Content moderation plays a crucial role in online security governance, helping to protect individuals and groups from exposure to unsuitable, abusive, or deceptive information and materials voluntarily shared by other users. Although such so-called user-generated content (UGC) is usually an asset for digital platforms, indicating engagement and reflecting popularity, it is not always appropriate. This is why many organisations incorporate content moderation to filter out harmful or irrelevant materials, aiming to create a welcoming virtual environment where people feel secure, involved, and willing to return.
Through various strategies, methods, tools, and practices, content moderation has become a powerful tool for e-businesses, helping them to prevent or remove digital user-generated content that breaches community rules or is considered offensive, unsuitable, or illegal. This, in turn, allows for safeguarding the brand’s reputation, building user loyalty and trust, and mitigating legal and financial risks related to potential violations of users’ rights.
What is content moderation?
Content moderation services usually cover digital platforms, web communities, social media networks, virtual marketplaces, online games and even the metaverse, where visitors can freely publish various content formats, such as text, audio, image, and video, through articles, posts, discussions, forum publications, ads, and more.
Below are the selected examples of offensive or disruptive user-generated content to better illustrate its specificity and range, for instance:
- Using language that offends or discriminates against any person or group, considering their race, religion, ethnicity, etc.
- Sharing content endorsing or encouraging violence or acts of terrorism.
- Promoting false and harmful information about medical practices misleading health remedies or treatments.
- Distributing wrong or untruthful financial or investment recommendations.
- Publishing sexually explicit or age-inappropriate materials.
- Fostering illegal actions, such as hacking, malware, or malicious behaviours.
- Propagating political content to manipulate opinions through untrue data.
- Sharing threatening or intimidating content and information that provokes fear or panic.
- Spreading sensationalist or clickbait content without meaningful details.
However, it is also important to emphasise that not all moderated content must be categorized as harassing or against the law. It depends on the platform’s policies, best practices, community standards, or audience specificity. Sometimes, what is inappropriate in one digital service may be accepted in another and vice versa.
To give a specific example, let us contrast two social media environments. The first is a family-friendly platform that prioritises children’s privacy and safety, while the second promotes social connections and does not limit itself to any specialisation. When posting a picture of a child playing in the pool, the first service’s community guidelines will flag the image due to its potential sensitivity involving young individuals. However, the same picture would not be subject to moderation on the second website, as its policies are less strict regarding content related to children.
It all clearly demonstrates that content moderation cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. It must be appropriately adapted to a specific online space, its goals, and regulations, ideally as part of a broader initiative related to the company’s trust and safety (T&S) strategy.
The role of Trust and Safety in content moderation
Trust and safety encompasses best practices, policies, solutions, and tools that help design relevant strategies and processes to ensure digital platforms’ respectful and lawful use. These include, next to the USG moderation, adherence to regulatory compliance, taking care of data protection and asset security, fraud detection, responding to security breaches and more. T&S fulfils a unique function in content moderating services because it provides guidance and rules that shape the initiative. It directs teams in content identification and handling, evaluates risks, determines technological solutions, and balances free expression, data privacy, and security.
Why is content moderation important for user-generated content?
Actively participating in the online platform’s life, more users share their opinions, thoughts, ideas, reviews, pictures, videos, music, and other types of content, contributing to the dynamic development of digital spaces. This trend is clearly rising in today’s virtual landscape, boosting its attractiveness, engagement, and interactivity.
As per Grand View Research, “The worldwide market for user-generated content platforms reached a value of USD 4.4 billion in 2022, and it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.4% from 2023 to 2030”. The prognosis presents a significant opportunity for online companies. More USG content can be anticipated, leading to heightened interest, increased followers, more clicks, and greater familiarity. In parallel, businesses can expect to expand their brand’s reach, grow sales, and improve their marketing efforts when accumulating more user data and references.
Giving a clearer picture and emphasising the immense scale of online content generation, here are example statistics shared recently on HubSpot’s blog: “In a single minute, 240,000 images get shared on Facebook, 65,000 images are posted on Instagram, and 575,000 tweets are sent on X”.
However, along with the remarkable magnitude, a severe threat arises, referring to the fact that user-generated materials are typically published without complete control, potentially leading to the appearance of inappropriate information. This can extend far beyond unfavourable reviews, encompassing issues like cybercrime, harassment, aggression promotion, stalking, violations, identity theft, or online fraud.
It could be the case because online communities reflect real-life standards, where daily illegal activities and violence occur. They host diverse individuals from various locations and areas, with varying levels of digital literacy, social awareness, honesty, ethical values, and approaches to conforming to social norms and regulations. Furthermore, the abundance of virtual opportunities for anonymous interactions may encourage inappropriate behaviours since identifying and holding such individuals accountable is more challenging.
