On the Social Web

Tom Blount

Slides available at:

Creative Commons License


  • Problem space

  • Argumentation

  • Social web

  • Initial findings

  • Future work

Problem Space

Have you ever argued online?

Did you "win"?

How did it make you feel?

Problem Space

  • Cyberbullying

  • Perception of the web

  • "Wicked" problems


Argumentation is a key element of human communication

Image via Wikimedia

Formal Models of Argumentation

  • Predicate/propositional logic

  • Set theory

  • Graph theory

  • Legal proceedings

  • Academic proofs

  • Cognitive ergonomics

The Toulmin Model

Image adapted from Toulmin (1958)

The Toulmin Model

A Claim is the conclusion someone is hoping to draw - for example, "I am a British citizen"

A Qualifier shows the certainty of an argument - "definitely", "probably", "quite likely", etc.

Data are the facts they use to draw this Claim - "I hold a British passport"

The Toulmin Model

The Warrant is the implicit joining of these two statements - "The holder of a British passport will be a British citizen"

Backing is further proof of the Warrant

A Rebuttal is a foreseen counter-argument - "Unless I am a spy of a foreign power"

The Social Web

Image via Brian Solis - (Other sizes)

Social Web

  • Vast numbers of participants

  • Long lengths of time between responses

  • Ability to directly link data/evidence/citations

  • Rating systems (Facebook "Likes" or reddit "karma")

  • Restrictions on posting (144 character limit, language filters, etc.)

Initial Findings

  • Simple comment scraper

  • Makes use of sentiment analysis web-service

  • Analyses multiple social web services

Initial Findings

Results: Twitter

Initial Findings

Results: Daily Mail

Initial Findings

Results: 4chan

Future Work

  1. Apply current models, to see where their deficiencies lie

  2. Create a formal model of social argumentation that captures aspects missing from previous models

  3. Use this model to determine how to improve behaviour and encourage dialectic argument on the web


There are lots of models of argumentation

Most of these are not applicable to the social web

If we capture aspects of argument specific to the social web, we can improve the quality of discourse for everyone


Perhaps we'll see less of this in future

Image via xkcd

References & Further Reading

  1. The Uses of Argument, S. E. Toulmin, (1958), University Press, Cambridge.
  2. The Art of Always Being Right: Thirty Eight Ways to Win When You Are Defeated, A. Schopenhauer and A. C. Grayling (2004), Gibson Square Books, ISBN 1-903933-61-7
  3. A review of argumentation for the social semantic web, J. Schneider, T. Groza and A. Passant (2013). Semantic Web, 4(2) p. 159-218