February 21, 2017

Discussion Quality Diffuses in the Digital Public Square

WWW 2017

By: George Berry, Sean Taylor

Abstract

Studies of online social influence have demonstrated that friends have important effects on many types of behavior in a wide variety of settings. However, we know much less about how influence works among relative strangers in digital public squares, despite important conversations happening in such spaces. We present the results of a study on large public Facebook pages where we randomly used two different methods—most recent and social feedback—to order comments on posts. We find that the social feedback condition results in higher quality viewed comments and response comments. After measuring the average quality of comments written by users before the study, we find that social feedback has a positive effect on response quality for both low and high quality commenters. We draw on a theoretical framework of social norms to explain this empirical result. In order to examine the influence mechanism further, we measure the similarity between comments viewed and written during the study, finding that similarity increases for the highest quality contributors under the social feedback condition. This suggests that, in addition to norms, some individuals may respond with increased relevance to high-quality comments.