Welcome to Everything in Moderation, your weekly newsletter about content moderation by me, Ben Whitelaw.
A special welcome to new EiM subscribers from Internet Lab, Crowdstack and other corners of the internet. You can find today's edition and 98 previous sends spanning over two and a half years here.
Today's newsletter isn't filled with a great deal of hope, sorry. But it is a good round-up of what you need to know from the past seven days — BW
📜 Policies - company guidelines and speech legislation
Is speech regulation becoming another route for authoritarian regimes to enforce their political views? Two developments this week suggest so:
- Hungary looks set to adopt new legal measures ($) to combat so-called censorship of conservative views on social media. Justice minister Judit Varga claimed that she had recently been shadowbanned and that popular platforms “limit the visibility of Christian, conservative, rightwing opinions”. This follows the proposal of similar legislation by the Polish government last week (EiM #97).
- Brazil is heading down a similar path: a member of the right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL) last week introduced a bill which aims to hold intermediaries liable for activities of content moderation. (Thanks to Bruna for the translation into English). Brazil, you'll remember, was subject to one of the Facebook Oversight Board's first six cases and has a checkered history with the platforms since the election of populist Jair Bolsonaro.
💡 Products - features and functionality
Another month, another news outlet closing their comments. The Philidelphia Inquirer have shuttered reader comments as of February 1 having seen them 'hijacked by a small group of trolls who traffic in racism, misogyny, and homophobia.' The move, according to a blogpost, comes as part of the outlet's commitment to becoming an actively anti-racist news organisation. Last year, 43 journalists of colour wrote a letter to management about the paper's history of silencing minority voices. Comments will continue on Sport and Inquirer Live stories.
Blocking, by its nature, is subjective but it isn't always about preventing abuse from appearing in your feed. That's what Block NYT — a new app that blocks 800+ New York Times Twitter accounts — has taught me this week. It's clearly a political move by a disgruntled MAGA fan but as yet, there's no information about who runs it or how many users it has.
💬 Platforms - dominant digital platforms
Reporters Without Borders has denounced Twitter's suspension of South African news magazine The Continent and one of its editors that criticised the access issues (last week's EiM). Twitter's head of public policy for sub-Saharan Africa said it was still investigating and the error could be put down to "machine learning and automation”. At least they didn't use 'technical glitch' this time (EiM #67).
OneZero's Alex Kantrowitz had an interesting discussion with Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist and Intercept founder who has set up shop on Substack. He has some strong anti-moderation views and supports Substack's 'content-neutral' approach although, frankly, where he draws the line isn't always clear. Worth a read.
👥 People - those shaping the future of content moderation
When it comes to Facebook's policy employees, I tend to recognise most of their names. But Kang-Xing Jin is one that I didn't know before this week when the platform's head of health was quoted in a piece about Facebook clamping down on all anti-vaccine posts.
It turns out I'm not alone. Protocol reported in March 2020 that KX, as he's referred to, is the 'the least well-known' of Mark Zuckerberg's inner circle, despite working at Facebook since 2006. He took up the head of health role in 2018, despite no medical background, but has several bona fide public health experts in his team.
The call to clamp down on all anti-vax content is significant and suggests that KX, whose work on Groups in 2016 led to Facebook creating a blood donation tool, has intervened before things got out of hand.
🐦 Tweets of note
- "There are a plethora of interventions .... before you get to a *criminal offence*." - UCL law lecturer Michael Veale notes the case of a Twitter user charged for an offensive post about Sir Tom Moore.
- 'Today in content moderation news that you weren't expecting to read' - a longtime friend of EiM and Stanford postdoc Joseph Seering reflects on some important Keanu Reeves news.
- 'wish all of eng + design + pm at companies building social products had to get this visceral understanding of abuse somehow' - spare a thought for the tireless work of Block Party app founder Tracy Chou.
Everything in Moderation is a weekly newsletter about content moderation and the policies, products, platforms and people shaping its future.