The problem is underscored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose one of the research reports “Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2023” reveals that:
Cyber harassment or hate has affected 52% of adult respondents, marking a notable increase from last year’s 40%.
In the last year, 51% of teenagers encountered online harassment, noting a significant rise from 36% in 2022.
Serious harassment among teenagers aged 13-17 surged from 15% in 2022 to 32% in 2023.
These all point to the fact that user-generated content should not be neglected while requiring continuous, strategic, and very professional supervision, and this can be done successfully with content moderation. Such services can help create a safe space where people of different genders, sexes, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, interests, or professions feel welcome, free of harm and more committed.
Types of content moderation
Although moderation goals are similar, there can be a few ways to achieve them through systematic and dedicated activities. Therefore, different content moderation strategies can be employed to uphold community standards and ensure user safety. Their final shape usually depends on the platform’s needs, customer base, and content volume. Companies may also benefit by combining multiple moderating options to achieve better results.
What is important is that there is a shared central element. Content moderation involves screening and monitoring user-generated content, analysing its compliance with platform-specific rules and guidelines, and reacting swiftly and effectively. If offensive or irrelevant content is identified, it is either removed or rejected for publication, depending on the moderation techniques and tools employed in the process. Various methods exist, from manual to automated, including pre-moderation, post-moderation, and hybrid moderation, alongside supplementary approaches like reactive moderation and distributed or community-based moderation that emphasise user-driven enforcement.
Below are the primary considerations for choosing the most suitable moderation approach:
Pre-Moderation: This entails proactive manual monitoring of the user-generated content before it is published. Following this way, human moderators screen the content and decide whether to allow or reject given materials, and their work can be supported by various tools such as filters and algorithms that help identify threats. Through pre-moderation, harmful or inappropriate content will not appear on the platform.
Post Moderation: Unlike the proactive one, this reactive type of manual moderation involves reviewing content after publication. The process is supported by manual content screening, completed by editing and removing inappropriate materials when necessary. Real-time moderation tools, user reporting systems and community guidelines can empower this undertaking effectively.
Automated Moderation: This method employs advanced tools and filters to detect and handle specific words, phrases, or content sections. While automated, it necessitates ongoing updates to the list of prohibited content and the potential incorporation of more sophisticated algorithms for improved decision-making. Although it is speedy and cost-effective, some level of human involvement and optimisation is still required.
Hybrid Moderation: This approach combines elements of both automated and manual moderation methods. It allows real-time computerised content screening while involving humans to address more complex issues. Hybrid moderation offers a flexible and effective way to maintain content quality and user safety, particularly for platforms with diverse content volumes and dynamics.
Reactive Moderation: This allows users to flag or report content through tools like report buttons or customer support tickets. While valuable as a supplementary method, it is insufficient due to the lack of real-time control and potential delays in removing unwanted content.
Distributed Moderation: This user-driven moderation method relies on rating and voting systems to elevate highly rated content while concealing or removing low-rated material. Although prioritising quality, the method does not rely extensively on user reports or flags.
Community-Based Moderation: This involves the active participation of the platform’s community members in reporting, flagging, or rating content, and it can be facilitated through user reporting systems and community guidelines.
In some cases, combining diverse types of content moderation is essential when proactive measures alone are insufficient to prevent harmful or inappropriate content from becoming public. Especially when dealing with a comprehensive and high volume of content generated in a dynamic and vital online space where maintaining quality and safety is challenging through a single moderation approach.
Difference between human and AI-driven content moderation
While content moderators manually review and monitor user-generated content on online platforms, following specific rules and guidelines, AI-powered moderation tools can enhance the efficiency and accuracy of the whole undertaking. Combining the two – human touch and artificial intelligence, organisations create a powerful constructive collaboration that boosts the overall content moderation process even more.
Human moderators’ work is invaluable in many situations where AI cannot address issues efficiently. They bring empathy, cultural sensitivity, a deep understanding of cultural nuances, the ability to interpret highly subtle sarcasm and humour, and the capacity to handle content that does not neatly conform to predefined rules. On the other hand, people’s work is time-consuming, resource-intensive, and susceptible to human error.
This is where AI comes into play, automating processes, enhancing scalability, and offering real-time monitoring capabilities beyond human capacity. AI excels at handling large content volumes, routine decisions, and repetitive tasks, swiftly and accurately identifying and blocking brand-inappropriate content, thereby saving time, and reducing the risk of oversight. Such moderation relies on machine learning models trained on platform-specific data to quickly and precisely spot undesirable materials. However, its effectiveness hinges on the availability of high-quality datasets for model training.
