Thread With Caution: Proactively Helping Users Assess and Deescalate Tension in Their Online Discussions

Jonathan P. Chang, Charlotte Schluger and Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil

Proceedings of CSCW 2022.


Talk Video

Media coverage:

                                    NPR's Weekend Edition: A new AI tool can moderate your texts to keep the conversation from getting tense

Related research:         

                                    Proactive Moderation

                                    Anti-Social Computing

                                    Conversational Behavior



Incivility remains a major challenge for online discussion platforms, to such an extent that even conversations between well-intentioned users can often derail into uncivil behavior. Traditionally, platforms have relied on moderators to---with or without algorithmic assistance---take corrective actions such as removing comments or banning users. In this work we propose a complementary paradigm that directly empowers users by proactively enhancing their awareness about existing tension in the conversation they are engaging in and actively guides them as they are drafting their replies to avoid further escalation.

As a proof of concept for this paradigm, we design an algorithmic tool that provides such proactive information directly to users, and conduct a user study in a popular discussion platform. Through a mixed methods approach combining surveys with a randomized controlled experiment, we uncover qualitative and quantitative insights regarding how the participants utilize and react to this information. Most participants report finding this proactive paradigm valuable, noting that it helps them to identify tension that they may have otherwise missed and prompts them to further reflect on their own replies and to revise them. These effects are corroborated by a comparison of how the participants draft their reply when our tool warns them that their conversation is at risk of derailing into uncivil behavior versus in a control condition where the tool is disabled. These preliminary findings highlight the potential of this user-centered paradigm and point to concrete directions for future implementations.




  author={Jonathan P. Chang, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil},

  title={Thread With Caution: Proactively Helping Users Assess and Deescalate Tension in Their Online Discussions},

  booktitle={Proceedings of CSCW},