Nextdoor tries to curb incivility with 'Kindness Reminders'

Feature that prompts social network users to reconsider posting potentially offensive comments grew out of effort to combat racial profiling

Nextdoor, a neighborhood-focused social network that sells ads to real estate agents, has been known to sometimes attract offensive comments — especially racial profiling.

But the company has taken steps to combat this problem over the years. And now it’s unveiled yet another: the “Kindness Reminder.

Introduced earlier this week, the feature is designed to detect potentially “offensive or hurtful” statements in replies to posts and then prompt users to review such replies before deciding whether to publish them.

The safeguard underlines an effort by social media sites to take more responsibility for their content and unsavory side effects, including the sort with fair housing implications. Facebook was recently slapped with a fair housing compliant, despite having already nixed potentially discriminatory ad-targeting options.

The Kindness Reminder works by prompting users to access Nextdoor’s community guidelines, edit their reply or scrap the post altogether.

One in five users who saw the reminder in early tests hit “edit” on their comment, resulting in 20 percent fewer comments, according to Nextdoor. In neighborhoods where the feature has been tested, the frequency with which the reminder has been triggered has diminished. That suggests it may have the effect of softening the tone of users in general across those neighborhoods.

The feature hones its detection capabilities by analyzing information from comments flagged by users. It “will be learning the nuanced ways incivility can show up between people in different areas,” Nextdoor said.

Nextdoor said it was “breaking the rules of something they tell you not to do when building a social platform and adding a little friction for users.”

The reason? To foster “stronger connections” among neighbors.

The idea for Kindness Reminders grew out of feedback about racial profiling on Nextdoor, the site said.

To combat racial profiling, Nextdoor has built an advisory panel of activists, academics and experts. It even paired some Nextdoor employees with one of these academic’s students to discuss incivility and come up with ways to curb it on Nextdoor.

Nextdoor has long struggled with the tendency of its platform to serve as a magnet for racial profiling.

More than two years ago, it tried to address the problem by introducing an elaborate process for posting in the site’s crime and safety section, Wired reported. The process required comments that mention the race of an allegedly suspicious person or criminal to also include other information about the person, including their hair, clothing and shoes.

At the time, activists said the measures didn’t go far enough because they didn’t guard against racial profiling in replies to the initial, now-carefully filtered posts. Kindness Reminder appears designed to tackle that issue by targeting hostile or offensive in replies.

Email Teke Wiggin.