?abstract_id=4174200

Provided by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Quote: How Wikipedia Influences Judicial Behavior (2022, July 28) Retrieved July 28, 2022 from

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