Re-evaluating Rules & Introducing Alternative Solutions

Text as originally posted to changeaview.com.


Hi all,

When asked to justify our rules, our stance is that ChangeAView can’t be a free-for-all forum, as the most destructive behaviors would dominate and drive away those interested in our unique offering of productive discussion. This sentiment remains important. At the same time, we want CAV to be an intuitive and positive experience, not a complicated one with avoidable mistakes made at every turn.

On the original r/changemyview subreddit, the only way we could create and maintain a purpose was by writing rules and enforcing them with removals and bans. Over the years, this resulted in a long and reportedly intimidating document explaining every nuance and edge case. As subreddit moderators, we spent so much time in this headspace that it became a very natural way of doing things and perhaps even felt like the only way. So much so, it’s one of the areas we’ve been slower to innovate at CAV.

To address this, we’ve been taking a step back to ask: “why do these rules exist and are there other solutions?” Sometimes the answer might be “no”. We wouldn’t get rid of our prohibition on personal attacks (Rule 3), for example. But the rest of this post will talk about a few cases where it seems the answer is “yes”, at least in part.

This is a long post, but we want to be transparent about our decisions and explain them properly.

TL;DR:

  • We added OP (Original Poster) responsiveness options, entirely replacing Rule D to foster more discussions while making intentions clear.
  • We previously introduced a ‘confidence meter’ for posts, reducing post removals and allowing Rule C to evolve.
  • The ‘neutral’ and ‘meta’ parts of Rule E were removed, with a new post type accommodating ‘neutrality’ (redefined as confliction/confusion), and the rest of the rule was merged with Rule B.

Rule D: “You must be willing to engage with responses within three hours of submitting”

Background: One restriction that we know prevented potentially valuable posts was the 3-hour time window, which often caused some understandable confusion⁠—posting before you start work and responding after you finish, for example, is a perfectly reasonable intention that historically broke the rule.

First, let’s consider why it existed on the subreddit:

  • It aimed to prevent frustration for users who are expecting OP to be responsive. While OP has never been required to respond to everyone, it helped to know that at least there was a chance it would be you.
  • It was intended to stop intentionally provocative ‘hit-and-run’ posts.
  • No design control meant a rigid 3-hour rule was the only feasible option.

Solution: To address the expectation issue, OPs will now be asked how they intend to engage with their discussion, choosing from three options: Responding NowResponding Later, and Reading Only. After posting, a Finished Responding option will become available.

These can be changed by OP at any time, and we will monitor activity to ensure accuracy, assisting with some automated changes. Potential commenters can then take this into consideration when deciding whether replying is worth their time or not.

As far as ‘hit-and-run’ posts are concerned, this will always be a trickier problem, but we will start by ranking posts with OP engagement higher than those without, reducing the incentive that might otherwise exist. Having no post voting also helps here.

Some might argue that OP’s participation is necessary to have a valuable experience. However, while it’s certainly encouraged, it’s not clear that’s always true. It depends on the OP⁠—some might gain just as much from reading, and discussions can still be had without OP. Nevertheless, we offer further justification below for Reading Only as we realize this is a potentially controversial change.

Rationale:

  • Some users will always be reluctant to promise a time commitment, particularly when unforeseen circumstances can change their availability and result in a rule violation.
  • The OPs of these hypothetical lost discussions may have actually gone on to engage with the comments at their convenience. In this case, it’s not that they had no interest or intention to do so, it’s that they took issue with the above risk/reward and decided “if in doubt, don’t post”.
  • This is a problem for CAV. When OPs have so much influence over whether activity happens, we need to take these issues seriously.
  • Only offering Responding Now/Later options without enforcing the rule just means expectations wouldn’t be met as some OPs are forced to lie.
  • Simply changing the time restriction to something like 48 hours may solve part of the problem, but this wouldn’t fully address why the rule existed in the first place. It’s better to encourage OPs to just be honest and work backwards from there.

