Let’s agree to disagree. In calm moments, when best intentions prevail, this golden rule is easy. Then someone is “wrong on the internet,” and best intentions are the first things to go. The desire to be heard runs faster (and hotter) than any inclination toward being civil.

Civil, a new commenting platform, forces strong opinions to slow down and meet best intentions. Innovating on the moderation side, Civil interrupts the automatic process of posting comments. Users judge the value and civility of comments before they ever make it to the moderator queue.

Aja Bogdanoff, co-creator of Civil along with Christa Mrgan, is an experienced community manager formerly with TED, and emphasizes the ability of platform design to affect content. Civil’s design takes commenters on a considered journey, a combination of human and machine learning that makes users think about content, quality, and civility as part of interaction online.

When a user posts a new comment, they see the screen below:


Civil asks them to rate the civility of a comment from another user by clicking a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button. Then they are asked “Is this a good comment?” with the addition of a “sorta” option.

Screenshot courtesy of civilcomments.com
Screenshot courtesy of civilcomments.com
Users can also flag and star comments during the process, fighting abuse and surfacing high-quality content even as they complete their task.
Finally, users are presented with their own comment again and asked to rate it. They now have distance and perspective. They have had a chance to create internal measurements on what is good and what is civil. After the user takes this opportunity to reexamine their own words, the comment can be moved to moderators or posted.

Step 4

Civil’s unique comment flow has multiple benefits, one of the most obvious being investment. Posting a comment with Civil is fairly quick, but does require some time investment. Every commenter, by virtue of participation, is declaring a stake in the tone of the community. In addition to this extra level of consideration, the algorithm behind Civil’s moderation is constantly learning from user choices.

This “pre-moderation by community” is the result of deeply considered design thinking about the question “What’s gonna fix comments?” Civil proposes that with the right guidance, the answer can be commenters themselves. “It’s not about the sanitization of discussion,” Bogdanoff notes, “but maintaining a basic level of respect for the people involved.”