Quantifying Controversy on Social Media

Kiran Garimella, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Aristides Gionis, Michael Mathioudakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Which topics spark the most heated debates on social media? Identifying those topics is not only interesting from a societal point of view but also allows the filtering and aggregation of social media content for disseminating news stories. In this article, we perform a systematic methodological study of controversy detection by using the content and the network structure of social media.

Unlike previous work, rather than studying controversy in a single hand-picked topic and using domain-specific knowledge, we take a general approach to study topics in any domain. Our approach to quantifying controversy is based on a graph-based three-stage pipeline, which involves (i) building a conversation graph about a topic, (ii) partitioning the conversation graph to identify potential sides of the controversy, and (iii) measuring the amount of controversy from characteristics of the graph.

We perform an extensive comparison of controversy measures, different graph-building approaches, and data sources. We use both controversial and non-controversial topics on Twitter, as well as other external datasets. We find that our new random-walk-based measure outperforms existing ones in capturing the intuitive notion of controversy and show that content features are vastly less helpful in this task.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-26
JournalACM Transactions on Social Computing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Controversy
  • echo chambers
  • filter bubble
  • polarization
  • twitter


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