Can a bit of self-reflection make online comment threads more civil?

Civil Comments screenshots

What happens if you ask people to rate their own comments for how rude they are before they can post them? The answer, Civil Comments hopes, is that people will be rather more polite, helping rescue comment threads from the snake pit they often are and raising them towards the exchange of feedback and ideas that internet visionaries used to hope for.

Civil Comments is building a plugin which can be added to websites, and requires people to rate two other comments for civility versus rudeness and for great versus poor quality before they can write their own comment – and then requires them to rate their own comment on the same scales before it can be published.

From tests so far, it looks like being forced to rate your own comment first makes ruder people go back and edit their own words: a little bit of self-reflection improves behaviour.

What Civil Comments tries to enforce is a wider point applicable to all sorts of online debate – left to its own devices, it often spirals downwards towards hate, but with sensible guidance, engagement and, as required, moderation, it can be very fruitful.

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