The New York Times Uses AI to Moderate Online Conversations

The internet is supposed to be a place that fosters community and conversation—but all too often, it’s a place where people are subjected to hateful speech and online harassment.

According to the Microsoft Digital Civility Index (DCI) 2017 – Global report which were based on interviews conducted with teens ages 13-17 and adults ages 18-74 across 23 countries (including Malaysia), it was found that 16% were exposed to hate speech and 15% said they went through online harassment. In Malaysia specifically, 56% of the population have been exposed to some form of online risk.

In the US, more than 40 percent of citizens have personally experienced some degree of online harassment, and in 2017, 27 percent reported that they wouldn’t post a comment after witnessing harassment posted online.

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of toxic commentary online has been enough to force prominent news organisations to shut down comments sections on their articles entirely.

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The New York Times, however, refuses to let the trolls win. They’ve invested significant resources in community moderation to ensure that their readers have a productive place to discuss all sides of an issue and connect freely over the topics that matter most, without being subjected to abuse.

But those high standards are hard to scale. Careful moderation takes time, and in 2016 The New York Times was only able to enable comments on about 10 percent of articles. Eager to find a solution that would let them support comments across a greater swath of articles, they looked to machine learning to help.

They turned to Perspective, a free tool developed by Jigsaw and Google that uses machine learning to make it easier to host good online conversations. Perspective finds patterns in data to spot abusive language or online harassment, and it scores comments based on the perceived impact they might have on a an online conversation.

Publishers can use that information to give real-time feedback to commenters and help human moderators sort comments more quickly. And that means news organisations and content publishers can grow their comment sections instead of turning them off, and can provide their readers with a better, more engaging community forum.

Using Perspective, The New York Times was able to triple the number of articles on which they offer comments, and now have comments enabled for all top stories on their homepage.


Article first appeared on the Google Blog.

Lava is an authorised Cloud Partner of Google and is a reseller of G Suite (previously known as Google Apps, Google Maps for Work, and Google Cloud Platform) in Malaysia. We also provide cloud hosting and cloud migration services. With more than a decade of experience in the industry, we’re proud to say we’re one of the leading cloud service providers and consultants in the Asia Pacific region.

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