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Sara Owsley Sood '02 Works on 'Sentiment Engine' to Flag Hostile Web Comments

October 4, 2010

81750October 4, 2010, Greencastle, Ind. — Sara Owsley Sood, assistant professor of computer science at Pomona College and 2002 graduate of DePauw University, has been co-leading a team of researchers from Pomona and Yahoo! "studying Web comment threads and experimenting with software that can determine when such threads cross that line between constructive and destructive." Scientific American's Larry Greenemeier writes, Today 'the line' is often determined by a community editor or Web site manager who, in addition to dozens of other responsibilities, must monitor comment threads."

Many newspapers and other online information providers allow users to post anonymous comments on stories. The back-and-forths can often turn mean-spirited and downright nasty.  News outlets ha5052ve been struggling with finding a mechanism which would allow for free expression and not require a human employee to monitor and police the comments -- which can number in the hundreds each day.

The piece notes, "Anonymous environments, where commenters are allowed to hide their identities or create a cryptic or jocular username, are more likely to yield aggressively worded comment threads, says Elizabeth Churchill, a principal research scientist at Yahoo Research who manages the company's Internet Experiences Group ... Churchill and Pomona College assistant professor of computer science Sara Owsley Sood led the research group, which developed software that they dubbed a 'sentiment engine' to analyze the words used across comment threads. The researchers distinguished off-topic negative comments from on-topic negative comments that, while critical, are offered in the spirit of debate. The approach was to combine relevance analyses for detecting on and off-topic comments with sentiment detection 71806methods that broke comments down into three broad categories: happy, sad and angry."

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Dr. Sood majored in mathematics and computer science at DePauw, was a four-year member of the field hockey team and graduated magna cum laude. She received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University and joined the Pomona faculty in 2007.

She was one of four Pomona faculty members to receive the 2010 Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching. The honor recognizes exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the college and community.

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