Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve

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From Above the Law:

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin. Look, I went through it myself. In the early days I insisted that sites shouldn’t do any moderation at all, including my own. But I learned. As did Parler, Gettr, Truth Social and lots of others.

Anyway, Elon’s in a bit of a different position, because rather than starting something new, he’s taken over a large platform. I recognize that he, his buddies, and a whole lot of other people think that Twitter is especially bad at this, and that he’s got some special ideas for “bringing free speech back,” but the reality is that Twitter was, by far, the most successful platform at taking a “we support free speech” stance for content, and learned over time the many nuances and tradeoffs involved.

And because I do hope that Musk succeeds and Twitter remains viable, I wanted to see if we might help him (and anyone else) speed run the basics of the content moderation learning curve that most newbies run into. The order of the levels and the seriousness of each can change over time, and how it all fits together may be somewhat different, but, in the end, basically every major social media platform ends up in this same place eventually (the place Twitter was already at when Musk insisted he needed to tear things down and start again).

Level One: “We’re the free speech platform! Anything goes!”

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

“Excuse me, boss, we’re getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site.”

. . . .

Level Two: “We’re the free speech platform! But no CSAM!”

Alright, comedy is now legal on the site. Everyone rejoice. Everyone love me.

“Um, boss. We have a huge stack of emails from Hollywood, saying something about DMCA takedowns?”

Oh right. Copyright infringement is bad. Get another intern and have them take that all down.

Level Three: “We’re the free speech platform! But no CSAM and no infringement!”

Power to the people. Freedom is great!

“Right, boss, apparently because you keep talking about freedom, a large group of people are taking it to mean they have ‘freedom’ to harass people with slurs and all sorts of abuse. People are leaving the site because of it, and advertisers are pulling ads.”

That seems bad. Quick, have someone write up some rules against hate speech.

Level Four: “We’re the free speech platform without CSAM, infringement or hate speech!”

Bringing freedom back is hard work, but this is all going great. Do the people love me yet?

“Hey, so, the FBI is here? Something about 18 USC 2258A and how we were supposed to report all of that CSAM to some operation called NCMEC?”

Ah, right. Grab an intern and make sure they pass along those images. We obey all the laws!

Link to the rest at Above the Law

19 thoughts on “Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve”

    • I hate it when people do that with a passion. Partly because I was trained as a cognitive behavioural therapist. First by Dr. Isaac Marks, then later at the Institute of Psychiatry, and when asked if I’m analyzing people I meet I tell them the truth, yes and no.

      Yes, in that analysis is what I was trained to do, and you can take the person out of the profession, but not the profession out of the person.

      And, no because an analysis takes time, and a lot of questions, and thought to complete; and I don’t have enough time in a day to be analyzing every Tom Dick, and Harry.

      • Not to mention that true “analysis” depends upon a certain minimal level of cooperation by the subject… which, in the instance of moderately intelligent narcissists (like, say, damned near everyone with any ability to actually make a policy decision whose day job is within 500m of the Reflecting Pool), is asking for more than is usually forthcoming. It’s one of the reasons that “analysts” and “psychologists” tend to make poor interrogators.

  1. Or, alternatively:
    “Boss, there’s child porn on here!”
    “We can determine the IP address of the person who posted it, yes?”
    “Report it to the proper authorities and provide them with all the information we have.”

    “Boss, Hollywood is saying something about DMCA notices.”
    “Tell ’em we’re a common carrier.”

    “Boss, there’s hate speech on here.”
    “Remember what I told you about the child porn? If it’s legally actionable, do that.”

  2. Alternately, create separate “worlds” with PG-13-style gating. You subscribe to one, you get to play – user beware.

    On the third hand, there’s crime and there’s thought-crime. Is repellent speech dirty? Yep. Is it illegal? That depends on the laws of the land (e.g., illegal photos, etc.) There’s a whole world out there of publications and face-to-face encounters with varying degrees of repellency. Why should Twitter be uniquely gated? Illegality suppression — required to stay in business. All else… I’m with Elon.

    I’d rather bear responsibility for keeping age-related minors off as a parent, than set up to decide for others. Were any of us harmed by sneaking our older brothers’ Playboys from under their beds? I imagine we all remember when we were first shocked by various experiences, but that is also the nature of life.

