The Best Little Community on the Internet


Don’t believe the hype. Not every online community is crawling with harassment, abuse, and hate speech.

There are plenty of good places online. You just have to know where to look.

This is a story about one of those good places.

Art-inspired writing

Storybird is a global community of writers, readers, and artists of all ages. Users select from a variety of original artwork, then create picture books (short stories, heavy on visuals), longform stories (narrative-driven books), and poetry (you get the idea). Since launching in 2009, over 7 million Storybird members have created over 25 million stories. Not only that, 600,000 educators use Storybird in over 200,000 schools to help facilitate creative writing.

The stories are original and often strikingly effective, in particular, the poetry. The artwork is gorgeous. Lovingly curated, the images are as beautiful as anything you’ll see online.

A selection of artwork on Storybird. Users select an image and build their story from there.

Users can “heart” content, share it on social media, and leave comments. Positivity is encouraged, especially since most users are teens and pre-teens. Cruelty, profanity, hate speech, and bullying are not tolerated. As the first layer of defense against dangerous content, Storybird uses a chat filter and automated moderation software.

Behind the curtain

But Storybird doesn’t just rely on automation to manage disruptive users and bad behavior. Their secret weapon? Moderator, mom, and community builder extraordinaire Suz Holden (“skybluepurple” in the Storybird community).

A no-nonsense dynamo with purple hair and six (!) kids at home, Suz is a veteran of the moderation scene. She once worked for AOL as a volunteer moderator, responsible for the “working moms vs stay at home moms” board — aka, the toughest message board on AOL.

Eventually, AOL switched to an outsourced moderation service called LiveWorld. They hired all of the volunteers who had previously moderated for free, including Suz. In 2012, she joined Storybird as a moderator.

A different kind of moderation

Suz is heavily involved in the Storybird community. While some companies keep their moderators and moderation practices largely anonymous and often use stealth bans (in which user’s comments are blocked without notification), Storybird makes moderation a key ingredient in community interactions.

Suz and “Storyspotter” (Storybird-ese for volunteer moderator) Figment68 are active members of the community, posting comments, leaving hearts, and generally encouraging users to keep it positive.

“We are co-moms,” Suz says. “[We] offer support, advice, and all of the other ‘cool’ mom type comments.”

“We have the coolest community,” says Suz. It’s not hard to see why.

When users break community guidelines, they know — there are no stealth bans here.

Empowered by Storybird’s executive team to engage closely with the community, Suz will reach out to users directly to let them know when they’ve broken the rules.

“We don’t allow ugly,” she says. “We just don’t. We’re big on encouragement. We’re real big on positive reinforcement.

Most of the time, when given an explanation for why their book or comment was removed, users will change their behavior. There is always the chance for redemption.

Suz explains. “We’ll say, ‘Okay, look. You think about this, figure out what you did wrong. And holler back at me in a week and let me know what you’re going to do to fix this. And then we’ll let you back. We’re gonna watch you like a hawk — but we’re gonna let you back. And you know what, those become some of my best kids.”

And some of those kids go on to change the community in ways no one could expect.

Time for a story.

A not-so pointless task

Once upon a time, there was a user named cookie54lover. A self-proclaimed misfit, cookie54lover, was, according to Suz “One of our earliest, most… um… interesting (read: ornery!) Storybirders. She enjoyed making waves, and she would tell you that. Cookie and I went nose to nose a lot, for awhile.”

Despite this, cookie54lover was a smart kid, and she genuinely loved Storybird. She was a good writer; she wrote popular books. But she was constantly in trouble due to, as Suz calls it, her “sassy” comments.

At one point, cookie54lover published a book that she called A pointless task!

Under this book,” she wrote, “I was thinking about the most comments ever on a book on Storybird. This is a totally pointless task, but still it will be fun to see what you guys come out with. 🙂

Simply put — she wanted to see how many comments she could get on one book.

Cover of the original A pointless task! Since then, 57 books have been written, some with over 50,000 comments.

“We had been talking about chat rooms or message boards where the kids could have general conversations,” says Suz. Of course, they could always comment on books, but it was encouraged that comments be related to the book. The idea was put on hold as other priorities took precedence, and in truth, Storybird “[was] actually… a reading and writing website, not a chatting website.”

