3 min read

📌 Stack Exchange's moderation meltdown

The week in content moderation - edition #37

Hello everyone and a special welcome to new folks from Civio and Sky. Please make yourself at home.

This is another late night edition (sorry) but, by means of compensation, I'd like to recommend:

  1. Listening to Sarah T Roberts, assistant professor and one of the foremost moderation experts, on Slate’s If/Then podcast.
  2. Watching Andrew Losowsky, a good friend of EiM, give his talk, How to Prepare for Trolls, at the recent CMX conference.

Thanks for reading — BW

Is disagreement dead?

No one is exempt from a moderation fallout. Not even Stack Exchange, the network of 175 Q&A communities and parent company of StackOverflow, the behemoth developer community.

Since co-founder Jeff Atwood outlined its theory of moderation back in 2009, Stack Exchange has become one of the most constructive places on the web, attracting million visitors a month and answering thousands of questions every day. They’ve (mostly) stuck by the idea that they ‘believe deeply in community moderation’ and recommend that users do one thing while on the site: ‘Be nice’. When accusations of hostility and abuse emerged back in 2018, the Stack leadership were proactive in trying to fix it.

So it was a shock when, last week, Stack became newsworthy for the wrong reasons (thanks Steve for the tip-off). I won’t go through the full timeline of events (you can read a version here) but the nub of it is that a longstanding Stack moderator called Monica Cellio raised questions about an addition to the site's Code of Conduct and was removed from her position on six different Stack Exchange communities for doing so.

Stack said that Monica was removed for ‘repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct’ while Monica suggested that she was fired for raising questions about the new one (rather than actually violating it). Judging by the 30+ moderators who quit in support (full list) and other users’ comments, the community sides firmly sides with her.

Four days ago, Stack’s CTO David Fuller (also head of their community team) was forced to issue a full apology, which was well-received by most users. I expect the site will ride out this meltdown but it begs the question: is disagreement dead? Can you respectfully raise questions about community guidelines without losing your privileges? Because that’s what Monica Cellio’s crime was. And, even on Stack Exchange, home of the ‘Be nice’ community policy, it seems like that’s not possible anymore.

Bonus read: Ycombinator discussion on the whole saga

Volunteer mods FTW

There’s something brilliantly simple about how Gather (a platform and Slack community for journalists) has invited applications for their new Gather Mod Squad.

Over the summer, Joy Mayer (Gather’s excellent community manager) asked Gather users to fill in a survey about what they cared about and how they wanted Gather to evolve. People said attentive and constructive conversations were key and that they’d be willing to help out.

The application process for the four-month pilot has some questions you’d expect (how often do you check Slack/which channels do you use) and ones you might not (do you have ideas for conversations that don’t fit nearly into these channels).

It’s a great template for any organisation looking to give engaged users more power to shape the community’s conversation.

Not forgetting...

This week, another live-streamed terror attack. This time, the gunman chose Twitch to stream his cowardice. Yet still, there's no idea how to prevent it.

2,200 Viewed Germany Shooting Before Twitch Removed Post - The New York Times

The live-streaming platform, owned by Amazon, has struggled to police content as it is posted.

This piece revisits the EU Terrorist Content Regulation, six months after it was amended, and claims we’re not further on in understanding who is stronger: government or platform

The EU Terror­ist Content Regu­la­tion shows that we still don’t know how to regulate online hate | FairPlanet

More than just a move towards increased restriction, the EU Terrorist Content Regulation exemplifies a new paradigm for content moderation.

Facebook is investigating hate speech on Brexit Facebook groups after death threats (banned under its community guidelines) towards MPs

How death threats spread in pro- and anti-Brexit Facebook groups - BBC News

A BBC investigation found multiple violent comments and images, many aimed at individual MPs.

The success of Reddit’s RPAN live-streaming experiment is partly down to its thoughtful approach to moderation.

Reddit Is Bringing Back the Lo-Fi Glories of Public Access TV

Reddit is testing a new live broadcasting feature, called Public Access Network (RPAN). The company has only tested the feature a handful of times with the public, but it has already created a…

Also Reddit updated its bullying and harassment policies this week as part of a play to become more attractive to advertisers

Reddit, where chaos thrives, tries to clean up to attract ads from big brands - Los Angeles Times

Reddit's CEO is trying to clean up the edgy website known for provocative discussions and fringe groups, while revamping its advertising in a bid to woo big brands.

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