Scientists to help Twitter gain insight into quality of online discussions
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Leiden University, Syracuse University, Bocconi University and Delft University of Technology has obtained a grant from Twitter to research and develop tools to help identify behaviors that threaten the quality of the discussions on that social media platform. In the team, TU Delft researcher Nava Tintarev (Delft University of Technology) will assess the presence of echo chambers.
Led by Rebekah Tromble (Leiden University), the team will conduct research comparing discussions around polarized and non-polarized topics in the United States and United Kingdom. They aim to get a better understanding of how communities form around discussions on Twitter and will investigate the extent of certain problems that may develop in those discussions. The project focuses on two potentially problematic features of Twitter interactions: the presence of echo chambers and uncivil and intolerant discourse.
The term ‘echo chamber’ refers to the extent to which discussions are enclaved in homogeneous, and often polarized, groups. "When people are unaware of others' points of view, they have informational blind spots. This problem is aggravated online, where recommender systems tailor what the person sees based on their preferences and interactions. While we have some evidence that filter bubbles and echo chambers are a problem on Twitter, one of this project's contributions will be to empirically understand the extent and severity of the problem", explains Tintarev, whose work will focus on developing and implementing computational techniques to assess the diversity of perspectives on Twitter.
Uncivil and intolerant discourse
The second area of research will explore the extent to which those who participate in Twitter discussions engage in toxic behaviors. "Rather than lumping all problematic discourse into a single category, we distinguish between uncivil and intolerant statements. Incivility online might serve an important and valid purpose in discourse, while intolerance is, by its nature, a threat to democracy", explains Patricia Rossini (Syracuse University), whose work focuses on understanding such discourse online.