Who represents the Arab world online? Mapping and measuring local knowledge production and representation in the Middle East and North Africa

Using Wikipedia to explore the participation gap between those who have their say, and those whose voices are pushed to the side, in representations of the Arab world online.


Dr Mark Graham

Tel: +44 (0)1865 287203

Email: mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk


There are obvious gaps in access to the Internet, particularly the participation gap between those who have their say, and those whose voices are pushed to the sidelines. Despite the rapid increase in Internet access, there are indications that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remain largely absent from websites and services that represent the region to the larger world.

We explore this phenomenon through one of the MENA region's most visible and most accessed source of content: Wikipedia. It currently contains over 9 million articles in 272 languages, far surpassing any other publicly available information repository. It is widely considered the first point of contact for most general topics, thus making it an effective site for framing any subsequent representations. Content from Wikipedia also has begun to form a central part of services offered elsewhere on the Internet.

Wikipedia is therefore an important platform from which we can learn whether the Internet facilitates increased open participation across cultures, or reinforces existing global hierarchies and entrenched power dynamics. Because the underlying political, geographic and social structures of Wikipedia are hidden from users, and because there have not been any large scale studies of the geography of these structures and their relationship to online participation, groups of people may be marginalized without their knowledge.

Map of geotagged Wikipedia articles in the Middle East and North Africa region

This relative lack of MENA voice and representation means that the tone and content of this globally useful resource that represents MENA, in many cases, is being determined by outsiders with a potential misunderstanding of the significance of local events, sites of interest and historical figures. Furthermore, in an area that has seen substantial social conflict, participation from local actors enables people to ensure balance in content about contentious issues. Unfortunately, most research on MENA's Internet presence has been drawn from anecdotal evidence, and no comprehensive studies currently exist.

This project will therefore employ a range of (primarily quantitative) methods to assess the connection between access and representation, using MENA as the first step in an assessment of the inequalities in the global system.

Research Objectives

Our key academic objective is to discern the visibility of the MENA region, and residents of the MENA region, in the production of online knowledge. To do this, we outline a number of more specific objectives:

  • To examine whether there are disproportionately fewer articles on the MENA region compared to the rest of the world, and of these articles, whether authors from MENA will comprise disproportionately fewer of the contributors.

  • To determine if the centralized political structure of Wikipedia undervalues new contributors from MENA. In particular, we explore whether authors from MENA have their contributions undermined because of: competitive practices such as content deletion; indifference to content created by authors from MENA; and marginalization through bullying or dismissal.

Our key practical objective is to find the appropriate social mirror that will effectively represent Wikipedia's presentation of MENA content and MENA contributors in such a way as to facilitate more content, more accurate content and more effective knowledge transfer between MENA and other global regions.

We intend to do this through both community outreach workshops and a website resource that enables individuals to compare the breadth and quality of articles on areas of similar population size across MENA.


This project is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).


Project Leads



  • Wikipedians most likely to war over 'Israel,' 'God'

    3 June 2013 The Times of Israel

    Reporting Taha Yasseri’s work the Times of Israel notes that in Hebrew Wikipedia  the greatest divisions are mainly about religious sects and armed conflicts but across the languages ‘Israel ‘ and ‘Hitler’ are the most contested subjects.

  • Wikipedia 'Edit Wars': The most hotly contested topics

    3 June 2013 NBC News online

    Taha Yasseri says Wikipedia suffers from traditional features of human societies. People argue most on Wikipedia about religion and politics with variations on non-English language sites. Romanians for example argue most about musicians and art.

  • Chile, el tema más controvertido de Wikipedia en espaňol

    3 June 2013 BBC Mundo

    The most controversial topics in Spanish Wikipedia, identified by Taha Yasseri and Mark Graham are highlighted on the BBC’s Spanish language web site.

  • Wikipedia 'Edit Wars': The most hotly contested topics

    31 May 2013 Live Science

    Taha Yasseri says Wikipedia suffers from traditional features of human societies. People argue most on Wikipedia about religion and politics with variations on non-English language sites. Romanians for example argue most about musicians and art.

  • The Most Controversial Article in all of English Wikipedia is George Bush’s

    31 May 2013 The Huffington Post

    The Huffington Post says that the study of controversial topics in Wikipedia by Taha Yasseri and Mark Graham contains some ‘incredible graphics’ several of which are displayed.

  • The Controversial Topics of Wikipedia

    30 May 2013 Wired Science Blog

    Wired magazine article sets out some of the findings of Taha Yasseri, mark Graham and colleagues’ work on contested subjects in Wikipedia.  The table of the most controversial articles in each language edition is featured.

  • Wikipedia is not free

    21 May 2013 Caijing.com.cn

    The challenge for Wikipedia of expanding beyond the English speaking world is published in the independent Beijing-based Chinese language magazine. Mark Graham’s research is referenced and DPhil student Heath Ford is quoted.

  • Free for all? Lifting the lid on a Wikipedia crisis

    17 April 2013 New Scientist

    In an in-depth analysis of the challenges facing Wikipedia in expanding participation beyond the English speaking world, Mark Graham’s research on Wikipedia is referenced and DPhil student Heather Ford is quoted.

  • Who Writes the Wikipedia Entries About Where You Live?

    26 March 2013 The Atlantic

    Mark Graham tackles the issue of where our information comes from, and how this should influence the way we interpret it?

  • Big data and the death of the theorist

    25 January 2013 Wired

    Mark Graham is skeptical about on the death of the scientific theory at the hands of big data analysis: "when talking about 'big data' and the humanities, there will always be things that are left unsaid, things that haven't been measured or codified".

  • Geography, Big Data, and Augmented Realities

    1 August 2012 Oxford Internet Institute

    New digital dimensions of place profoundly affect the ways that we interact with our urban environments. Dr Mark Graham leads a research project to interrogate these virtual layers of the city, asking what they are, where they are, and why they matter.

  • OII Recognised as Educational Institution of the Year at Wikimedia UK's Annual Conference

    15 June 2012 Oxford Internet Institute

    The OII has been recognised as Educational Institution of the Year at the "UK Wikimedian of the Year" awards (12 May 2012). The award was made largely in recognition of the work by OII Research Fellow Dr Mark Graham to map and visualise Wikipedia data.

  • Wikipedia world: an interactive guide to every language. Infographic map

    4 April 2012 The Guardian

    In 'Show and Tell' on the Guardian Data Store, Simon Rogers, winner of the OII award for best internet journalist in 2011, highlights the Mapping Wikipedia project which shows millions of articles worldwide in a variety of languages.

  • Wikipedia Language Maps Created By Oxford Internet Institute's Mark Graham

    13 November 2011 Huffington Post

    "Mark Graham led a team of researchers who broke down Wikipedia's geotagged articles by language and examined the global scope of the encyclopedia. They plotted these data onto maps of the world to show the spread of languages within the encyclopedia."

  • This Map Shows the World of Wikipedia Broken Down by Languages

    11 November 2011 Gizmodo US

    "Ever wondered if anyone outside your redneck little town writes about it on Wikipedia? Or if anyone has ever written about Australia in Arabic? Guess no longer, because someone's worked it out for you."

  • The world of Wikipedia's languages mapped

    11 November 2011 Guardian Datablog

    What happens if you map every geotagged Wikipedia article - and then analyse it for language use? A team of Oxford University researchers has found out.