A symbol of a globe on the left, indicating the public. There is an arrow pointing to a smaller group of people on the right. This is meant to evoke going from a wider group to a smaller group.

Nudging conversations to groups

Create more spaces for civil discussions

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What It Is

Encourage the creators of popular threads on a platform's open forum to form private groups where users can continue their discussion of the topic.

Civic Signal Being Amplified

Promote thoughtful conversation

When To Use It

If popular conversations on topics are hampered by incivility and you want to encourage more constructive discussion among users.

What Is Its Intended Impact

By moving conversations from open discussion forums into smaller groups, conversations will tend to have less incidence of incivility, allowing users to engage in less toxic and potentially more productive exchanges.

Evidence That It Works

Evidence That It Works

Kim et al. (2022) worked with Nextdoor, a platform where residents in physical communities can post topics for discussion, and conducted a study in which creators of posts that generated more than 70 comments were encouraged to form groups where they could continue the discussion of the popular topic. While few users - only 4% - acted on the nudge and formed groups, the authors of the study found a substantial drop in incivility when comparing the first 70 comments in the open forum ("Neighborhood Posts") and the comments in the subsequent group ("Group Posts"). Most notably, the proportion of comments flagged for incivility dropped from 1.4% to 0.2% - or from 1 out of 70 comments to 1 out of 500. It is important to note that this study did not use an experimental design, which limits how much we can infer from the findings. While the intervention appears effective in creating spaces for civil discussion, we cannot say it changes users behavior or even increases the level of civility on a platform as a whole. In addition to there being no treatment and control condition, the authors of the study did not compare changes in individual users' behavior, so it is possible that the reason discussions became more civil is simply because more civil users opted to join the groups. The authors also note that the 4% of conversations that formed groups tended to be more civil to start with; it is thus plausible, though not necessarily likely, that removing discussions from a platform's open spaces could have a negative impact on the tenor of the discussions that remain. Nonetheless, designers can be fairly confident that if they encourage the creation of groups from popular posts, discussions in those groups are likely to be relatively civil.

Why It Matters

Social media platforms initially presented an opportunity for users to have meaningful, enriching conversations yet, in reality, conversations can often be derailed by incivility. Creating more spaces where conversations can be unhampered by incivility allows users to engage and connect in potentially more fulfilling ways.

Special Considerations


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Promoting Online Civility Through Platform Architecture

Jisu Kim, Curtis McDonald, Paul Meosky, Matthew Katsaros, Tom Tyler
Journal of Online Trust and Safety
September 20, 2022

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