How to Support Content Moderator Wellness in 2020

We started 2020 having no doubt about the importance of content moderation for social platforms. As Talerton Gillespie, author of Custodians of the Internet, writes, “Content moderation is constitutional to the functioning of platforms, essential to what platforms are.” However, I believe that we have yet to fully appreciate the work of moderators, support them, and safeguard their wellbeing.

Take a step back to May 2019, when I spoke at and attended the Content Moderation in 2019 workshop hosted by IAPP. Gillespie was the keynote speaker, and he made a compelling case for redefining the moderator role: not as the custodian responsible for keeping the Internet clean, but rather one of guardianship.

In that same workshop, I witnessed the inception of an idea to create a professional association that would defend the interest of moderators and Trust & Safety professionals. Fast forward a year later, and enter The Trust & Safety Professional Association. The soon-to-launch organization will be focused on advancing the trust and safety profession through a shared community of practice. It’s encouraging to see this happening! Content moderators need support, especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that we are spending more time online and moderation duties get more challenging.

“Moderation is the most essential, yet underrated, aspect of social-digital experiences. You couldn’t have an event in Times Square without police officers, Comic-Con couldn’t exist without event staff, and you wouldn’t send your kid to camp without camp counselors. Why should digital experiences be anything else?”

Izzy Neis, Head of Digital at ModSquad (Why Community Moderation Matters)

A critical piece of support needed is the protection of moderator wellbeing. Here at Two Hat, a mission-driven company founded on the ideals of Trust and Safety, we believe in giving moderators the tools and the best practices to ensure that:

  1. The impact of high-risk content on their wellbeing is minimized;
  2. They can focus their time on purposeful moderation, intentionally using their human expertise instead of doing manual work that machines can take care of;
  3. Wellness & resilience is a priority

Reduce Exposure to High-Risk Content

Protecting users from damaging user-generated content like gory images, dangerous/hateful speech, and chat that encourages suicide is a fundamental responsibility for online platforms. Equally important is the need to protect the moderators who ensure your online community remains a productive and thriving space.

Filters that identify and action on abusive behaviors are table stakes. There’s no need to expose moderators to high-risk content that AI can identify and proactively block without the need for human review. Furthermore, by proactively filtering you can immediately reduce the amount of user-generated reports, drastically reducing the workload of moderators.

In a large mobile game, user-generated reports decreased by 88% with the addition of a chat filter
From the e-book Content Moderation in Challenging Times

Purposeful Moderation

The work of a content moderator can feel like an endless battle against an ever-growing pile of content. I know this because I was a moderator once and I felt that challenge every day.

This is why it’s critical for a moderator to feel like they are doing something meaningful and purposeful. Knowing that the work you do every day has a tangible and positive impact on the community and in the world will help you connect and reconnect with why you’re doing that job in the first place. It’s very challenging to moderate and feel that connection without having the right tools, processes, and procedures at your disposal. One of the most important processes is to prioritize staff wellness and resilience.

Wellness & Resilience

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of what content moderators contend with from an emotional point of view. As Pascal Debroek, Head of Customer Service at Hatch Entertainment Ltd. said earlier this year:

“You have to understand that these can also be emotionally draining jobs. Most of these are pure customer-facing, and in a lot of the cases deal with either sensitive topics, aggravated end-users dealing with a situation that did not meet their expectations or even outright insults and threats.

Let’s not forget, most contacts with players stem from an emotional state; happy, sad, angry, you’ll encounter them all in these roles. And because it pays off to be empathetic in such roles, it also means your employees are more susceptible to the emotions that surround them.”

Today, I want to share a critical step you can take with your team to level up everyone’s wellness and resilience: build team and individual wellness plans. A wellness plan is an actionable set of activities that help you manage stress and recharge yourself.

For example, my own personal wellness plan might look something like this:

  1. Play drums for at least 15 minutes a day
  2. Take a short walk when it’s sunny outside
  3. Play video games with my family and friends
  4. Meditate (here’s a link to a 1-month free experience in the meditation app I use)
  5. Phone a friend or family member who knows my area of work and is OK with discussing challenging topics with me. (I had to use this one last year when I returned from a child protection conference and heard lots of stories that were heart-crushing. Hearing about such realities already pays a toll. Imagine those true heroes who review child abuse imagery and help protect kids globally.)
  6. Listen to some of my favorite songs

I hope this inspires you to build your own plan. You can go as specific as you want and as prescriptive as you need. Perhaps you want a set of actions you can take every day. Or maybe you prefer to have a pool of actions you pull from depending on the day. Also, as a moderation team, you can build team activities that help you cope with everyday stress. Playing games together might be a great way to do that. In an age of social distancing, you can play online games and also get creative with games you can play via video conferencing!

Back in 2018, we collaborated with therapist and wellness trainer Carol Brusca on a “Stress, Wellness, and Resilience” training session for Two Hat clients. She also shared her top 10 wellness tips for online moderators and community professionals. We just republished that piece adapting a few points to the new social distancing reality we are living.

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If you saw value in these tips and would like to know more about how technology can protect your moderation team’s wellbeing, we can help.

Request a demo today to see how Two Hat’s content moderation platform can reduce your workload and your exposure to harmful content.



Content Moderators: 10 Tips to Manage Stress During COVID-19

Back in 2018, we collaborated with therapist and wellness trainer Carol Brusca on a “Stress, Wellness, and Resilience” training session for Two Hat clients. She also shared her top 10 wellness tips for online moderators and community professionals.

Content moderation and player support are tough jobs on the best of days. Today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, most moderators and player support professionals are now working from home. Online platforms are experiencing exponential growth, which means that moderators are busier — and under more stress — than ever.””

