Bush, Anarchism and Muhammad: The most fought-over Wikipedia articles revealed

New research shows how 'edit wars' erupt over controversial subjects

George W Bush, Jesus and anarchism are amongst the most controversial English-language articles on Wikipedia, according to a new study tracking edits across the site.

A team of researchers headed by Taha Yasseri and Mark Graham from the University of Oxford  worked alongside Anselm Spoerri from Rutgers University and János Kertész from the Central European University to analyse changes to millions of articles from 10 different languages.

Those that were subject to ‘edit wars’ were deemed the most controversial. This did not simply means measuring which article had the greatest number of edits (that might only indicate a fast-changing topics) but those which attracted the most ‘mutual reverts’.

These are edits which return an article to an earlier version and when such changes are mutual it means they are occurring between a pair of authors as they argue back and forth. From this the researchers were able to create a list of the most controversial articles. In English these are as follows:

  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

Whilst some topics were found to be only locally problematic (in the Spanish Wikipedia for example the article describing Isla Malvinas or Falkland islands was highly fought over) other subjects elicited universal disagreement.

Across the 10 different editions the four most controversial subjects were Israel, Adolf  Hitler, God and The Holocaust.

The researchers also analysed how conflicts tended to emerge amongst language groups. By correlating the lists of controversial topics three groupings of mutually-argumentative languages were found.

The first included English, German, French and Spanish; a second grouped together Hungarian, Romanian and Czech; whilst a third encompassed Arabic, Hebrew and Persian.

According to its own estimates Wikipedia has some 77,000 contributors working on more than 22 million articles in 285 languages. Collectively users and contributors have edited articles more than 1.9bn times.

Further work is planned to produce more complex data sets tracking the measure of controversiality over time. From this researchers would be able to see how topics ebb and flow in response to news and real-world events.

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