The third option, often regarded as the most optimal choice, involves a strategic blend of human expertise and technology, harnessing their strengths to create a harmonious merger, offering the advantages of both approaches and forming a well-balanced partnership carefully tailored to specific circumstances.
Youtube.com Use Case
During the pandemic, YouTube relied more on machine moderators to filter content, but this approach led to excessive removal of videos, including many that did not violate any rules. As a result, YouTube has reverted to using more human moderators to address the issue. These shed light on the relationship between human moderators and artificial intelligence systems.
(Source: Financial Times, “YouTube reverts to human moderators in the fight against misinformation.”)
Cultural context in content moderation
Cultural context is crucial for content moderation services, as it enables digital platforms’ owners to ensure a welcoming and respectful environment for users from diverse cultural backgrounds. This concerns careful understanding and adaptation to different norms, particular values, delicate language nuances or specific societal settings that characterise given communities when evaluating and managing user-generated content.
In certain instances, aligning with regional or local attributes is required to prevent cultural insensitivity, misunderstandings, or offence, extending even to the real-world consequences in the worst-case scenario. It involves situations where the same content may be seen as acceptable in one culture but offensive in another, and the only way to address it is by carefully determining its suitability.
Among the most critical cultural considerations in content moderation are:
- Local customs, beliefs, and cultural traditions.
- Language intricacies, expressions, or idioms that can vary across cultures, even within the same languages.
- Symbols, gestures, or icons that may have different interpretations.
- Political or historical events, as perceptions can differ among regions, countries, and groups.
- Sense of humour, which can significantly differ among cultures, leading to varying interpretations of comedic content.
This is why sensitive, skilled, and regionally knowledgeable human moderators are still indispensable, considering the cultural aspect, holding an advantage over automated moderation tools in decision-making. They can more effectively grasp subtle language or contextual nuances, which automated content moderation systems might overlook or misinterpret, potentially leading to inappropriate content being allowed or deleted unnecessarily. This, in turn, can result in a compromised experience, either through unwanted exposure to harmful content or unnecessary censorship, negatively impacting trust and user satisfaction in both cases.
For instance, global companies, such as international social media platforms, often require assistance acquiring the necessary resources and expertise when considering cultural aspects in content moderation. Collaborating with the right BPO partner can be essential for success. Outsourcing can be a source of relevant assurance, especially when partnering with specialists who deeply understand local customs, laws, and languages and offer a rich talent pool of native territory or country manager-moderators.
UGC moderation best practices
By adhering to thoughtfully selected and well-crafted best practices, companies and organisations can streamline their content moderation processes in a structured and efficient manner. These best practices typically encompass strategies and guidelines in alignment with the platform’s specific requirements.
Here are the suggested content moderation best practices that can be deployed and followed to enhance user safety and create a more welcoming online environment:
- Tailoring content moderation initiative that suits the platform’s needs and is relevant for users while combining the most suitable methods for a specific situation.
- Being transparent about moderation policies and decisions. It means providing clear and accessible community guidelines defining what is allowed and prohibited in terms of behaviour, language or content added while emphasising information about the consequences of rule breaches.
- Encouraging positive interactions by providing examples of desired behaviour and implementing rewards for active and well-behaved users.
- Involving key stakeholders from various departments, primarily focusing on the Trust and Safety team, in building and developing a comprehensive moderation strategy.
- Covering all the languages used on the platform with moderation efforts, facilitating effective communication across language barriers.
- Ensuring that all content moderation practices comply with data privacy regulations and protect user data while balancing freedom of expression and spreading harmful, illegal, or inappropriate content.
- Continuously reviewing and optimising moderation processes to adapt to changing content trends, user behaviours, and platform requirements.
- Develop a crisis management plan to handle situations where harmful or sensitive content may escalate, ensuring a swift and adequate response.
- Providing support and training for human moderators, offering them the resources and guidance to make accurate and consistent decisions.
- Offering a wellness plan for content moderators, regularly checking their mental health, offering support when needed, and limiting exposure time to disturbing materials.
It all leads to a conclusion. A robust content moderation strategy is pivotal in establishing a safe and pleasant online environment, especially in digital spaces where much user-generated content is produced and shared. This helps enhance the platforms’ quality and credibility and exerts a profound influence on customer experiences and advocacy, safeguarding reputation, ensuring stability, and offering a competitive edge.
For instance, implementing moderation practices helps preserve the integrity of customer-generated ratings and comments, fostering trust among potential and existing buyers. Here are some selected statistics demonstrating the influence of reviews on purchasing decisions
72% of consumers believe customer testimonials are more credible than a brand talking about its own products.
76% of customers used social media for searching or discovering products, brands, and experiences.
80% of buyers looked at ratings and reviews before making a purchase.
Source: The State of Social & User-Generated Content 2023