The New York Times is employing AI to aid its public editor in defeating the trolls

Posted: 14 June 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

The New York Times is replacing its public editor with AI to increase comment engagement on its articles.

The Times currently employs 14 journalists to moderate comments on its articles, despite the size of the team, this only allows for moderation on the 10% of articles currently open to reader comments. On this 10%, the Times already receives 12,000 comments each day.

Starting on the 13th June, the New York Times will begin to increase the number of articles featuring a comment section, the result of a year’s work with Alphabet’s Jigsaw.

Alphabet’s tech incubator, which focuses on grand-scale digital problems such as terrorist recruiting and online harassment, is working with the Times to make online commenting better.

The Times hopes to encourage its readers to engage by kerbing online trolls

The comment moderators will use Jigsaw’s platform, Perspective, to increase the comments section to 80% of its articles over the coming year. The newspaper will use Jigsaw’s artificial intelligence capabilities to achieve this portion of its 200 daily articles. The machine learning algorithm will automatically scan for abusive and superfluous comments.

This software, built specifically for the Times, will speed up the moderation process for its human employees. In the hope that it will allow them to comb through reader-submitted comments quickly and efficiently.

“Basically, what we did was moderate the overwhelming majority of comments by hand,” the paper’s community editor, Bassey Etim, told FastCompany. Etim and his team would have to look at each comment, on what he calls a time-based system, to deem whether or not it was fit to print.

“We tried to create a product that feels like you’re still on the New York Times site,” he says of the discourse they allow to be published, compared to other comment sections around the web. “It doesn’t make you feel like you have to take a shower after.”

Jigsaw’s software will aid the Time’s 14 journalists in moderating comments on 80% of its stories over the coming year

Jigsaw is already working on projects that aim to kerb trolling and harassment online, this project with the Times is not dissimilar.

“The increasing concern that we were hearing from publishers was that a lot of conversation around the hard topics is actually happening in the comments section of news articles,” says Jigsaw’s head of partnership, Patricia Georgiou.

The Times hopes that by removing the fear of trolling and abuse, it will allow people to better engage with the Times’ stories.

Jigsaw sees increasing the spaces where readers can express themselves on the Times website as a huge leap forward “We thought this was an important challenge to tackle, to defend freedom of expression,” says Georgiou.

You can read more on this story over at FastCompany.

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