Internet comments are both a blessing and a curse. A place for lively, entertaining, and even educational debate can quickly become a dangerous hate-filled swamp of ‘trolls’ determined to cause chaos. Online publishers have taken very different approaches to dealing with comments, ranging from banning comments all together to employing moderators to police comment sections with an iron fist. The New York Times is taking a new approach, deploying an AI-powered monitoring system that will allow the publication to open comments on 15% more of its articles. As the bot continues to improve, the Times hopes to enable commenting on up to 80% of its articles in the future.
This is a big deal because, while comments sections offer rich debate and useful information (more useful, sometimes, than the original article!), many online publishers have given up on them all together. That’s because it’s just too much time and trouble to pay moderators to keep the trolls and trouble-makers out of the discussion.
It’s become too easy for trolls to dominate conversations online. People are either leaving the conversation entirely or comments sections are being shut down. The power of machine learning offers us an opportunity to tip the scales and reverse this trend, Jigsaw’s CEO Jared Cohen said in a statement. “This is why we built Perspective, technology that puts the power of machine learning into the hands of publishers and platforms to host better discussions online.”
Jigsaw, which operates as an ideas and policy shop loosely tied to Google, has been working on using artificial intelligence to combat trolls for years. As Fortune reported in February, the tool works by training software to recognize comments that are toxic or irrelevant, and then filtering them out in order to show smarter stuff.
New agencies, including the Times and the Economist, have been experimenting with Jigsaw’s tools for months but the Times is the first to deploy it on a broad scale.
Comments are a powerful way for publishers to keep readers engaged in their content and returning to their platforms regularly. Using AI and machine learning to improve the commenting experience for users means companies will be able to keep their readers happy while potentially increasing their reach. If Jigsaw is able to scale this service, it will solve a major problem in the online publication industry. As the public and thus policy makers increasingly focus on cyberbullying, Jigsaw could be positioning itself to become a necessity in the online publishing space and others may soon follow with similar solutions.
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