Sean J. Taylor

Discussion quality diffuses in the digital public square

I’m excited to announce that my paper with George Berry, “Discussion quality diffuses in the digital public square” was accepted for publication at WWW 2017.  You can download the pre-print here

We ran a field experiment to determine the effect of comment ranking on the comments that people see on Facebook, and more interestingly, the effect on the comments that they write.  We found that for even very high-quality comment authors, the ranking system caused them to write higher quality comments than they would have under a reverse chronological ordering.

Here is the abstract:

Studies of online social influence have demonstrated that friends have important effects on many types of behavior in a wide variety of settings. However, we know much less about how influence works among relative strangers in digital public squares, despite important conversations happening in such spaces. We present the results of a study on large public Facebook pages where we randomly used two different methods—most recent and social feedback—to order comments on posts. We find that the social feedback condition results in higher quality viewed comments and response comments. After measuring the average quality of comments written by users before the study, we find that social feedback has a positive effect on response quality for both low and high quality commenters. We draw on a theoretical framework of social norms to explain this empirical result. In order to examine the influence mechanism further, we measure the similarity between comments viewed and written during the study, finding that similarity increases for the highest quality contributors under the social feedback condition. This suggests that, in addition to norms, some individuals may respond with increased relevance to high-quality comments.