08 April 2007

Who Speaks for Unitarian Universalism on the Web?

In a blog article about the Unitarian Universalist Association's web site text describing the role of Christianity in modern-day Unitarian Universalism, UU blogger and minister Scott Wells raises the following questions:
"But today, with increasingly decentralized Internet communication and the name recognition this brings, editorial control for Unitarian Universalism is now much wider than the UUA staff and a few independent (but low circulation) periodicals. The emerging 'how long' question is 'how long will it be before an outsider won't necessarily go to UUA.org first?'"
Based on the search results on Google for Unitarian Universalism, this may already be happening.

The first search result listed isn't the "official" Unitarian Universalist Association's web site (which if you haven't noticed, has undergone a major redesign).

The first search result reported is the Wikipedia article on Unitarian Universalism. For comparison's sake, the first Google search result reported for Unitarian and Universalist are the "official" UUA web site.

For those Unitarian Universalists who are "polity wonks" (my adaptation of "policy wonk" to describe those who are concerned with congregational and association governance issues), who speaks for Unitarian Universalism on the web is an important question.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is the member congregations and the paid and volunteer staff should be responsive to the desires of the member congregations. The collective authorship of Wikipedia may be responsive to the Wikipedia readership but it may not be responsive to UUA member congregations.

This doesn't mean that Wikipedia is less accurate than the UUA web site. Wikipedia will probably cover some controversies that the UUA would not prominently cover on their web site (e.g. the "language of reverence" and "borrowing from other religions" debates). And the "group editing" process may more accurately reflect reality (even if this isn't the "corporate message" that our congregations want to present to the world). The Wikipedia article on us is pretty accurate.

For example, the UUA web site does mention the "hot-button" polyamory topic (based on a Google search of www.uua.org). Some of the search results are still active pages and some are not active after the web site redesign.

However, the UUA web site does not list Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness as an official UUA affiliate organization. However, Wikipedia does list it as an official independent affiliate. I'm sure that this doesn't sit well with persons who disapprove of this perceived connection between polyamory and Unitarian Universalism.

My concern with the trend towards decentralized communication is a lack of accountability. Who would our future decentralized internet voices for Unitarian Unversalism be accountable to? The loudest voice speaking about Unitarian Universalism on the internet may not reflect the desires of our congregations through an open and democratic process but rather something else entirely different.


Jaume de Marcos Andreu said...

Steve, the answer is obvious: nobody. Now discussion on UU topics, self-definition, "hot buttons", or any other subject you may want to discuss, is outside the control not only of UUA Headquarters or UU World and "a few periodicals", but out of control of congregations as well.

But this is not a matter to worry about. Actually most editors of UU articles in Wikipedia are UUs themselves (I happen to be one of them, although certainly not among the most active ones). Other religions may have more trouble. Just look at the Baha'i Faith articles in Wikipedia and how "Internet-based dissent" is giving voice to many who had been silenced and ignored by the official media until now.

The old world of information control is over, and now it is up to us to navigate in the ocean of data that will surely overflow us all in the coming years.

Anonymous said...

One factual point: If the wikipedia article claims that UUPA is an independent affiliate organization, it's wrong. The group has not been given that status by the UUA Board.

Anonymous said...

It's an interestion question, but just for refernce, the first Google links that come up for Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam are also Wikipedia.

I don't think there needs to be worry of 'other people' speaking up for UUism online. As long as the UUA continues to speak for its member congregations, it's doing its job.

And if Wikipedia is wrong (about the polyamory affiliation, for example) it can be fixed - even by you, if you're so inclined. Anyone who trusts the word of Wikipedia over a primary source needs to learn the folly in that. Unfortunately, it's impossible for anyone to teach that lesson to the tens of millions of Wikipedia users out there, so we just have to do the best we can.

Anonymous said...

I removed UUPA from the wikipedia list just now...and updated the link to the uua.org Affiliates list while I was at it.

According to the edit history, UUPA was added to the wikipedia list on Feb 11, 2007, less than two months ago.