UCL School of Management is delighted to welcome Helge Klapper, Rotterdam School of Management, to host a research seminar discussing: Strategic Behaviour in Online Communities: Evidence From Peer Evaluations on Wikipedia.
Online communities that typically defy traditional forms of hierarchy often rely on lateral authority delegated to peer evaluators. While peer evaluations are supposed to be meritocratic, we theorize that people engaged in peer evaluation are often motivated to behave strategically. Processes that make evaluations transparent also motivate actors to consider how their evaluation of a peer will be perceived, and how they themselves will be perceived and evaluated in turn. This creates a dilemma with respect to evaluating peers negatively. Evaluating at least some peers negatively is important to be perceived as an honest, capable member of a meritocratic community, yet negative evaluations can provoke retaliation. We theorize that strategic actors reserve their negative evaluations for peers who are unlikely or unable to retaliate. We find support for our arguments in a unique dataset of peer evaluations in elections for Wikipedia administrators in 2003–14, plus detailed qualitative interviews with 24 Wikipedia peer evaluation participants and administrators. We elaborate our results with implications for research on peer evaluation in online communities and beyond as well as on novel forms of organizing where meritocratic, peer-based ideals persist.