Nextdoor will remind users to keep conversations 'constructive' and 'empathetic'

The company is adding extra friction when a thread may be likely to turn negative.

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Neighborhood social network Nextdoor is trying out a new way to keep conversations respectful. The company is introducing a new feature that will remind users to keep conversations “constructive” when the app detects that a particular thread may be likely to turn negative or overly contentious.

With the change, which will be rolling out over the next few weeks, users will see a big pop-up reminding them “you can set the tone,” before they are able to add to a discussion. “Show your neighbors what it looks like to have empathetic conversations,” it reads.

It’s an approach the company has tried before. Nextdoor introduced “kindness reminders” in 2019, which surface pop-ups when the app detects someone may be about to post a heated comment. Last year, it debuted a similar reminder to promote anti-racist language among its users.

What sets these latest notifications apart is that they appear proactively, before a user has typed out a comment. The feature uses machine learning to detect when a conversation between neighbors may be close to becoming problematic, looking at factors like the rate of comments coming in as well as whether the people active in a thread have been reported in the past.

Nextdoor will push reminders to users about how to have

The goal, according to the company’s Chief Product Officer Kiran Prasad, is to catch people before they get involved in a discussion that could be veering off course. Once you’ve already started typing out a response, he says,"you’re kind of committed to a certain level because you’ve already written a bunch of stuff." If people can see the reminders before they start writing, the hope is they’ll be more likely to respond thoughtfully, or even not jump in at all.

For a service that has often been in the spotlight for enabling people’s more base instincts (there’s a reason why the app has had to actively remind users to not be racist) predicting when a conversation is likely to turn negative could have a sizable impact.

“It'll start to kind of set the tone that these are the types of conversations that are appropriate or not appropriate on the platform,” Prasad said.

Nextdoor isn’t the only platform to try out these kinds of reminders in an effort to make people be nicer to each other online. Twitter has prompted users to rethink mean tweets, and has said the prompts have led to a decrease in harmful replies. TikTok adopted a similar measure, prompting users to “reconsider” before posting offensive comments. Instagram also has anti-bullying “nudges.”

Prasad says that early tests of Nextdoor’s “constructive conversations” reminders have already been positive, though it has led to some decrease in overall engagement on the platform. “We think that it's still the right thing to do.”