The Future of Online Discussions – #FoOD2020

12. – 13. March 2020

About the Conference

Whether in comment sections of news media, via social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, in online discussion fora or through discussions on public consultation platforms: millions of people engage in online discussions every day. Based on extensive research and practical experience, it is well known that the way online discussions take place today exhibits many problems, including balkanization, lack of rational discourse, incivility, a high degree of redundancy and the deliberate spreading of misinformation.

There have been many proposals by scientific communities how to overcome some of these problems. Those include structuring discussions through argumentation maps, building a web of reusable arguments, automated summaries and additional interaction features such as ratings. Additionally, research has identified factors such as moderation style, platform design or community rules which influence the quality of online discussions. However, those proposals have had only very limited real-world impact, so far. There appears to be a gap between research on online discussions and the practical implementation in real world settings such as news websites, social media outlets or large-scale online consultations. The conference on ‘The Future of Online Discussions’ aims to bridge this gap.

Aim and Focus of the Conference

The key goal of the conference is to bring together researchers and practitioners in order to exchange ideas on how future online discussions should look like and by what means they should be supported. The conference specifically aims to provide a platform where scientists and practitioners are committed to cooperate in order to promote change. The focus will be on both technical and non-technical means by which this can be achieved in the real-world and not just in artificial academic or experimental settings. Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • How should online discussions look like?
  • What are the main technical, legal and economic real-world constraints regarding online discussions?
  • By what technical and non-technical means can online discussions be improved?
  • What can be learned from real-world experiences with trying to improve online discussions?

We envisage that the topic of the conference is particular relevant to practitioners such as platform developers, media outlets or NGOs on the one hand, and scholars of Computer Science and Communication Science on the other hand. But we do welcome contributions from other areas of expertise as well (e.g. political science, sociology, psychology, economics). Scientific contributions could include normative/theoretical questions on how online discussions should work but also specific ideas and proposals for mechanisms how these normative ideals could be achieved. Practitioners are asked to give insight in the necessities, constraints and expectations which emerge in the context of their practical experience with online discussion processes. We also welcome best case practice and innovations which are used by practitioners in the context of online discussions (e.g. automated word filters, moderation technics, community management etc.). The conference format is going to provide sufficient space for demo sessions and exchange for further collaboration.


The conference program starts Thursday, 12th March at 1.00 pm. Registration and opportunity for lunch will be from 12.00 am. There will be a conference dinner Thursday evening at the brewery Schuhmacher (Oststraße 123). The conference will end Friday, 13th around 6.00 pm. The final program is going to be released in February. We are happy that the following speakers already confirmed to contribute to the conference topic:

  • Andrew Losowsky (Head of Coral Project at Vox Media)
  • Chris Reed (Professor for Computer Science & Philosophy at the University of Dundee)
  • Christian Strippel (Researcher at NOHATE Project / FU Berlin)
  • Gina Masullo Chen (Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Centre of Media Engagement at the University of Austin Texas)
  • Hanna Gleiß (Project Manager at das Nettz – Civil Society Network against Hate Speech)
  • Julia Meyer (Head of Community Management ZEIT ONLINE)
  • Mark Klein (Principal Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT)
  • Marc Ziegele (Professor for Political Online Communication at the University of Düsseldorf)
  • Martin Mauve (Professor for Computer Networks and Communication Systems at the University of Düsseldorf)
  • Philip Kreißel (Social Media Analyst #ichbinhier)
  • Sebastian Horn (dep. Chief Editor ZEIT ONLINE; Project Manager My Country Talks)

Venue and further Information

The conference is going to take place 12th–13th March 2020 in Düsseldorf/Germany at the House of the University. It is jointly organized by the NRW Forschungskolleg Online Participation and the Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy (DIID) at the University of Düsseldorf. Both institutions have a strong interdisciplinary focus on online participation research. The final program will be released online January 2020. For further questions please contact the Head of the organizing committee.


To register for the conference, please write a short email to which provides full name and affiliation (for the conference badge) as well as particular food preferences. Please also note whether you are planning to participate at the conference dinner Thursday night. The registration is open until Friday, 2 March 2020. However, due to the limited number of seats, we may close the registration before this date. In any case, no conference fees will be charged.

Haus der Universität (Source: Medienlabor HHU)