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Promoting positive discussion to engage readers

Delfi’s new user-commenting platform uses AI to combat disinformation.

When readers create a “parallel universe”

Founded in 2000, Delfi is a leading online media outlet covering news, politics, the environment, lifestyle, and entertainment for readers of all ages. Headquartered in Vilnius, they have news portals for Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, with editions in English and Polish. The Delfi news site has 40,000 subscribers, 500,000 unique monthly visitors, and 120 million monthly page views. Some 200 staff and 50 freelancers contribute to more than 400 news pieces a day.

Delfi’s readers are loyal, and they don’t just want to read the news: They want to discuss it.

Over the years, user comments on articles ignited discussion and debate, sometimes becoming even more popular than the stories themselves. Reader comments developed into a steady traffic generator and brand differentiator. They were great for business.

“Delfi was widely known for its comments section,” says Head of Digital Development Mantas Gudauskas. “We had articles with very high readership. But when we analyzed the statistics, we saw that 70 percent of people were reading the comments, not the articles in general. We had big page views for comments. It was a phenomenon here – like a parallel universe.”

Then, things took a dark turn.

Disinformation impacts user comments

Disinformation on social media was nothing new. But publishers like Delfi began to see more conspiracy theories, fake news, and trolls appearing in their articles’ user comments. “This started with COVID-19, and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Gudauskas says. Delfi’s reader discussions got ugly, creating a negative commenting environment. What had been an exciting form of user-generated content got out of hand.

Delfi tried to remedy the problem by first requiring users to register to comment, and then restricting commenting to subscribers only. They launched a warning system that would automatically flag and delete negative comments, with moderators manually taking care of others. But with hundreds of articles published daily, they struggled to keep up.

“We had so much misinformation and disinformation, it destroyed our commenting ecosystem,” Gudauskas says. “We had intense pressure from the audience and other sectors to fix the problem. We weren't able to control it. It hurt our brand.” Delfi had no choice but to turn off the commenting feature, which resulted in a 10- to 15-percent decrease in traffic.

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“Our partnership with GNI has been a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration. We're excited to continue shaping the future of online discourse.”
Vytautas Benokraitis
CEO, Delfi

Creating a smarter user-commenting platform

Delfi had previously partnered with the Google News Initiative (GNI) around the publisher’s use of Google Pinpoint, a research tool that enables investigative journalists to explore and analyze large collections of documents using Google Search and AI technology. Now, wanting to regain control of user comments – and restore the positive commenting environment that helped grow their brand – Delfi leadership approached GNI in the summer of 2022 with an idea.

“Trust in media globally had tremendously decreased,” says Delfi Innovation and Partnerships Team Lead Ieva Ivanauskaitė. “We were looking for ways to best communicate with our readers without being too distant, but also by being reliable.”

With support from GNI, Delfi fast-tracked development of a universal commenting platform that would integrate seamlessly across all their media outlets, providing a space for safe discussions. They partnered with Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) and a local tech agency to make their vision a reality.

Branded “NAPO” (short for naujienų portalas, or news portal), they created a platform emphasizing user engagement and interaction, combining a homepage for trending topics with embedded functionality for article-specific discussions. The project successfully shifted from open commenting to a controlled environment, significantly reducing disinformation and hate speech.

“Google's support acted as a catalyst, accelerating the development of a new vision for the platform and bringing together editorial and technological perspectives within the organization,” Gudauskas says.

NAPO uses AI-driven solutions to enhance moderation. “Our AI solution with VMU was trained upon our comment database – 2.5 million comments – if I remember correctly,” Gudauskas explains. The AI solution detects and calculates the possibility for abusive or inappropriate language and disinformation in terms of percentage, then flags those posts for moderators.

The platform empowers users with a ranking system to ensure discussions adhere to community standards. The algorithm considers user input when ranking comments up or down. All readers may comment – including anonymous users, registered users, and subscribers; however, those commenting anonymously have limited access to commenting functionality (just plain text and a “submit” button). Readers are encouraged to register first, which unlocks rich text-editing capabilities. And paid users get rich-text editing abilities like adding pictures, videos, and other kinds of embedded media.

In addition, Delfi plans to create a commenting space for subject-matter experts to post their opinions and guide discussions, and “address the trend of users seeking expert advice on social media,” Gudauskas says.

Google News Initiative — News Ideas

News publishers are innovating to find new ways to engage their audiences. From digital distribution and subscriptions to real-time analytics and AI, to giving readers a voice, they are using technology to reimagine news — with a focus on growing revenues and sophisticated/strong journalism. Their insights might inspire your own next big idea in the news.

About Delfi

Founded in 2000, Delfi describes itself as “the largest and oldest online news media in Lithuania” covering news, politics, the environment, lifestyle, entertainment and more – engaging audience members of all ages. They operate news portals in all three Baltic states (Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia) and a TV station. Delfi is owned by Ekspress Grupp, an Estonian media and publishing company.

Location: Vilnius, Lithuania

  • 4X increase in user comments
  • 50% decrease in harmful comments
  • 500K unique monthly visitors

Shaping the future of online discourse

Delfi launched the NAPO platform in July 2023 across culture and lifestyle channels, rolling it out to news and business channels by summer’s end. Since then, Delfi has rebuilt reader confidence and participation, with a four-times increase in user comments, a 50-percent decrease in harmful comments, and no additional moderator staff required – saving time and money.

“The project not only resulted in a technological breakthrough within the organization but also clarified user preferences and content expectations,” Gudauskas explains. “By combining elements from social networks, such as multimedia integration, with a focus on expert engagement, the platform aims to redefine its role in the media landscape, offering a unique space for meaningful discussions and expert insights.”

Delfi has created a standalone NAPO domain as a first step toward offering the technology to other media outlets who face similar challenges keeping conspiracy theories, misinformation, hate speech, and other negativity out of their user comments.

"Our new commenting platform is not just about fostering discussions; it's about empowering communities to engage meaningfully with the content they consume,” says Delfi CEO Vytautas Benokraitis. “Our partnership with GNI has been a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration, and we're excited to continue shaping the future of online discourse."

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Screenshot 2024-07-01 11.20.16 AM
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