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Collaborative Research: Measuring and Promoting the Quality of Online News Discussions

At its best, everyday online debate can lead people to consider alternative perspectives and even change their minds. This happens in environments where people may disagree but where they try to inform and convince each other rather than simply yell at each other.

The first goal of the research is to create automated classifiers to measure the quality of everyday online political talk. Classifiers will estimate the quality of online conversations about news articles in public venues such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the comments sections of news pages. A Conversation Finder tool (a website and a browser extension) will use the automated classifiers to recommend, in real time, venues where particular news articles are being discussed and where the quality scores are high. The second goal of the research is to create a Conversation Coach that helps the general public to improve the quality of conversation spaces they participate in by helping them craft messages that directly contribute to quality and that indirectly inspire others. It will include a Message Assistant that extracts elements from conversations in order to help people craft messages and a Message Impact Assessor that predicts the likely impact of a draft message on the quality metrics for subsequent conversations.

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The amount of the award is $16,000 for UMSI for the project period. The grant is funded by the National Science Foundation.