4 min read

📌 Joe Biden doesn't understand moderation 🇺🇸

The week in content moderation - edition #48

Hello and a warm welcome to new a handful of new subscribers from the WSJ, Coadec and others.

If you’re into it, have a browse of old EiMs (this one and this one have the highest open rate of the last three months so maybe won't be terrible). Also here's a bonus Twitter list of moderation experts.

This issue might as well be wielding a foosball and singing The Star-Spangled Banner, it’s so American.

Thanks for reading — BW

Flagging Biden for removal

The Washington Examiner called it his ‘internet-breaking idea’. Vice mockingly called him ‘Online Whiz kid’. It’s safe to say Joe Biden’s comments about repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act did not go down well with most folks that know.

The Democrat presidential candidate made the remarks in an interview with the New York Times’ editorial board in an update to comments he made in November in which he intimated that Facebook should have their section 230 exemptions removed.

Where did it all go wrong?

What does it matter? Well, Section 230 is the US law that means ’no provider or user of an interactive internet service’ (eg Facebook, Vimeo, message board) shall bear responsibility for the content posted on their site by users. Scrapping it would make platforms stricter on what they allow users to publish for fear of fines/lawsuits and would unwittingly increase censorship of already marginalised groups.

So a potential President saying this publicly is a big deal. And Biden is just one person that wants US legislators to come down heavily on the tech platforms — for electing Trump, for facilitating child abuse, for lots of reasons — while at the same time not compromising the First Amendment. That’s almost impossible to do, according to experts like the EFF. Which is why Techdirt suggested Biden’s latest comments needed flagging for removal.

Reform is a better idea — and one that Senator Josh Hawley is pushing and that former Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke pushed before his campaign ended. But reform is never a catchy message. The Brexit referendum (sorry to mention again) proves that.

So expect other presidential candidates to slam Section 230 in the next ten months before America votes. Expect its political and medial commentators to go into a tailspin again when another hopeful get their facts wrong about the Communications Decency Act. What we'll be left with at the end of it all is anyone's guess.

Sandberg on the slopes

On the topic of politics, it is nice to see that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, had time amidst the madness of Davos to touch upon the challenges of content moderation (see tweet below).

She also invited Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, to Facebook's HQ in the US. Khan, of course, knows all about online abuse: a female lawmaker he is alleged to have sexually harassed received hundreds of abusive messages after she spoke out against him. Fills me with complete confidence.

Don't read the comment

I wholeheartedly agree with Adriana Lacy’s newsletter imploring news organisations to take comments seriously after two newsrooms (Oregon Live and Crosscut) recently closed their comment sections.

The Los Angeles Times social editor rightly says:

encouraging readers to do most of their engaging off-platform on social media is a temporary solution to what will be a long-term problem.

I’ve said the same here, here and here but it seems like an inexorable slide. Read (and sign up to Adriana’s excellent newsletter) here.

Not forgetting...

Not surprising but kind of mad when you see it written down: YouTube videos flagged as unsuitable for advertising are not flagged in any way to users. Madness.

How YouTube shields advertisers (not viewers) from harmful videos — Quartz

When it comes to hateful and misleading videos, YouTube's systems for protecting advertisers are stronger than those protecting its users.

Ever heard of L1ght (formerly Antitoxin Technologies)? I hadn’t but its co-founder and CTO has written an interesting op-ed for Forbes about his son being targeted online and how that inspired him.

Two ways social networks could control toxic content

Ron Porat, CTO of L1ght, discusses why platforms are failing to keep their sites free of hate speech, harassment, and other inappropriate content and how to fix it.

Spectrum Labs, another unknown (at least to me) online toxicity company, has built a rule-based moderation tool to supplement its AI product and written about it on Medium. (PS I’m considering creating a database of mod tools - would that be interesting for anyone? Reply and let me know).

Content moderators asked for better tools. We listened.

Spectrum Labs was founded in 2016; the year matters, because we had seen how misinformation influenced the US presidential election and wanted to protect online communities from complex forms of

UK writer and comedian David Baddiel writes about the new campaign Don’t Feed The Trolls and tries to understand why the world is angry and spewing with hatred on the web.

David Baddiel: why I feed the Twitter trolls

The internet, as we know, has no laws. Scrabbling around as we are in the gut of the monster that our Frankenstein culture collectively created, we have tried and failed to police it, to give it boundaries and governance and classification as we have done with all our other societies. For that is wh

Related: writer Venkatesh Rao coins the phrase 'the Internet of Beefs’ in this essay on why mooks (anonymous, angry, fungible) don’t respond well to the celebrity citadel-like strongholds but love knights (beef-lovers like Donald Trump). Every paragraph is genius (via Roberto Kusabbi)

The Internet of Beefs

Sky Group Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch makes the farfetched claim that online content requires a Volstead Act, the legislation introduced in the US in 1920 to prohibit alcohol

What Prohibition teaches us about regulating the internet | Sky Group

Facebook is to hire 1000 new staff in the UK in the coming years, half of which will be focused on content moderation. Political move, much?

Facebook to expand in UK, hiring 1,000 new workers - SiliconANGLE

Facebook to expand in UK, hiring 1,000 new workers - SiliconANGLE

Vox culture writer Aja Romero reflects on Gamergate, now five years old and still going strong in some corners of the web. Killer quote? ‘Perhaps we could have had... less reliance on the longstanding twin internet wisdoms of prioritizing free speech and starving a troll until it leaves." 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

What we still haven’t learned from Gamergate - Vox

Gamergate should have armed us against bad actors and bad-faith arguments. It didn’t

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