CivilServant: Community-Led Experiments in Platform Governance
As online platforms monitor and intervene in the daily lives of billions of people, platforms are being used to govern enduring social problems. Field experiments could inform wise uses of this power if tensions between democratic values and experimentation could be resolved. In this paper, we introduce CivilServant, a novel experimentation infrastructure that online communities and their moderators use to evaluate policies and replicate each others' findings. We situate CivilServant in the political history of policy experiments and present design considerations for community participation, ethics, and replication. Based on two case studies of community-led experiments and public debriefings on the reddit platform, we share findings on community deliberation about experiment results. We also report on uses of evidence, finding that experiments informed moderator practices, community policies, and replications by communities and platforms. We discuss the implications of these findings for evaluating platform governance in an open, democratic, experimenting society.