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Published On: May 15th, 2024|Tags: , , |14.3 min read|

Introduction 

Meticulous and strategic content moderation is indispensable for shielding internet users from the growing prevalence of abusive, misleading, and harmful content in the virtual realm. This, in turn, helps mitigate the risks associated with real-life scenarios, including mental health issues and compromised overall well-being. On the other hand, such an initiative has many positive implications for digital entities, making it a win-win situation. It enables them to thrive and grow by nurturing a positive atmosphere for constructive engagement, open interaction, and respectful communication, all while upholding legal and ethical responsibilities.   

The growing need and interest in advanced moderation practices are driven by the immense widespread access to cyberspace on an unprecedented scale, with social appeal and affiliation being a central aspect of this virtual gathering place. According to Statista, as of April 2024, 5.44 billion people were using the internet worldwide, about 67.1% of the total global population. Of these, 5.07 billion people, or around 62.6% of the world‘s population, were accessing social media, with an average time of approximately 2.5 hours daily.   

What makes online connectivity so exciting and popular is that people from various regions of the globe, different cultures, and diverse social groups can communicate, share opinions and beliefs, entertain, play games, team up for projects, etc. It is all done without geographical barriers and time or financial limitations.  Consequently, this trend contributes to the digitally amplifying scope of user-generated content (UGC). For instance, further referring to Statista, every minute, a massive quantity of information, images or multimedia is shared and uploaded across various platforms: 1,700,000 pieces on Facebook, 347,200 on X, and 66,000 on Instagram.   

A group of online and mobile users enjoying digital connection and collaboration.

However, while it makes the creators feel engaged and meaningful, bolstering platforms’ popularity and success, such content is typically published without complete control, potentially leading to the dissemination of inappropriate materials. As a result, the more virtual enthusiasts and UGC contributors there are, the more threats emerge. Therefore, online platforms must mitigate these risks effectively. All in all, moderation is the best way to do this. This applies to various industries, including social media, gaming, e-commerce, travel and hospitality, finance, and health, regardless of their reach, policy, business strategy, or interaction level. 

The Essence of Content Moderation

Moderation involves reviewing and managing digital content to ensure it complies with community guidelines, service policies, ethical standards, and legal requirements. It aims to enhance virtual safety by removing inappropriate or offensive materials that violate internal rules, infringe upon privacy, or potentially lead to cybercrime or harm individuals or groups. This includes various types of content shared within online platforms, such as text, images, videos, or multimedia, encompassing personal threats, sexually explicit material, hate speech, violence, misinformation, spam, scams, bullying, sensitive personal information, and more. Examples could be pictures presenting heavily injured victims of serious accidents, pornography or conspiracy theories that can incite fear or panic.  

Such content appears online continually because the digital realm attracts individuals with varying levels of honesty, ethical values, intentions, and approaches to social norms and legal regulations. Unfortunately, some parts of this society constitute hostile actors who put sincere users in jeopardy of exploitation. Moderation stands guard over their safety. Also, its role is expected to grow as new challenges gradually emerge in the digital landscape, and cybercrimes are a concern that will continue to occur. 

According to X’s (former Twitter) official transparency report, in the last quarter of 2023, X took 11,562,602 actions on accounts for violating TIUC (X Integrity and User Choice) terms of service and rules.  These encompassed various categories such as abuse and harassment, ban evasion, child sexual exploitation, financial scams, and others.

Key Challenges Virtual Businesses Increasingly Face

Although making a considerable effort toward virtual security, online platforms encounter numerous obstacles. They strive to moderate an ever-increasing content volume, become more adept at detecting more sophisticated technological threats, and stay abreast of new legal requirements from diverse jurisdictions. 

1. Content Volume Challenges

Nowadays, the most critical issues encompass the proliferation of misinformation, hate speech, graphic or violent materials, pornography, harassment and bullying, stalking, terrorist content, fake news, spam, scams, personal information and privacy breaches, or intellectual property violations. The trend is well reflected in diverse statistics, for instance:

According to the 2023 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey, 52% of respondents reported encountering online harassment or hate, indicating a 12% increase compared to the previous year.
A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment in general, while 25% were exposed to more severe forms of abuse, rising from 16% to 28% since 2014.
Referring to the Preply survey conducted in 2022, over 90% of respondents reported experiencing emotional abuse or other forms of bullying while playing video games.
2. Expanding Technology Challenges

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that, except for the prevalence of offensive or harmful content, other aspects of the problem, such as the emergence of increasingly evolving materials and formats, further contribute to digital entities’ challenges. These include, for example, AI-driven algorithms that can amplify the spread of fake news, AI tools capable of falsifying images and videos with alarming realism, and cutting-edge techniques used by online predators to target vulnerable individuals.  For instance, from 2022 to 2023, the number of deepfakes found worldwide jumped dramatically, with some regions seeing a much larger increase than others. As stated by Sumsub, North America had a 1740% rise, APAC saw a 1530% surge, Europe noticed a 780% increase, and there were 450% more deepfakes in the Middle East and Africa and 410% more in Latin America.

