Part 1: Characterizing Online Public Discussions through Patterns of Participant Interactions

Public discussions on social media platforms are an intrinsic part of online information consumption. Characterizing the diverse range of discussions that can arise is crucial for these platforms, as they may seek to organize and curate them. In this talk, I introduce a computational framework to characterize public discussions, relying on a representation that captures a broad set of social patterns which emerge from the interactions between interlocutors, comments and audience reactions.

We apply our framework to study public discussions on Facebook at two complementary scales. First, we use it to predict the eventual trajectory of individual discussions, anticipating future antisocial actions (such as participants blocking each other) and forecasting a discussion's growth. Second, we systematically analyze the variation of discussions across thousands of Facebook sub-communities, revealing subtle differences (and unexpected similarities) in how people interact when discussing online content. We further show that this variation is driven more by participant tendencies than by the content triggering these discussions.

This is joint work with Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Christina Sauper and Sean J. Taylor.

Part 2: Conversations Gone Awry: Detecting Early Signs of Conversational Failure

One of the main challenges online social systems face is the prevalence of antisocial behavior, such as harassment and personal attacks.  In this work, we introduce the task of predicting from the very start of a conversation whether it will get out of hand.  As opposed to detecting undesirable behavior after the fact, this task aims to enable early, actionable prediction at a time when the conversation might still be salvaged. To this end, we develop a framework for capturing pragmatic devices---such as politeness strategies and rhetorical prompts---used to start a conversation, and analyze their relation to  its future trajectory. Applying this framework in a controlled setting, we demonstrate the feasibility of detecting early warning signs of antisocial behavior in online discussions.

This is joint work with Jonathan P. Chang, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Lucas Dixon, Yiqing Hua, Nithum Thain and Dario Taraborelli.