Content moderation and community curation

When Parler started up their website with (supposedly) no content moderation terms of service, I was skeptical. I wrote about it at the time, but unfortunately did so on Facebook, making it more work than it’s worth to track down.

I ran a community website for 25 years (roughly) and content moderation was the most difficult part of it. Nobody wants content moderation, except when they do. If you take down my comment, that’s censorship. If you take down someone else’s, that’s setting the right community tone.

Every site has content moderation – it’s just a question of how it is done. It’s a question of deciding what is appropriate (or on topic) and removing things that are not.

On Parler, for example, if you make pro-Democrat comments, they get shouted down and are moderated by virtue of being drowned out. On Twitter, on the other hand, if you make pro-Nazi comments, they get actually removed. These are just two versions of the same thing.

But with a site like Parler, which was created, presumably, specifically to get past the unfair moderation rules of Facebook and Twitter, you have another problem. The site is specifically intended to allow the most egregious breaches of common etiquette and good manners. And, of course, to be friendly to the kind of thugs and fact-averse people who were responsible for storming the Capitol last week. This means that they’re continually going to be pushing the envelope, and then you run into a kind of content moderation that we all eventually are subject to – when your content actually breaks the law.

Calling for the execution of elected officials (or, indeed, of anyone) is a violation of federal law.

I ran into this with my Kenya website, when people were calling for lynchings and genocide. So, y’know, I had to do something about that. And after 25 years of that, I called it quits.

Parler has now encountered this same reality, albeit at a much larger scale, and for a much heftier bill. Anybody with any community website experience saw this coming, and I’m frankly astonished it took so long.

AWS has very very permissive content policies – basically “don’t break the law”. But when they warned Parler again and again, and Parler did not do anything about it, they had to take action.

If you refuse to moderate the comments of your community, eventually someone else will step in and do it for you.

And if you do it in a way that makes news in this way, finding another provider to host your content is going to be very tricky.

(Cory has an excellent discussion of this over on Twitter.)

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