3. Increasing Legal Obligation Challenges

Finally, due to the introduction of numerous new regulations worldwide emphasising the importance of online safety, moderating practices have become increasingly vital and even obligatory in some cases. These compel virtual services to redefine their approaches to user protection and meet new standards, thereby reshaping the entire paradigm of online security measures. Among the most recent and important legislative initiatives in this realm are: 

The UK Online Safety Bill is an excellent example of a new set of rules for social media operating in the United Kingdom. The document holds them responsible for the content they host and obligates them to promptly address harm to keep users safe, especially kids surfing the internet.
Another instance is the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), which mandates social media companies in the European Union to provide regular and comprehensive reports on their content moderation efforts. The act aims to cultivate transparency and accountability to ensure a safe online environment.

Strategies for Effective UGC Management

Content moderation involves various strategies, technologies, and contributors to ensure the online space remains secure and welcoming to visitors. This may encompass proactive measures to prevent issues before they occur and reactive ones to address any problems arising in real-time. Overall, success depends on how particular elements are selected and balanced. Further enriching both oversight strategies with active community engagement will boost experiences even more. Below are the most important and influential methods that significantly elevate moderation processes.

Image of content moderator working to ensure user online safety.

1. Publication Timing

Two pivotal strategies, pre-publication reviews and post-publication actions, ensure effective supervision of user-generated content (UGC), depending on the timing of moderation tasks. These approaches are crucial for constantly maintaining platform integrity and user safety. These are:

  • Proactive Measures: These involve preventive actions to maintain security from the outset. Strategies include manual content review before publication, automated filtering to identify and remove inappropriate materials swiftly, community reporting systems for users to flag violations, meticulous age restrictions, and data labelling to categorise content based on its nature for better management. 
  • Reactive Measures: This set of actions is typically employed when content has already been spread and may potentially violate internal policies or community guidelines. It is the best option for supervising issues that have already occurred, allowing moderators to react swiftly and accordingly to mitigate the risks. 
2. Collaboration of Humans and Technology

Another common approach is optimising the oversight processes in terms of how human agents and technological solutions are engaged and integrated, determining their roles for efficiency and effectiveness. These cover methods like:

  • Human Moderation: Human moderators manually review and assess content to ensure compliance with community guidelines and standards. 
  • Automated Supervision: This method uses algorithms and various technological tools to monitor and filter content automatically, identifying and flagging potential violations without direct human intervention. 
  • Hybrid Moderation: Combining manual review with automated filtering is a perfect solution for platforms seeking to balance efficiency and accuracy in content moderation, especially when handling large amounts of data. 
  • Community-Engaged Moderation: This strategy encourages community members to participate in reporting, flagging, or rating content, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. 
3. Complementary Services

Various additional services are also essential in enhancing the moderation strategy, collectively contributing to a holistic approach to the initiative. They are designed to address multiple aspects of content quality, safety, and compliance, like, for instance:  

  • Community Standards: This undertaking allows for defining the community standards, covering information such as acceptable behaviour, and incorporating it into safety policies and guidelines for moderators and users while carrying out periodic reviews and necessary updates. Making these established rules easily accessible promotes understanding and security, helping engaged individuals understand what is allowed and forbidden on the digital platform.    
  • Quality Assurance involves ongoing evaluation, monitoring, and improvement of content moderation processes to ensure consistency, accuracy, and effectiveness. This effort helps drive decision-making, streamline workflows, increase moderators’ knowledge, and grow their skills accordingly. 
  • Processes Examination and Empowerment: This comprehensive process involves various tasks, such as thorough examination to detect and counter fraudulent activities, spotting difficult-to-find fake content, and ensuring advertisements align with legal and ethical standards. Additionally, it involves checking if developers adhere to platform policies, verifying user identities, and implementing systematic content classification and tagging. Furthermore, it includes curating user-generated content and adjusting moderation practices to meet evolving user needs. 

Navigating Cultural Sensitivities in Content Moderation 

The discourse surrounding the role of human moderators in contemporary content management is extensive. Therefore, it is crucial to underscore the indispensability of human involvement in this process, particularly in acknowledging the profound impact of cultural context on a global scale. Skilled human agents bring invaluable expertise, enabling them to make nuanced decisions, comprehend community-specific norms, and discern subtle language or subtle differences. These competencies are essential as automated content moderation systems may overlook or misinterpret such complexities, potentially permitting inappropriate or erroneously removing content. Such considerations are vital for averting misunderstandings and offence, especially across diverse languages and cultures, ultimately nurturing a more respectful and inclusive online environment.   

AI Moderation

Further, it is also critical to appreciate technology, along with human expertise, as a must-have component of contemporary oversight strategy. Solutions such as AI-driven moderation tools are growing in importance due to the increasing volume of online content and the need for efficient management to maintain a safe and positive user experience.

