Wikipedia’s Most Controversial Topics Incites Edit Wars

Comedian Stephen Colbert once brought national attention to the subject of crowd sourced knowledge in a humorous comedy short about Wikiality, but the nature of controversial topics on Wikipedia is actually more like a digital blitzkrieg. Volunteer editors are constantly changing topics in real-time edit wars that are now being monitored as subject of scientific and geographical analysis.

The research team from the University of Oxford are ranking and mapping controversial topics according to various languages and mapping out revert edits (edits that are changed immediately back to their original wording) by users across the globe. According to their findings, the ten most controversial subjects in the US are:

  1. George W Bush
  2. Anarchism
  3. Muhammad
  4. List of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. employees
  5. Global Warming
  6. Circumcision
  7. United States
  8. Jesus
  9. Race and intelligence
  10. Christianity

Based on the team’s mapping, the various geographical locales of editors and topics varies wildly across the language spectrum. Below are two mappings, one of English editors and one of French editors.


Within our sample, we actually only see the English, German, and French Wikipedias with a significant amount of diversity in the topics and patterns of conflict in geographic articles. This probably indicates the less significant role that specific editors and arguments play in these larger encyclopaedias.

Ultimately by visualizing the geography of conflict in Wikipedia, we’re able to see both topics that appear to have cross-linguistic resonance (e.g. Arab-Israeli conflict), and those of more narrow interest such as the Islas Malvinas/Falkland islands article in the Spanish Wikipedia.


The researchers have also made their data visualization tool available for real-time visualization:

The searchCrystal visualization toolset will be used to compare, visualize and identify Wikipedia pages that are highly contested in multiple languages. Similar to a bullseye display, searchCrystal uses a radial mapping so that the Wikipedia pages contained in all the language lists that are being compared are mapped to the center of the display and the number of lists that contain the same page decreases toward the periphery of the display. searchCrystal consists of several complementary views: the Category, Cluster, Spiral and List View. Each view helps the user explore specific aspects of the overlap structure between the lists being compared.


Via MIT Technology Review