But the kids starting commenting on A pointless task! And commenting. And sharing. And as the community rallied together the book quickly amassed 15,000 comments, then 20,000.

And the number kept going up.

Let’s make a deal

The Storybird team watched as A pointless task! (soon abbreviated to APT) accumulated more and more comments — and more interest from the kids. Finally, when there were so many comments that the pages took three and a half minutes to load, Suz had an idea. She left a comment for cookie54lover.

“Let’s you and me make a deal, hon,” she wrote. “How about every 10,000 comments we just make a new book?”

Cookie said yes. She created A pointless task 2. And kids being kids, the race was on — how quickly could the community reach 10,000 comments? It didn’t take long, as the community rallied together again.

What kind of comments did they leave? “You can talk about anything,” Suz says, “but you have to keep it ‘Storybird’ safe, meaning appropriate for even our younger members. There is endless talk about singers and YouTubers and all the normal kid ridiculousness. It’s an anything-goes kind of place.”

The kids also used APT to chat about heavier topics.

“We’re real big on ‘We’re here for you, we listen to you.’ Which means a lot to kids,” says Suz. Our kids are writers, which means they’re often on the outside looking in. Misfits, outcasts, rebels, and upstarts. Many post that they don’t have strong offline connections. It’s almost like a peer counseling session, especially APT.”

Eventually, cookie54lover created a new APT every two weeks. And the community rallied, and the race to hit 10,000 comments continued.

Inevitably, as kids are wont to do, she grew up. She went to high school; she joined the Drama Club.

As is the way with all things, it was time for cookie54lover to move on.

cookie54lover created the first A pointless task! She still visits the community sometimes.

Suz met with Storybird co-founders Mark Ury and Kaye Puhlmann and proposed a solution: She would create all APTs going forward, as long as it was okay with cookie. She was, as Suz says, “More than happy to hand it off to me. She still checks in from time to time.”

Suz is currently at work on APT 58. “If you think about that, each book has a minimum of 10,000 comments. And some have 50,000 comments. Take a moment to wrap your brain around that.”

She’s especially proud of APT 50. As a community milestone and a genuinely touching tribute to kids by a company that clearly cares, it’s worth a read.

APT 50 — a labor of love celebrating the community.
Storybird co-founders Mark Ury, Kaye Puhlmann, and Adam Endicott all contributed to APT 50, as well as Suz’s moderator “co-mom” Figment68.

Digital citizens of the future

When asked how she shapes Storybird and the APT community, Suz is frank about her process — or lack thereof.

“I do what I think is right in the moment. More often than not, if something crosses a line, I’ll delete it. I might reach out to a kid on a private book and let them know that I pulled it down. Other times, if things are getting out of hand, I’ll just say ‘Knock it off.’ And I’ll tell them that — ‘I’m putting my mean mom voice on, y’all need to chill.’ And they do. Because they know that I will shut them down if they don’t. It’s how I run my house, it’s how I run my job.”

In fact, the kids take as much responsibility for the community’s health as Suz and her mods. “More often than not,” she says, “the kids monitor themselves really well. Because we’ve created this little circle of kids who want to be good kids. They want to be community leaders. Whatever the highest level is, these kids aspire to that.”

For many, Storybird — and APT in particular — is home.

Storybirders don’t just keep their own community positive and welcoming. They’re also inspired to bring that healthy dynamic to other communities.

“We send our little darlings out into the world, and they’ll tell people ‘This isn’t how we do it,’” says Suz, laughing. “As [co-founder] Kaye said the other day, ‘We’re creating good internet citizens.’”

Our poem inspired by the Storybird community : )


Visit the Storybird site and start creating.

Storybird uses Two Hat Security’s chat filter and automated moderation software Community Sift as a first layer of defense against high-risk content and behavior.

Want to learn how Two Hat Security can help protect your community? Get in touch today!

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an update!

* indicates required

Why Should Social Networks Encourage Digital Citizenship?

“Digital citizenship, and promoting a respectful yet vibrant environment is a multi-pronged effort.” — David Ryan Polgar

If one social network doesn’t prevent us from harassing strangers, then can we be expected to behave any differently when we switch platforms? If an online game is designed to create tension, then can we really be held responsible when we lash out at our teammates?

In other words — do social products have an ethical responsibility to encourage good citizenship?

