Up your social game to win online debates: Study

The researchers analysed personal traits such as gender and political views to arrive at the conclusion

By Author  |  Published: 20th May 2019  4:52 pm

Bolstering your social network may be more helpful than persuasive arguments or witty comebacks, a study has found.Researchers from Cornell University in the US analysed data from a website that hosts debates on a variety of topics. Users can debate each other, comment on other debates, ask and answer questions, create and respond to polls, and become friends.The study found that social interactions are more important than language in predicting who is going to succeed at online debating.

However, the most accurate model for predicting successful debaters combines information about social interactions and language, researchers said. “It turns out that the interaction of people on this platform is really predictive of their success,” said Esin Durmus, a doctoral student at Cornell University. “So, if someone is trying to win an argument, they should focus on their social interactions, like discussing interesting findings with the people they’re friends with,” said Durmus.

“If this debater had information about people’s backgrounds or past interactions, maybe it could then personalise the types of arguments it uses, to maximise the chances of persuading them,” he added.

The dataset includes more than 67,000 debates on 23 topics, including politics, religion, science and health. They also collected nearly 2,00,000 voter comments on those debates, as well as personal information for more than 36,000 users.

The researchers analysed personal traits such as gender and political views, as well as social interactions on the website — how frequently users voted on other debates and the degrees of their connections with other users, for instance. For social interactions, they calculated debaters’ ‘hub’ and ‘authority’ scores, based on the number and influence of other users connected to them.

They found that a model incorporating social interactions and language was the best at predicting who would win a debate, guessing correctly around 70 per cent of the time.Of the three features, a robust history of social interaction, with high hub and authority scores, was the best predictor of future debate success, Durmus said.