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How can we make

good online dialogue about civic and controversial issues?

Activity #3: Creating Conditions for Good Online Dialogue: Norms and Guidelines  

(45 minutes)


How can we create an online community or online spaces where everyone feels welcome and comfortable contributing, voicing their opinion, and discussing with others? What principles and guidelines support good online conversations, especially across different perspectives?


This activity invites students to think more broadly about the qualities of a positive community, explore community guidelines and informal norms on a site they frequently use, and then consider/reconsider class norms for dialogue about civic issues.


Exploring Online Guidelines:  Ask students to track down the official community guidelines for one app, social media site, or other online site that they frequently use or visit. If students do not often use a specific app or site, ask them to choose one of the following sites listed below.



Ask students to read the guidelines for the community they chose. As they read, students should consider the following questions:

  • What principles or guidelines do you agree with or feel important to you?  Why?

  • Which guidelines feel less relevant or less important?  Why?

  • What guidelines might you add, if any? Why?

  • Are specific guidelines needed for discussions of civic issues? What kinds of guidelines and why?


Norms on Your Networks: Ask students to think about the app, social media site, or other online community whose community guidelines they examined. If a student does not often use a specific site, ask them to pair up with a student who does. Ask them to reflect on the informal guidelines or norms of the site via the following questions:

  • How do people usually act on this site? What informal guidelines or norms seem to be in place?

  • What kinds of things do people in your network not do - or rarely do? Why do you think this is so?

  • On the flip side, what do they often do in posts or comments? Why do you think this is so?

  • Is it ok to discuss civic issues in your network?  How do people typically do that? What do they avoid?

  • Do you ever see people disagree?  How do they talk through a disagreement?


As a whole class, reflect on key insights from looking at official guidelines on an online site and then consider informal norms in their own online networks.

  • What key principles did you identify across the official guidelines and your network norms? For example, “Be respectful” and/or “Be clear when you’re joking.”

  • Can you think of any additional guidelines that aren’t in place but which you think are necessary?  What might be some strategies for calling attention to these guidelines or norms?


Extension Idea

Creating or Revising Class Guidelines: Ask students to construct or revisit class guidelines for online and offline discussion of civic issues.

  • Invite the class to review any existing guidelines (including documentation of guidelines from the discussion in the Question #1 Activities, if applicable).

  • Now ask students to nominate new or revised guidelines. Document new or revised norms on chart paper. Consider these to be “living guidelines” that are periodically reviewed and updated over time.

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