For anyone who has spent any time on Twitter, it might not seem to require a university study to determine that the platform can be somewhat lacking in civility, tolerance and diverse debate …

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But the social network is partnering with two universities to start by determining the scale of the problem – how often are these things true? – and then explore the potential positive impacts of addressing it.

Engadget reports that Leiden University is running one of the projects.

Leiden University’s Dr. Rebekah Tromble will head a team of researchers to investigate the formation of echo chambers and underlying causes of uncivil discourse. The joint project will look to measure how communities take shape around political discussions, and observe any problems that manifest. To do this, the researchers will gauge how frequently Twitter users engage with diverse viewpoints, and develop algorithms that determine whether a conversation is ‘uncivil’ — one that breaks politeness norms — or ‘intolerant’, responses that fall more in line with hate speech, racism, or xenophobia:

If Twitter can develop ways to encourage people to interact in a civil fashion with those who hold opposing views, Oxford University is examining how big a benefit that could be.

Social psychology professor Miles Hewstone says communicating with individuals from different backgrounds is a proven method for reducing prejudice, and his team is interested in determining whether the positivity of an interaction online is transferred when a user logs off.

We’ve seen some success ourselves with a Change My View opinion format borrowed from Reddit. While we do still get some trolls, the overall quality and tone of debate has been extremely encouraging.

Do you have any views on how Twitter could best achieve its goals of more civilised and diverse discussion? If so, do share them in the comments.

Photo: BT


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