Hello and welcome to Everything in Moderation, your later-than-usual companion to the fast-changing world of content moderation and online safety. It's written by me, Ben Whitelaw, and supported by you.
Before I get into this week's edition, I'd like to pay tribute to those working in trust and safety roles at Twitter and Meta who lost their jobs this week. I've been lucky to come across and learn from many smart and dedicated people in this space and this is not what they deserve. If anyone wants to talk or needs support, please get in touch.
This week, I also answered a few questions for Future Proof, a newsletter on media and the web by podcaster Nick Hilton, who dubbed content moderation "a sexy topic of dinner party chitchat again". I don't know what parties he's going to but have a read and subscribe if it sounds like your bag.
Without further ado, here's everything in moderation this week — BW
New and emerging internet policy and online speech regulation
With the Digital Markets Act having just come into effect in the EU, it was interesting to note Nick Clegg's comments this week on the supposed incompatibility of interoperability and privacy. In a conversation as part of Fortune’s CEO Initiative Summit, Meta's president of global affairs gave short shrift to the idea that taking your data from one service to another was going to lead to anything other than more problems. He said:
When you move data around, it’s more likely to get lost from time to time. I think judgments between data portability and privacy need to be made by legislators; they can’t be and shouldn’t be made by private sector platforms.
Both the DMA and the Access Act under consideration in US Congress include interoperability mandates as a means to boost competition. Not that the UK's former deputy prime minister seems to care.
Reflecting on the raft of speech legislation around the world, the former Liberal Democrat leader also warned that "there is a real risk that in ten years’ time, we will look back on this era as an unprecedented era of openness." Talking of mistakes a decade on, remember this?
Features, functionality and technology shaping online speech
Controversial age verification has been rolled out on Instagram in the UK, after being announced back in June by the company (EiM #165). Using technology provided by Yoti — which previously worked with Match Group previously (EiM #30) — age verification seeks to combat underage users viewing over 18 content. But what's notable about the update is that social vouching, where others can verify a user is over 18, has been dropped while the platform makes "some improvements". Hmm.
Did the platform have any intention of allowing social vouching as an alternative method of ID or was it used in the announcement to placate critics? Who knows. But even parenting groups recognise that age verification is far from perfect and I hope Instagram does too.
Social networks and the application of content guidelines
A lot has happened at Twitter since last week, not least the firing of significant swathes of its safety team (and then asking some to return) and a short-lived stint with double verification. But, in many senses, we are where we were last week (EiM #179) except in a deeper pit of gloom and with more analysis to try and help us make sense of it all. Here are a few pieces I've been reading:
- Marietje Schaake, now a policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, notes in the Financial Times how Musk's takeover makes "the remarkable power that US tech executives hold over our lives, from geopolitics to the health of democracy, painfully tangible to all".
- Advocate magazine noted the sharp increase in the use of groomer, an anti-LGTQ+ slur which was previously banned on the platform until Musk took over.
- The mid-terms might have passed but Musk's decisions could lead to post-election disinformation, according to Twitter's former Director of Product Management for Societal Health writing for Tech Policy Press.
- Author and EFF director Jillian C York wrote about what Musk can learn from human rights activists almost three weeks ago and seemingly predicted that "the billionaire’s buyout will broadly result in its degradation".
- Saturday Night Live and Amy Schumer even got in on the act.
Elsewhere, a contracting company working for TikTok is being investigated in Colombia following accusations of low-pay, poor working conditions and union busting. Teleperformance reportedly met "attempts by workers to unionize.. with intimidation and threats" according to TIME, leading to the Ministry of Labor to open a case. Shares in the Paris-listed company subsequently dropped 34%, forcing the company to announce a $150m share buyback. It comes not long after Daniel Motaung (EiM #179) brought a case against Sama, Meta's outsourcing partner in East Africa, for similar reasons. Maybe outsourced moderation isn't the answer after all (EiM #89)
Substack has had requests from governments to take down content, according to one of its co-founders Hamish McKenzie in an odd little interview with Politico. He refused to be drawn on who or what, coquettishly saying "I'll leave it at that", and it's a reminder of the importance of transparency efforts to give light to government intervention.
Those impacting the future of online safety and moderation
There are only two Twitter employees that Elon Musk has retweeted to his 115m followers since taking over and only one he's done so more than once. And now that person has left the company.
Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth tried to be proactive about communicating about efforts to reduce manipulation around the midterms and combat the hateful content that reportedly spiked when Musk took the helm. But the former Senior Programme Manager for Product Trust also defended the company's approach in a Twitter Space with advertisers and, in a short space of time, was perceived as "Musk's guy".
Not any longer, according to The Washington Post and others. The reasons are unknown, but he could probably tell where things were going. Let's see if and when he speaks out.
Tweets of note
Handpicked posts that caught my eye this week
- "It's hard to come to any other conclusion that he has little understanding of human communication, or indeed behavior on the platform he owns" — Tech Policy Press' Justin Hendrix upon hearing Musk chat to advertisers.
- "Welcome to what minorities have negotiated for ever on Twitter" — Author Monisha Rajesh got no time for those bleating about hate speech (me neither).
- "I showed my commitment to the people I punched in the face by punching them less hard than the other people I punched in the face" — Ryan Mac, The New York Times' tech reporter, questions the Teknoking's commitment to a safe web.
Job of the week
Share and discover jobs in trust and safety, content moderation and online safety. Become an EiM member to share your job ad for free with 1500+ EiM subscribers.
The independent but Meta funded Oversight Board is looking for a Senior Case and Policy Officer on a 14-month fixed term contract.
The role reports to the Deputy Head of the Case and Policy Team and involves creating well-reasoned and consistent decisions and policy guidance and supporting Board Members to draft case decisions and policy advisory opinions.
The position commands a salary of circa £94,000, is based in London, Washington or California and has some nice benefits. I know some people from a certain company that might be a good fit...