This is a world first and great news at a time when everybody could use a bit of that: The Trust & Safety Professional Association opens its doors today. TSPA is a membership organization designed to support the content moderation community, the people all over the world who do the extremely challenging work of protecting social media users and freedom of expression at the same time.
The association launches at quite a moment – a point when policymakers (even heads of state) in this and other countries are questioning whether the platforms should be defining and protecting freedom of expression online; when the U.S. law that allows them to moderate content is being challenged more than ever; and when the public discussion about how to protect content moderators themselves, from hateful, violent and criminal content is finally taking off.
Based in San Francisco, TSPA was conceived mainly in Washington, D.C., where it was developed with major help from the Internet Education Foundation (IEF). It’s an outcome of a series of content moderation conferences called CoMo at Scale in the US and Europe that for the first time in the more than decade-old industry gathered the top content-moderation-policy people of multiple social media services so they could, with each other, user advocates, policymakers and the news media, talk about their platforms’ rules and practices. I went to the May 2018 one in Washington, D.C., organized by the IEF, and was struck by both the level of participation and how forthcoming the platform executives were.
For the community, for the public
Also being unveiled today is the Trust & Safety Foundation Project, TSPA’s research arm, also greatly needed and overdue. While TSPA, designed to connect policy and implementation professionals with support, training and resources, is for the community, the Project is outward-facing. It’s aimed at growing public understanding of the Trust & Safety field and the work of content moderation, with education programs and cross-disciplinary research.
Last week I wrote here about this pivotal point our new, very social, media environment has reached, and then a more prescriptive post in Medium.com about the five steps it urgently needs. I left one out. This development – TSPA and TSF Project – is No. 6. But not in a linear sense. It’s a fantastic development in its own right, and also part of Nos. 1 and 2: cross-platform collaboration at a new level (the platforms support these projects too) and in solving the conundrum mentioned above of protecting vulnerable people and freedom of expression at the same time. It’s also a natural complement to No. 3, building out a global association of Internet helplines, and to No. 4, a cross-platform version of the Oversight Board for content moderation appeals. The latter was started by Facebook but is now an independent entity, though currently focused only on Facebook content (“only” should be in quotes, given Facebook’s 2+ billion users, but this too, like TSPA, needs to be cross-industry).
Filling in the picture of user care
No. 5, about continued collaboration and innovation, urges the platforms to create internal “Pro-Social Media Teams” to liaise with their counterparts across the industry and internationally; the work of such teams would logically include liaising with TSPA.
In fact, with the Trust & Safety Association’s launch, a more complete picture of social media user care is beginning to take shape: with independent bodies for supporting sound content moderation on the platforms (and educating the public thereof), appealing platforms’ content moderation decisions and providing help to users confronted with harmful content. This is exciting!
- Timely/says it all: MIT Technology Review’s Quote of the Day today is, “Americans want platforms to be places of open expression, but also misinfo removed, but also tech companies have too much power & can’t be trusted to make content decisions, but also the gvt would be worse. TBH, this basically reflects expert opinion too!” That’s from Evelyn Douek at Harvard Law School, tweeting about the Knight Foundation’s report “The Future of Tech Policy: American Views.”
- “The secret rules of the Internet,” an early investigative piece on platform content moderation in The Verge by Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly
- “The 26 words that created the Internet,” a podcast from Wake Up to Politics’s Gabe Fleisher on Section 230 at St. Louis Public Radio
- A judge’s view of President Trumps executive order concerning Section 230, as reported by LawandCrime.com
- A Los Angeles Times explainer on Section 230
- My post in the Digital Diplomacy section of Medium.com
Disclosure: I serve on the Trust & Safety advisories of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Yubo and YouTube, and the nonprofit organization I founded and run, The Net Safety Collaborative, has received funding from some of these companies.