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Seminar: The Design of Online Environments and the Quality of Democratic Discourse At-Scale

Eugenia Rho

PhD Candidate, University of California Irvine

Thursday, April 9, 2020
12:15pm - 1:15pm
(Zoom Only)


Facilitating democratic discourse, or people's ability to access factual information in service of thoughtful discussion of social issues, is critical for democracies to function properly. However, with the rise of online fake news, misinformation, and political extremism, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have civil conversations on the internet. As a first step to addressing this issue, scholars need to understand how the current design of online environments shapes the ability of people to respectfully engage across social and political differences.

In this talk, I call upon two projects to demonstrate how common online design features and practices (such as the use of hashtags and unfiltered comments) directly impact the quality of democratic discourse at-scale. Using natural language processing, statistics, and experimental design, I find that the political reputation of a news platform and the presence of political hashtags in online news articles both affect the quality of discussion on race and gender equality topics. Collectively, these projects are motivated to understand how online spaces can be better designed to foster interaction and discourse that can bridge rather than sharpen social differences.


Eugenia Rho is a PhD Candidate at the School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California Irvine. Intersecting the fields of Human-Centered Data Science and Political Communication, her research examines the nature of online engagement around substantive social issues and how the design of online spaces shapes interaction online. She uses both qualitative (interviews and content analysis) and quantitative (natural language processing, experimental design, statistics) approaches to demonstrate how online design features directly influence discourse quality around social topics.

Eugenia's research has been published at ACM venues including Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Empirical insights from her work have been shared with the public audience through popular media (The ConversationYahoo Finance, Newsweek Japan, Neiman Journalism Lab at HarvardQuartzCBS San Francisco Radio, and Radio New Zealand), as well as with industry researchers at Facebook and Twitter Data Science. Prior to UCI, Eugenia studied Political Science at Columbia University and has spent several years working as a financial consultant. More recently, she has worked as quantitative UX research intern at Facebook and at the University of Chicago.