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Articles, Release Notes

Improving Online Discourse: New Features and Releases

By Ido Goldberg

People talked before the internet ever emerged – in cafes, parks or at home. People gathered around and engaged in an open exchange of ideas and thoughts.

The internet didn’t invent communication, of course, it just made it possible for billions of people to engage in conversations regardless of their location, time zone or identity.

In 2020, however, the internet is at risk of undermining the values it was supposed to advance – freedom, democracy and trustworthy knowledge. More and more conversations are driven into monopolistic platforms powered by algorithms that amplify the loudest, not the kindest voices. And indeed, 2019 was the worst year for online civility, as measured by Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index (DCI), with most respondents claiming social media has the most toxic discourse online.

Here at Spot.IM, we’ve been fighting for a more civil open web for years, and we’ve never been more committed to improving our online discussions than we are today. We are often told that trolling, harassment, and misinformation are unfortunate—but unfixable—things that an open society needs to accept.

Well, we disagree. Our mission is to empower our partners, across the open web to host quality conversations by providing them with tools that we believe have the power to improve online discourse.

In the upcoming months, we’ll be sharing insight into our effort to make publishers the hosts of our most important conversations online – for the sake of our society and for the future of online journalism.

We are often told that trolling, harassment, and misinformation are unfortunate—but unfixable—things that an open society needs to accept.
Well, we disagree.

We are happy to announce some new features and tools that support our mission for a more civil and open web.

Community Guidelines

Every community has its own rules. We believe transparency is key – people cannot improve their behavior if they don’t know what is acceptable and what is not.

Therefore, we are excited to release our new Community Guidelines feature that gives publishers the ability to be transparent and clear with their community. 

This feature includes the ability to add a short sentence below the Conversation title (we like Refinery 29’s “Start a Conversation, not a fire“), that links to an overlay or to another page, where users can review the Dos and Don’ts of the Community.

User-to-User Muting

In our effort to promote quality conversations and create a bully and troll-free zone, we are introducing User-to-User muting. 

Users are now able to Mute other users to never see any of their comments again. This allows users to block users who regularly post comments that they personally find offensive. This way, users create a safe environment for themselves, without the need of a moderator’s decision.

Users can easily Unmute users they have previously muted through their personal profile, but until then they’ll simply see a “This users was muted” message whenever they encounter a comment posted by someone they muted.

In the upcoming months, we’ll be sharing insight into our effort to make publishers the hosts of our most important conversations online – for the sake of our society and for the future of online journalism.

Civility Feedback

Over the past few months, we have developed various metrics to evaluate the safety and quality of the discussions that take place on our partners’ sites. However, there are still improvements to be made, so we wanted to hear from users directly. 

Civility Feedback is an in-conversation survey presented to select users in real-time to gather feedback on the level of civility and quality in the conversation that they are apart of. This will allow us to better evaluate the level of toxicity in the conversation so that we can be even better at offering solutions – both in real-time and in retrospect.

In-Conversation Moderation

We always strive to make moderation easier and more efficient for publishers. In-Conversation Moderation allows moderators to see pending comments within the Conversation itself, giving them the ability to either approve or decline these comments directly from the Conversation. This will allow staff to react with more precision and speed.

Quality is a Virtuous Cycle

When quality is promoted others will mimic the behavior. This combined with empowering the community to take ownership and enforce guidelines creates not only a better experience for the community, but also creates a brand-safe environment for publishers.

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