User comments are a popular form of online participation, for example when citizens publicly discuss political news on social media platforms such as Facebook or in the comment sections of news media. Such discussions contain some democratic potential. However, it is not that potential that characterizes the public discussion currently, but rather hate speech, fake news, and insults.
Instead of positive effects such as opinion formation, public reasoning and public participation, democratic values seem to be threatened. Studies show that the poor quality of online discussion endangers social cohesion, polarizes citizens’ political opinions, promotes stereotypical thought patterns and prevents people from participating. Our research question therefore reads: How can the quality, impact and usability of political online discussions be improved? This points to their deliberative aspect which is to discuss politically relevant issues publicly and with mutual respect.
The aim of the research program is to investigate new techniques of moderating and aggregating public-policy communication and make them available in the form of computer-assisted systems. These techniques are intended to improve citizens’ participation and opinion formation and make public discussions more accessible to the media and politics. The research design combines qualitative and quantitative methods as well as computational methods. These are embedded in an interdisciplinary research program and put into practice in cooperation with various partners.
The junior research group is part of the Funding Program “Digital Society” of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the state of NRW. More details about the project can be found here (only available in German).