4 min read

📌 John Suler was right

The week in content moderation - edition #24

Hello everyone. Hope you've had as good a week as fans of these four football clubs.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably vaguely interested in fairness and who makes decisions, which means you’ll probably enjoy Against The Rules, Michael Lewis’ new seven-part podcast. It essentially looks at different kind of referees, from basketball to art forgery to the US regulation of college loans. I'm six episodes in and hooked. If you’ve been listening, let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading — BW

A man before his time

In 2001, just a decade after the first web page was published and a mere three years after Google and Napster were founded, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University, New Jersey, wrote a paper about the online disinhibition effect.

The web, he argued, caused people to feel disinhibited, either in a benign way (by getting people to disclose more than they usually would) or a toxic way (by resorting to threats etc). He identified six factors that played into disinhibition including invisibility (the fact you can’t see a person and they can’t see you means you don’t have to act in a certain way when you're saying it), minimising authority (there are no roles so everyone is the same rank) and solipsistic introjection (where you experience a verbalised response in your head without knowing what the person speak like). All of them are familiar to anyone who has interacted with anyone online and especially those who have worked doing so.

I hadn’t come across Suler’s woerk until it was mentioned during the Tortoise thinkin (a ‘forum of civilised disagreement’) I went to last night about why the internet went bad, featuring Jamie Bartlett, author and senior fellow at Demos, and Georgie Powell, CEO and co-founder of wellbeing app company SPACE, (If you happen to be a member you can re-watch the stream here.)

We barely scratched the surface of the web’s challenges in the hour we had but it was Suler’s idea and his essay that stuck out. Despite being written almost 20 years ago, and focusing mainly on Usenet groups and The Palace (a forerunner to Second Life), they feel current and fresh. 2001 was the year Wikipedia was founded and three years before Facebook even existed and here is Suler explaining six phenomena that continue to play out. It's certainly worth a read.

And yet, there's seemingly very little about cyberpsychology (the field Suler studies) that has changed since 2001. Despite the challenges of online misinformation, identity fraud and abuse, there have been few experimental studies exploring the effects of ODE or concepts connected to it (Suler said so himself in an interview in 2016). And despite a long pedigree, only a few universities and colleges offer it either side of the Atlantic.

Academia won’t solve all of the challenges we face but more people doing smart research on how and why our behaviour plays out as it does on the web doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.

Guaranteed inhibition

Talking of inhibition, this is without doubt, the fastest way to make people behave online: telling on their mum/mom.

Not forgetting...

Kate Klonick, one of the leading academics looking at issues of mass content moderation, spent the day with Facebook’s global escalations team in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack. A good long read with lots of detail.

Inside the Team at Facebook That Dealt with the Christchurch Shooting | The New Yorker

Kate Klonick reports on the Facebook content-moderation team that addressed posts and live-streamed video from the Christchurch shooting, in New Zealand.

Sri Lanka’s recent terror attacks happened because there are no laws to prevent people from preaching hate online, according to one expert. Now he's calling for that to change.

Expert calls for Cyber Act to combat spread of extremism in Sri Lanka - NewsIn.Asia

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The Facebook free speech battle with conservatives, explained - Vox

Is Facebook a platform or a publisher? When users are getting banned, it makes a difference.

Instagram is working on a new account banning process to take into account how much you post.

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The Claremont Institute criticized the orthodoxies of multiculturalism. The company banned our ads.

Engadget looks back on the decision by a number of news organisations in 2012 to turn off comments and why it didn't work as they expected.

Killing comments won't cure our toxic internet culture

2014 was a year of reckoning for online news media. Following increasingly fractious and aggressive behaviour by users, a number of marquee organizations threw t...

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