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Pandemics and politics: 2020 through the lens of Wikipedia

Which English Wikipedia entries got the most views this year? Here’s the top 25.

This is my sixth annual post sharing the list of Wikipedia’s most popular articles of the year, and each year I’ve had to come up with different ways of saying “people really love the latest pop culture.”

Then 2020 happened — and, as with most things this year, the list was very different.

Instead of blockbuster films, bingeable shows, musicians, or celebrities taking the top slots, English Wikipedia’s most popular articles of 2020 were about the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected nearly every single human in the world.

In all, seven of the top 25 articles were directly related to COVID-19, and just these alone recorded around 225 million pageviews. People from all walks of life came to Wikipedia to stay abreast with the fast-changing information available about the virus, much of it specifically verified by a plethora of reliable sources — something required by the encyclopedia’s policy on citations for medical articles.

• • •

The other major theme to surface in this year’s list is politics. Specifically, the lengthy and contentious presidential election in the United States.

The biographies of three of the four major candidates were each read by tens of millions of people. Donald Trump, the incumbent and now outgoing president, was the second-most popular article of 2020, dropping in views from when he was the subject of the most-viewed article of 2016 following his successful election campaign that year.

His opponents Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, the incoming vice president and president, followed in fourth and fifth place (respectively). Kamala Harris’ article received four million more views than Joe Biden’s.

Moreover, ongoing debate about the election stretched beyond Election Day on 3 November: in its aftermath, millions of people came to Wikipedia’s article about the Electoral College to learn about the complex process that formally selects the executive leadership of the United States.

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If you’ve read this far, you might wonder what happened to the aforementioned non-political pop culture, particularly film and television.

The answer is that they’re still on the list, albeit overshadowed.

The clearest examples are the tens of millions of people who came to Wikipedia to read about the lives and deaths of basketball star Kobe Bryant; Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput; and American actor Chadwick Boseman.

Millions also visited pages dedicated to the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Breonna Taylor, incidents that became the center of racial justice protests across the United States. Floyd and Taylor were the subject of the 29th and 40th most-trafficked articles of the year, respectively.

Seven of the top 25 articles were attributable in all or part to the media many of us watched on our devices this year. For example, basketball star Michael Jordan’s pageviews rose after the sports channel ESPN premiered The Last Dance, a widely acclaimed documentary about his career and the 1990s championship-winning Chicago Bulls. In addition, Netflix’s The Crown, a particular stand-out in these annual most-popular lists, motivated many to search for Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. (Diana, Prince Philip, and Charles also placed highly but missed this list.)

Finally, Billie Eilish — a surprise addition to Wikipedia’s popular articles of 2019 — placed in the top 40 most-read articles of 2020 after winning the four most important Grammy Awards in the more normal times of January 2020.

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The list

These are the top 25 most-popular English Wikipedia articles of 2020 and their total pageviews.

  1. COVID-19 pandemic, 83,764,908
  2. Donald Trump, 57,061,632
  3. Deaths in 2020, 43,417,559*
  4. Kamala Harris, 39,582,722
  5. Joe Biden, 35,876,383
  6. Kobe Bryant, 33,697,564
  7. Coronavirus, 33,689,841
  8. COVID-19 pandemic by country and territory, 29,637,765
  9. Elizabeth II, 26,627,592
  10. 2020 United States presidential election, 25,765,871
  11. Spanish flu, 23,018,236
  12. Elon Musk, 22,517,107
  13. 2016 United States presidential election, 21,860,377
  14. Coronavirus disease 2019, 21,679,898
  15. Michael Jordan, 21,278,718
  16. COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, 19,707,145
  17. COVID-19 pandemic in India, 18,895,254
  18. Sushant Singh Rajput, 18,840,371
  19. QAnon, 18,766,515
  20. Chadwick Boseman, 17,967,222
  21. Parasite (2019 film), 17,927,701
  22. United States, 17,793,247
  23. Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, 16,605,649
  24. YouTube, 15,957,353
  25. United States Electoral College, 15,165,810

 

Notes

  • On 4 January 2021, we updated the list above to use data from all of 2020. It includes views from redirect titles. (As originally published, the list used data that was current as of 15 December 2020.)
  • “Deaths in 2020” is a page that gets very long, very fast. Because of that, each month Wikipedia’s editors split it into month-by-month lists. As of publishing time, that covers December 2020 — but if you’re reading it now, the page will be redirected to Wikipedia’s “Lists of deaths by year.”
  • As with every year we’ve done this list, the top articles are screened using the percentage of mobile views. Any article with less than 10% or more than 90% mobile views was removed, as it is a strong indicator that a significant amount of the pageviews stemmed from spam, botnets, or other errors.
  • Previous most-popular Wikipedia articles by year posts are available for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

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Ed Erhart is a Content Strategist at the Wikimedia Foundation.

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Photo credits

COVID-19 Nurse

US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman

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