Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI

Julian Risch

Reader Comment Analysis on Online News Platforms

Comment sections of on line news platforms are an essential space to express opinions and discuss political topics. However, the misuse by spammers, haters, and trolls raises doubts about whether the benefits justify the costs of the time-consuming content moderation. As a consequence, many platforms limited or even shut down comment sections completely. In this thesis, we present deep learning approaches for comment classification, recommendation, and prediction to foster respectful and engaging online discussions. The main focus is on two kinds of comments: toxic comments, which make readers leave a discussion, and engaging comments, which make readers join a discussion. First, we discourage and remove toxic comments, e.g., insults or threats. To this end, we present a semi-automatic comment moderation process, which is based on fine-grained text classification models and supports moderators. Our experimentsdemonstrate that data augmentation, transfer learning, and ensemble learning allow training robust classifiers even on small datasets. To establish trust in the machine-learned models, we reveal which input features are decisive for their output with attribution-based explanation methods. Second, we encourage and highlight engaging comments, e.g., serious questions or factual statements. We automatically identify the most engaging comments, so that readers need not scroll through thousands of comments to find them. The model training process builds on upvotes and replies as a measure of reader engagement. We also identify comments that address the article authors or are otherwise relevant to them to support interactions between journalists and their readership. Taking into account the readers' interests, we further provide personalized recommendations of discussions that align with their favored topics or involve frequent co-commenters. Our models outperform multiple baselines and recent related work in experiments on comment datasets from different platforms.