Rule C: “Your behavior must demonstrate that you are open to your view changing”

Background: On the surface, the message of Rule C is core to CAV’s purpose. The problem is that abiding by how it’s been historically enforced on the subreddit isn’t as simple as the title suggests. Essentially, it was a judgment call on how strongly OP appeared to defend their view. But this isn’t a perfect indicator of closed-mindedness and it’s likely that some unconvinced OPs have had their posts removed despite good intentions over the years.

Nevertheless, it remained an imperfect necessity on the subreddit due to design limitations. Without it, expectations were more likely to be misaligned between users with no easy way for them to find preferable discussions, and so it makes sense that a blanket policy evolved to strike an acceptable balance. However, in transitioning to our own website, we might’ve been too quick to import the assumption that certain posts are generally unsuitable for CAV and can’t be given a way to add value.

Providing an opportunity for people with strong opinions to engage with counter-arguments should be one of our goals, and with that, we must accept these OPs will sometimes respond accordingly. But as long as an OP’s responses seek to move the discussion forward rather than shut it down, we believe this can still be fruitful in the right environment (which is CAV)⁠—we just need to provide clarity on which type of discussion you’re entering into.

Solution: A couple of months ago, we started asking OPs to self-select the level of confidence they have for their view, choosing from LowModerate, and High. This is displayed on the post, setting expectations for would-be commenters. In the future, users will be able to block and filter confidence levels, and moderators will be able to change incorrect selections.

In addition to facilitating more challenging (yet still productive) debates for those who want them, the hope is this also encourages people to post views on the other end of the confidence spectrum.

While we had already been moderating Rule C leniently for the months between launch and releasing this feature, the aim here is to officially change what this rule means at CAV. Comparatively, it roughly means the following:

  • Low/Moderate = for what was allowed on the subreddit.
  • High = for many of the discussions that would break the historic Rule C.
  • Removal = for clear cases of misaligned intentions/behavior (e.g. blatant preaching).

Rule E: “Posts can not be on the impractical submission type list, such as … neutral posts”

Background: “Neutral posts” are those which express no clear stance on an issue, and these have been historically banned on the subreddit for structural reasons and a general feeling that facilitating this wasn’t its intended purpose. However, a number of newcomers to CAV have made these so-called neutral posts, and so I started a public discussion about it.

I explained why I was beginning to doubt the original reasoning for the rule but still leaned towards it being necessary, and the responses argued why that might not be the case. We also had some discussion about what “neutral” really meant. In the end, thanks to the CAV users involved, we came around to the idea of accommodating these discussions.

Solution: The very first question OPs will be asked while creating a post is whether they want to discuss “an opinion I hold or lean towards” or “an issue I’m conflicted or confused about”. The only visible difference between the two is the latter will show Conflicted or Confused in place of the confidence level on posts, again setting expectations. However, we are storing these as a new ‘sub-type’ of post and may do more interesting things with this in the future.


Rule E: “Posts can not be on the impractical submission type list, such as … meta topics”

Background: “Meta posts” are those which present a view about ChangeAView itself, and this was historically prohibited for reasons that no longer apply. This rule came about in the early days of the subreddit when we felt that these posts were a distraction and better suited to a separate subreddit for feedback, giving the concept a chance to prove itself.

Now that CAV exists as a standalone website and company, keeping this rule might send the wrong message. Plus, the meta discussions we’ve had at CAV so far have been genuinely helpful and insightful, and if users don’t want to see them, they can block #cav-meta thanks to our new tag features.

Solution: We now allow meta posts at CAV.

It seemed unnecessary to keep Rule E around for its remaining components, which dealt with readability and language, and so these were merged with Rule B instead.


If any of these changes introduce unforeseen problems and have a negative impact on CAV, we will certainly re-evaluate the situation. We want this to be the best experience it can be for all involved.

Thanks for reading! Let us know if you have any thoughts or feedback.

  • The CAV Team

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