Online Civility, Part 4: How to Design for Civility

2143921258_4ac6c89898_b

Photo by stepnout

Part 4 of 4

In a thoughtful essay “How Can Communication Technology Encourage Civility?” on the website Big Questions Online, Derek Powazek examines the question, “What is it about online comments that makes us so awful?”

He reviews a number of studies on this topic, including one from 2006 in which a common room in a workplace had a refrigerator stocked with drinks. People who took a drink were encouraged to make a voluntary donation into an “honesty box.” One set of people had a box with a photo of flowers on it; the second group had a box with a photo of human eyes on it. Even a photo of eyes — the concept of being watched — influenced their behavior. After being monitored for 10 weeks, the people who saw the eyes were nearly three times as likely as the others to make a donation.

Now think about how that applies to the anonymous world of the Internet. But Powazek points out there are ways to make people feel part of a group that’s watching — for example, avatars of other community members who are reading or have read a story online. I think he’s on to something, because there are websites where I feel more or less anonymous, and it definitely affects what I say and how I say it.

This and other studies leads him to conclude that there’s no way to eliminate bad behavior online, but says the people and organizations that who create digital experiences can “design for civility.” Specifically, he says that civility can be improved by doing these things:

  • Use community managers and software to weed out bad apples.
  • Design features to show that people are watching.
  • Make sure the visual design reinforces the interaction with color and shape.
  • And do everything you can to make people feel in control.

What sites do this well, and how are you “designing for civility”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s