3 min read

📌 Test your mod skills, Holocaust u-turn and better software please

The week in content moderation - edition #83

Welcome to Everything in Moderation, your weekly newsletter about content moderation on the web, dished up hot by me, Ben Whitelaw.

A special hello to new subscribers from Hacking/Hustling, Business Insider and elsewhere. If you're enjoying the newsletter, please do forward it onto grateful colleagues and unsuspecting friends with an encouraging message to sign up.

As ever, there's lots to get into... — BW

📜 Policies - company guidelines and speech regulation

Mark Zuckerberg on Holocaust denial in 2018: "I don’t believe that our platform should take that down”.

Mark Zuckerberg on Holocaust denial this week: ‘We're expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust'.

Facebook’s new approach to Holocaust denial, announced in a blog post on Monday, represents a complete change of position in less than two years. The reason for the change of heart, according to Zuckerberg in a Facebook post, was that he’d 'seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech’. We'll have to trust him on that.

I can’t put my feelings about this latest reversal any better than this from Tom Coates: 'the moderation and content policies of the most vulnerable people on the planet are at the whim of a billionaire who no matter his background cannot possibly identify with the most vulnerable in society.'

As we all know, there is no point having policies if users don’t have trust in how those policies are being interpreted. That’s why initiatives like this nine-question quiz about how to be moderator from my former employer The Times are important. Just like the 2o16 version built by the New York Times, the questions aren’t as straightforward as you think. Can you spot libel and sift out personal insults? Have a go and reply here with your score.

💡 Products - features and functionality

If you’ve ever tried to start an online community, you’ll know that decent software options are at a premium. Slack? Facebook Group? Another piece of software that you (and your intended community) might not get on with? As this new post from Li Jin (formerly of Andressen Horowitz) and David Sherry (founder of 'internet hangout' Jacuzzi Club) outlines, ‘the accompanying management toolkit still largely misses the mark’.

Their list of 10 most sought-after software features is a good start although I expect there’s a lot of decent under-the-radar tools that do 80% of what they want (maybe I'll pull together a list?). I’ve written a lot recently about the need for better product thinkers in this space (#76) so having Li and David advocate for better tools is a welcome development.

For the very technical among you, you might find this piece by the architect lead of Adevinta, which owns 30+ online marketplaces and thus does a lot of moderation, interesting.

💬 Platforms - dominant digital platforms

Facebook has come under fire for the treatment of its UK content moderators after two people working for one of its outsourcing company in Dublin reportedly contracted Covid-19. Staff are reportedly unhappy because the office was not closed as agreed and they were asked to continue to work from a different floor.

It comes hot on the heels of a similar story from The Intercept in the US, where Accenture workers in Texas and California were deemed ‘essential workers’ and therefore not permitted to work from home. I'll say it again: Outsourced content moderation sucks.

👥 People - those shaping the future of content moderation

He’s perhaps the most unlikely poster boy for better content moderation. Sacha Baron Cohen — the comedian and author most famous for Borat — continued his mini-campaign against Facebook in a tweet in which he encouraged the platform to 'hire more humans to moderate and factcheck!'

His beef was that a recent piece he wrote for TIME magazine about Facebook’s slack attitude towards hate speech was, you guessed it, blocked for its choice of image. Delicious irony, that.

Seriously though, while Cohen doesn’t have a great grasp of the intricate challenges of creating platform policy, we know Facebook responds to bad PR and, well, Cohen is a constant thorn in its side. So perhaps his involvement isn’t a bad thing.

🐦 Tweets of note

  • "What if they officially separated out those organizational units like many news organizations do?” - Aviv Ovadya, the founder of the Thoughtful Technology Project, suggests platforms take a church/state approach to content moderation
  • ‘This is going to be problematic if there's not a clear public interest/news value component in the decision-making process" - Andrew Ford Lyons on the impact of platforms increasingly adopting standards on news values.
  • "FB is a company whose monopolistic scale means that it CAN'T moderate well, and also that it doesn't need to. What are you gonna do, use Instagram?" - Cory Doctorow tells the story of Hans de Zwart, a digital rights activist with a love of The Big Lebowski.

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