To unpack this tricky topic, we turn to renowned writer, speaker, commentator and real-life Tech Ethicist David Ryan Polgar. He sat down with Two Hat Security’s Director of Community Trust & Safety Carlos Figueiredo to discuss the complex and sometimes divisive subject of social products and social responsibility.

Press play to listen:

Highlights & key quotes

On responsibility:

If [companies] want to have a sustainable business, they need to consider that this is business-critical. — Carlos Figueiredo

I think what we’re realizing is that the environment and the structures that we create are dramatically influential on human behavior… From a company standpoint, they now have that responsibility to try to prompt us towards the better use of their product. — David Ryan Polgar


On the “attention economy”:

We are giving a lot of time to [social media] companies. Does that create a responsibility because we are giving our time to them? — CF

It’s not a typical business-consumer relationship. Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat operate in this quasi-public space. And that’s very similar in law, what they’ve done with freedom of speech in a mall… Now, we, the general public, are expecting a voice in the way these companies operate. — DRP


On forging industry-wide alliances:

It’s so easy for us to think that each of these companies should take care of their own. Of course I believe that, but I also think that it’s time for the industry to have a wide discussion, and to have coalitions and alliances. If there is a consistency and a coherence amongst different companies, suddenly we can’t just have users and players jump from one platform to the other and bring bad behavior. — CF

Unless you have those coalitions, everybody is reinventing the wheel. You’re spending a lot of time, energy, and research in private endeavors instead of sharing, and having this open environment where we’re saying: as a community, as this collective, and as an industry, this is something we need to combat. — DRP


On the future:

I think the tide is turning in terms of digital citizenship, fair play, and sportsmanship when it comes to eSports and games. It’s financially smart and it’s ethically smart for the industry to talk about this. — CF

Social media is like a knife. It can be used to inflict pain or stab the truth. But it can also be used to carve a future that’s more socially just, more connected, and more intellectually curious. It’s like any tool.

The way to push social media forward, to build a better web, and to capitalize on what we know the internet should be, is to take that collective action, where people, businesses, and organizations come together and say “Here’s what we want — now how can we get there? How can we share the knowledge, how can we use the tools that we have and create new tools to build this better web?” — DRP


About the speakers

David Ryan Polgar

David Ryan Polgar has carved out a unique and pioneering career as a “Tech Ethicist.” With a background as an attorney and college professor, he transitioned in recent years to focus entirely on improving how children, teens, and adults utilize social media & tech. David is a tech writer (Big Think, Quartz, and IBM thinkLeaders), speaker (3-time TEDx, The School of The New York Times), and frequent tech commentator (SiriusXM, AP, Boston Globe,, HuffPost). He has experience working with startups and social media companies (ASKfm), and co-founded the global Digital Citizenship Summit (held at Twitter HQ in 2016). Outside of writing and speaking, David currently serves as Trust & Safety for the teen virtual world Friendbase. He is also a board member for the non-profit #ICANHELP, which led the first #Digital4Good event at Twitter HQ on September 18th.

His forward-thinking approach to online safety and digital citizenship has been recognized by various organizations and outlets across the globe and was recently singled out online by the Obama Foundation.

Follow David on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Carlos Figueiredo

Carlos Figueiredo leads Two Hat Security’s Trust & Safety efforts, collaborating with clients and partners to challenge our views of healthy online communities.

Born and raised in Brazil, Carlos has been living in Canada for almost 11 years where he has worked directly with online safety for the last 9 years, helping large digital communities with their mission to stay healthy and engaged. From being a moderator himself to leading a multi-cultural department that was pivotal to the safety of global communities across different languages and cultures, Carlos has experienced the pains and joys of on-screen interactions.

He’s interested in tackling the biggest challenges of our connected times and thrives on collaborating and creating bridges in the industry. Most recently, he moderated the Tech Power Panel at #Digital4Good. On Wednesday, October 18th he’s presenting a free online workshop called Your Must-Have Moderation Strategy: Preparing for Breaking News & Trending Topics.

Follow Carlos on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Two Hat Security

At Two Hat Security, we empower social and gaming platforms to build healthy, engaged online communities, all while protecting their brand and their users from high-risk content. Want to increase user retention, reduce moderation, and protect your brand?

Get in touch today to see how our chat filter and moderation software Community Sift can help your product encourage good digital citizenship.

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an update!

* indicates required