Three Ways Social Networks Can Embrace Safety by Design Today
Earlier this month, the Australia eSafety Office released their Safety by Design (SbD) Principles. As explained on their website, SbD is an “initiative which places the safety and rights of users at the centre of the design, development and deployment of online products and services.” It outlines three simple but comprehensive principles (service provider responsibilities, user empowerment & autonomy, and transparency & accountability) that social networks can follow to embed user safety into their platform from the design phase and onwards.
With this ground-breaking initiative, Australia has proven itself to be at the forefront of championing innovative approaches to online safety.
I first connected with the eSafety Office back in November 2018, and later had the opportunity to consult on Safety by Design. I was honored to be part of the consultation process and to bring some of my foundational beliefs around content moderation to the table. At Two Hat, we’ve long advocated for an SbD approach to building social networks.
Many of the points and the Safety by Design Principles and the UK’s recent Online Harms white paper support the Trust & Safety practices we’ve been recommending to clients for years, such as leveraging filters and cutting-edge technology to triage user reports. And we’ve heartily embraced new ideas, like transparency reports, which Australia and the UK both strongly recommend in their respective papers.
As I read the SbD overview, I had a few ideas for clear, actionable measures that social networks across the globe can implement today to embrace Safety by Design. The first two fall under SbD Principle 1, and the third under SbD Principle 3.
Under SbD Principle 1: Service provider responsibilities
“Put processes in place to detect, surface, flag and remove illegal and harmful conduct, contact and content with the aim of preventing harms before they occur.”
Content filters are no longer a “nice to have” for social networks – today, they’re table stakes. When I first started in the industry, many people assumed that only children’s sites required filters. And until recently, only the most innovative and forward-thinking companies were willing to leverage filters in products designed for older audiences.
That’s all changed – and the good news is that you don’t have to compromise freedom of expression for user safety. Today’s chat filters (like Two Hat’s Community Sift) go beyond allow/disallow lists, and instead allow for intelligent, nuanced filtering of online harms that take into account various factors, including user reputation and context. And they can do it well in multiple languages, too. As a Portuguese and English speaker, this is particularly dear to my heart.
All social networks can and should implement chat, username, image, and video filters today. How they use them, and the extent to which they block, flag, or escalate harms will vary based on community guidelines and audience.
Also under SbD Principle 1: Service provider responsibilities
“Put in place infrastructure that supports internal and external triaging, clear escalation paths and reporting on all user safety concerns, alongside readily accessible mechanisms for users to flag and report concerns and violations at the point that they occur.”
As the first layer of protection and user safety, baseline filters are critical. But users should always be encouraged to report content that slips through the cracks. (Note that when social networks automatically filter the most abusive content, they’ll have fewer reports.)
But what do you do with all of that reported content? Some platforms receive thousands of reports a day. Putting everything from false reports (users testing the system, reporting their friends, etc) to serious, time-sensitive content like suicide threats and child abuse into the same bucket is inefficient and ineffective.
That’s why we recommend implementing a mechanism to classify and triage reports so moderators purposefully review the high-risk ones first, while automatically closing false reports. We’ve developed technology called Predictive Moderation that does just this. With Predictive Moderation, we can train AI to take the same actions moderators take consistently and reduce manual review by up to 70%.
I shared some reporting best practices used by my fellow Fair Play Alliance members during the FPA Summit at GDC earlier this year. You can watch the talk here (starting at 37:30).
There’s a final but no less important benefit to filtering the most abusive content and using AI like Predictive Moderation to triage time-sensitive content. As we’ve learned from seemingly countless news stories recently, content moderation is a deeply challenging discipline, and moderators are too often subject to trauma and even PTSD. All of the practices that the Australian eSafety Office outlines, when done properly, can help protect moderator wellbeing.
Under SbD Principle 3: Transparency and accountability
“Publish an annual assessment of reported abuses on the service, accompanied by the open publication of meaningful analysis of metrics such as abuse data and reports, the effectiveness of moderation efforts and the extent to which community standards and terms of service are being satisfied through enforcement metrics.”
While transparency reports aren’t mandatory yet, I expect they will be in the future. Both the Australian SbD Principles and the UK Online Harms white paper outline the kinds of data these potential reports might contain.
My recommendation is that social networks start building internal practices today to support these inevitable reports. A few ideas include:
- Track the number of user reports filed and their outcome (ie, how many were closed, how many were actioned on, how many resulted in human intervention, etc)
- Log high-risk escalations and their outcome
- Leverage technology to generate a percentage breakdown of abusive content posted and filtered
Thank you again to the eSafety Office and Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant for spearheading this pioneering initiative. We look forward to the next iteration of the Safety by Design framework – and can’t wait to join other online professionals at the #eSafety19 conference in September to discuss how we can all work together to make the internet a safe and inclusive space where everyone is free to share without fear of abuse or harassment.
To read more about Two Hat’s vision for a safer internet, download our new white paper By Design: 6 Tenets for a Safer Internet.
And if you, like so many of us, are concerned about community health and user safety, I’m currently offering no-cost, no-obligation Community Audits. I will examine your community (or the community from someone you know!), locate areas of potential risk, and provide you with a personalized community analysis, including recommended best practices and tips to maximize positive social interactions and user engagement.