Image of content moderator whose work is supported by Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence can swiftly analyse vast amounts of data, identify common and repetitive patterns of potentially harmful or inappropriate content, and take necessary actions, such as flagging or removing while passing more complex tasks to human moderators for contextual analysis. This division of labour between AI and human moderators optimises workflow efficiency, reduces human workload, and ensures faster response times to content violations. Additionally, AI can help platforms adhere to legal regulations, improve content quality, and mitigate harmful or offensive material risks, thus enhancing trust and safety within online communities. 

Balancing Freedom of Expression with Community Well-being  

While balancing the integration of human touch and AI algorithms in the landscape of content moderation, another delicate balance must be struck between upholding freedom of expression and safeguarding community well-being. Even as free speech is a fundamental right in many societies, it must be harmonised with the responsibility to maintain a safe and respectful online environment. Content moderation strategies should aim to navigate this by implementing policies and guidelines allowing diverse perspectives while mitigating the spread of harmful or offensive content. They can uphold community standards without censorship by distinguishing between legitimate expression and destructive behaviour. Moreover, fostering open dialogue and engagement can help platforms establish shared norms and values.    

Crucial Aim: Protecting Vulnerable Users and Communities   

What are the key benefits of moderation, and what would the cyber world be like without adequate content supervision? Below are a few insights:

Well-protected through cutting-edge moderation, online spaces are inclusive, respectful, and supportive environments where individuals feel empowered to express themselves freely, participate in activities, and join discussions. By experiencing joy, peace, and a sense of belonging, they are likelier to cultivate meaningful connections and friendships that extend to the real world, enriching their overall social experiences. Oversight undertaking is also a catalyst for communities to thrive, fostering collaboration, creativity, and collective problem-solving. This, in turn, contributes to increased success, popularity, and positive recognition, attracting a diverse range of participants and further enhancing their impact and influence.
In the scenario where there is a lack of relevant strategy, individuals would be vulnerable to various risks and negative experiences online, leading to profound and lasting effects on their mental and emotional well-being. These may encompass psychological distress, trauma, anxiety, uninformed decision-making, loss of personal information, marginalisation within groups, and, in extreme cases, even suicide. Communities would face heightened conflict and toxicity, impeding constructive dialogue and trust among members and risking further fragmentation of online social networks. Additionally, digital entities could be vulnerable to legal liabilities, including defamation lawsuits and financial losses due to scams or identity theft in unregulated digital spaces.

Conclusion 

As the modern digital world continues to shape our lives and connect people globally, it also presents challenges, notably the proliferation of online hate and harassment. Content moderation serves as a crucial protector, supporting individuals who are targets of such harmful behaviour. However, more than merely adhering to basic security measures is required.  Robust and cutting-edge solutions must be embraced to enhance threat detection, enable efficient prevention, foster nuanced understanding, and facilitate proactive intervention. This requires surpassing standard practices and embracing advanced methodologies to combat the persistent challenges of online abuse. 

One must be aware that content supervision cannot be one-size-fits-all. Besides addressing the most obvious vulnerabilities, it is crucial to guarantee a thorough and customised strategy. This involves clearly outlining what aligns with the brand’s values and what may be deemed acceptable or unacceptable, even if it is not immediately apparent. The same content can be managed differently on diverse platforms based on context and guideline specificity.   

Let’s compare two gaming platforms: one for all ages with strict content guidelines ensuring a safe environment for younger players and another for mature audiences with fewer restrictions. If a user shares a violent or graphic screenshot on the family-friendly service, it might be moderated to protect younger players. However, the same image may not be flagged on the second platform, where it is expected and accepted.

FAQ Section

1. What is content moderation, and why is it essential for online platforms? 

Content moderation involves reviewing and managing digital content to comply with community guidelines, ethical standards, and legal requirements. Its role is to help online platforms maintain a safe and positive environment by removing inappropriate or harmful materials that could harm individuals or groups and negatively impact a company’s reputation. 

2. How can online platforms effectively manage user-generated content (UGC)? 

Online platforms can effectively manage user-generated content by implementing proactive measures like manual content review and automated filtering to identify and remove inappropriate materials swiftly. Additionally, reactive measures can address issues that arise after content is published, ensuring platforms can react promptly to mitigate risks. 

3. What are the key challenges in efficient content moderation? 

Nowadays, online entities face challenges such as the proliferation of misinformation, hate speech, graphic or violent materials, and privacy breaches. Additionally, emerging technologies like AI-driven algorithms and deepfake technology make it more difficult to identify and moderate harmful content smoothly. 

4. What role do regulations play in content moderation? 

Regulations such as the UK Online Safety Bill and the EU Digital Services Act mandate virtual services to adhere to specific standards and regularly report on their moderation efforts. These aim to cultivate transparency and accountability to ensure a safe online environment for users. 

5. How do companies balance freedom of expression with community well-being? 

With relevant moderation strategies, cyber businesses can balance upholding freedom of expression and safeguarding community well-being. These methods include implementing policies and guidelines that allow diverse perspectives while mitigating the spread of harmful or offensive content and promoting open dialogue with users.

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