“It’s really important to explain to moderators and staff is that we acknowledge that this is a difficult time, and this is why we [as leaders] are playing our part in terms of doing moderation… Moderators are doing a difficult job at the best of times and right now they’re working a lot of hours and it’s extremely important that we communicate with members of staff about how they’re feeling.” Vernon Jones, Head of Safety at MovieStarPlanet

Content Moderation in Challenging Times webinar

Below, we’ve updated Carol’s original tips for managing stress to reflect today’s new reality.

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As a community manager or content moderator, you experience the dark side of the internet every day. Whether you are reviewing chat, social media, forum comments, or images, high-risk content can be draining — and you may not even realize the damage it’s doing.

Studies show that community teams on the front lines of chat, image, or video moderation are especially vulnerable to stress-related symptoms including depression, insomnia, vicarious trauma (also known as “compassion fatigue”), and even PTSD. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that you have the right tools and techniques at your disposal to support your mental health.

1. Talk to someone.
Having and using social supports is the number one indicator of resilience. Asking for help from someone who cares about you is a wonderful way to get through a difficult time.

Does your company’s health plan provide access to a mental health professional? Take advantage of it. There’s no shame in talking to a therapist. Sometimes, talking to a stranger can be even more effective than confiding in a loved one.

If you can’t see a therapist in person right now, there are virtual options available.

2. Learn to say no.
If we do not set boundaries with others we can find ourselves feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. If you notice this might be a habit for you, try saying “no” once a day and see if you begin to feel better.

Of course, saying “no” at work isn’t always an option. But if you’re spending too much time reviewing high-risk content, talk to your manager. Ask if you can vary your tasks; instead of spending all of your workday reviewing user reports, break up the day with 15-minute gameplay breaks. Check out our blog post and case study about different moderation techniques you can use to avoid chat moderation burnout.

Setting boundaries is essential when you work from home. You cannot be “on” 24/7. Again, work with your manager to set fair and reasonable expectations.

3. Go easy on yourself.
We are quick to criticize ourselves and what we have done wrong, but not as likely to give ourselves credit for what went right, or all the things we did well.

Remember that you work hard to ensure that your online community is healthy, happy, and safe. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and treat yourself to some self-care.

The last few months have been at times scary, confusing, and deeply uncomfortable. David Kessler, who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, says that the discomfort we are collectively feeling is actually grief. He says that it’s important that we acknowledge our grief and name it:

“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different… The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

4. Remember, this too will pass.
There are very few situations or events in our lives that are forever. Try repeating this mantra during a stressful time: this struggle will pass. It will make getting through that time a little easier.

(Maybe just repeat it silently in your head. Your co-workers — aka, spouse and pets — will thank you.)

This is especially hard right now, when we’re stuck at home, trying to find a balance between our work life and home life. While we cannot know when there will be a “return to normal”, it’s still important to acknowledge that the added daily stress isn’t permanent.

David Kessler offers these words of wisdom: “This is a temporary state. It helps to say it… This is survivable. We will survive.”

5. Get plenty of sleep.
We need sleep to replenish and rejuvenate. Often when we are feeling stressed, we struggle with sleeping well. If this happens to you, make sure your bedroom is dark and cool; try some gentle music to help you get to sleep, or use an app that plays soothing sounds on a loop. If staying asleep is the problem, try having a notepad and pen by your bed to write down your worries as they come up.

Pro tip: Save the marathon 3:00 am Animal Crossing sessions for the weekend.

6. Have a hobby.
Having a hobby is a great distraction from the stressors of everyday life. If you can do something outside, all the better. For many people being in nature automatically decreases stress. Remember to wear a mask and practice good social distancing!

Or, stick to video games. Playing Tetris has been proven to help people who experience trauma.

7. Drink tea.
A large dose of caffeine causes a short-term spike in blood pressure. It may also cause your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to go into overdrive. Instead of coffee or energy drinks, try green tea.

We know that the smell of a freshly-brewed pot of coffee is like catnip to most moderators… but hear us out. Green tea has less than half the caffeine of coffee and contains healthy antioxidants, as well as theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect on the nervous system.

8. Laugh it off.
Laughter releases endorphins that improve mood and decrease levels of the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It literally tricks your nervous system into making you happy. Try a comedy movie marathon or a laughter yoga class (this is a real thing; hopefully there’s a virtual version now!).

And hey, a 10-minute meme break never hurt anyone.

9. Exercise.
Getting plenty of exercise will decrease stress hormones and increase endorphins, leaving you feeling more energized and happier.

Ever had a 30-second, impromptu dance party at your desk? (Zoom dance party, anyone?)

No, really!

Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released in our body when we’re under pressure. Excess cortisol can cause you to feel stress, anxiety, and tension. Exercise brings your cortisol levels back down to normal, allowing you to relax and think straight again.

So crank up a classic, stand up… and get down.

10. Try the “3 Good Things” exercise.
Each night, write down three good things that happened during the day. This practice makes you shift your perspective to more positive things in your life — which in turn can shift your mood from stressed to happy, even if the three good things are tacos for lunch, tacos for 2 pm snack, and tacos for 4 pm snack (thank you, SkipTheDishes!). Good things don’t have to be earth-shattering.

Gratitude comes in all sizes, especially now.

So, whether you’re sipping a mug of green tea, talking to a professional, or shaking your groove thing in the name of science and wellness, never forget that a little self-care can go a long way.

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For tips on reducing your moderation workload during the pandemic, download our e-book Content Moderation in Challenging Times: Techniques to Moderate Chat & Manage Increased Volumes.