Emerging Technology from the arXiv

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Best of 2013: Edit Wars Reveal the 10 Most Controversial Topics on Wikipedia

In July, an analysis of the most highly contested articles on Wikipedia revealed the controversies that appear invariant across languages and cultures.

  • January 3, 2014

Wikipedia, the encyclopaedia that anybody can edit, is one of the more extraordinary collective efforts of the crowd. Wikipedia’s own estimate is that it has some 77,000 contributors working on more than 22 million articles in 285 languages. The largest edition, the English version, alone offers over 4 million articles.

So it’s not surprising that disputes arise over the wording of these articles. Indeed, the controversy can sometimes reach war-like proportions with one editor changing the wording and another immediately changing it back again.

These so-called edit wars can be used to identify controversial topics but an interesting question is how controversy varies across languages and cultures. Given its unique position that straddles multiple languages and cultures, Wikipedia is in the perfect position to provide some answers.

Today, Taha Yasseri at the University of Oxford in the UK and a few pals have ranked the most controversial topics in 10 different languages according to the intensity of the editing wars they generate.

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