3 min read

📌 Clegg on content algorithms, feel-good gifs and quitting social media

The week in content moderation - edition #106

Welcome to Everything in Moderation, your weekly newsletter about content moderation by me, Ben Whitelaw.

This week's edition goes out to a host of new subscribers from Ofcom, Dot Europe, the University of Hasselt, Dimension Media, Trinity College Dublin, Tumblr and elsewhere. Thank you all for signing up — and to those who shared last week's edition (looking at you, Andy and Daphne).

Advanced warning: today's edition contains a lot of Facebook and extensive mentions of Nick Clegg.

And with that disclaimer out of the way, this is your week of content moderation news — BW

📜 Policies - company guidelines and speech regulation

It's an essay in its length, a speech in its style and a congressional document in its content: Nick Clegg's 5000-word Medium piece on the role of content algorithms, published on Wednesday does a lot at once and yet offers nothing new to the discussion about how Facebook views the big content decisions of today's world.

Facebook's Vice President of Global Affairs (EiM #62, #92) concedes that platforms must be more transparent about why and how content recommendations take place. But he doesn't go as far as making a link between content recommendation algorithms that push people towards extreme posts and the moderation process that often has to bear the brunt of such mistakes. Indeed 'moderation' or 'artificial intelligence' appears no less than zero times in the essay (or in Casey Newton's accompanying interview in The Verge).

Those topics muddy the narrative that this piece has clearly and carefully been designed to create: to make Facebook's role in the problems it helped to facilitate as small and insignificant as possible.

💡 Products - features and functionality

A nice example of combatting abuse from the world of journalism: Zetland, the independent Danish publisher, has created custom gifs by notable illustrators and a hashtag (#merekærlighed, which translates to "more love") to help its audience "spread more respect, curiosity and completely old-fashioned courtesy on the web."

The move follows numerous public figures in Denmark talking publicly about suffering online abuse and a national conversation about what can be done. Gifs clearly have their limitations (remember the Giphy debacle in November 2019) but it's positive to see a news organisation find new ways to shape public conversation.

💬 Platforms - dominant digital platforms

First, it was Jair Bolsonaro, then Donald Trump and now Nicholas Maduro: Facebook this week froze the Venezuelan President page for violating policies against spreading misinformation about COVID-19 The last 12 months have not been good for the so-called strong men of social media.

And one from last week that passed me by at the time: Reporters without Borders filed a lawsuit alleging that Facebook is guilty of “deceptive commercial practices” for promising users that it would provide a “safe, secure and error-free environment”. The potential fine under EU law is 10% of average annual turnover, or $8.6bn.

👥 People - those shaping the future of content moderation

Thierry Henry, the laconic French footballer, is mostly known for his graceful goals and his adverts for French cars. But this week, the former Arsenal striker made a stand against online abuse by quitting social media.

In a final tweet, Henry said he would no longer post until companies "regulate their platforms with the same vigour and ferocity that they currently do when you infringe copyright". In doing so, he left 2.7m Instagram, 2.3m Twitter followers and 7.8m likes on Facebook.

I have a longer piece brewing about football's fight against the platform's moderation practices but for now, let's file this under 'an admirable effort'.

🐦 Tweets of note

  • "Someone showed up at Salon with a print-out of his comments because I moderated him" - Annemarie Dooling, WSJ's queen of community, on why downplaying online violence is the wrong way to go.
  • "Imagine Facebook paying its content moderators well instead of throwing away money on shit nobody needs." - EFF's Jillian C York explains how we've got more pressing issues on our hands.
  • "We're recruiting at all levels for Ofcom's Online Harms Policy team" - not an easy gig but Mark Bunting has a bunch of interesting roles available.

Everything in Moderation is a weekly newsletter about content moderation and the policies, products, platforms and people shaping its future.