    • All the handwringing over free speech and censorship glosses over why Musk would choose to buy Twitter instead of rolling out his own app. The answer is 140M users and the ways such an audience can be monetized and isn’t.

      The first step, as he is saying but nobody credits, is weeding out the bots and trolls.
      His approach is charging for the blue mark, separating the validated users who can be held accountable and taken at their word from the freeloaders. The key to making it work is giving subscribers access to added features to justify the cost. And Musk has already expressed a desire to create an “everything app”, a western equivalent to TenCent’s WeChat:


      For example, the updated twitter client can add relevant links to discussion threads automatically, not just ads (so 20th century!) but, for content, samples, trailers, rentals and even sales. (Affiliate links or an actual in-house store.)

      This is low hanging fruit that he can add in a few months.
      Other capabilities can follow.

      These are things Facebook as well as twitter have been too stupid to do, even after Tencent showed the way. In fact, the idea is old: back in 2012, anti-Amazon pundits were suggesting that Facebook should add ebook sales by linking to book discussions to draw people to their storefront. It made so much sense Amazon responded by buying Goodreads.

      People fretting over Musk being a “speech overlord” forget he is first and foremost a businessman and opportunistic at that. He will as happily sell flamethrowers as novelty perfume. Whatever will make him money for SpaceX.

      Buying twitter’s audience gets him a leg up in filling the empty space for an “everything app”, a gap he isn’t alone in looking to fill: Microsoft has made repeated attempts to buy DISCORD to tie it to XBOX, cloud gaming, and their various storefronts.

      If not Musk or MS, somebody will fill in that hole eventually. Amazon has most of the backend pieces but they need a front end to bring all the pieces into a unified community. Maybe they should convince Discord to sell to them.

        • But Harriman only got to the moon as he died. I think Musk has more… survivable ambitions.

          And Harriman never fired employees as a cost-saving measure.

          • Are you sure?
            Remember, Harriman was blocked from going to the moon by his shareholders because he was their golden goose. No mention is made of all the things he did to get Luna City built. Just that some were marginally legal. He was no angel.

            As to Musk:

            1- Dorsey stepped up and effectively validated the firings by “apologizing” for growing the company too fast. Translation: it failed to get as big as expected and ended up bloated.

            2- The folks getting fired according to GIZMODO include recruiters, “moderators”, and “AI” developers. Note that as one of the founders of OpenAI, Musk has access to their tech now and in the future. Definitely redundant to have a big pricey team reinventing the wheel.

            3- Given the entitled tone many employees took in the “open letter” demands, reminiscent of the woke letter that got a bunch fired at Tesla for calling Musk out for saying he was voting Republican “for the first time in his life” (due to the current administration’s union driven war on his companies–look it up), a purge was inevitable.
            Also, as Musk is opposed to remote working (“Anybody not showing up to their offices will be considered to have resigned.” Paraphrased.) signing that letter was asking to be excessed.

            Dunno if he fired 50% or 75% but given the attitudes of employees and activists he obviously expected a guerilla war among the staff (hence the total lockdown) and the only surprise is he didn’t fire everybody. After all, his likely plans for the company are to use its non-woke customer base as the foundation for a broader business that doesn’t rely solely on ads, PR releases, and controversy to make money. The only surprise will be if he doesn’t fire everybody.

            Oh, and the soap opera is about to get even more popcorn-worthy: the executives he fired aren’t getting their golden parachutes. He claims there were fired “for cause”. Lawsuits to follow.

            • Yes, Felix, a later story (name is escaping me at the moment, but well after “The Man Who Sold the Moon” — it’s in The Past Through Tomorrow) got him to the moon on the equivalent of a home-built jalopy.

              • That would be REQUIEM.

                Technically a sequel, continuity-wise, but it was actually written first.

          • As to the whole Mars Colony thing, take it with a pound of salt.
            Musk may or not be thinking Mars long term, but near and mid-term his real target is what he barely mentions. Cis-lunar space.
            Seriously, why give away his game plan to his opposition?

            Odds are he’s playing sleight of hand by talking Mars and barely talking about space stations, orbital debris, military applications, and moon bases.

            Starship might be useful for sending folks to mars but he doesn’t bother to talk life support, radiation shielding, or internal layouts. And what he is actually doing is prepping Starship for massive LEO launches, cargo trips to the moon, and even a disposable upper stage.

            Also, as his FALCON HEAVY has proven, the commercial market for Starship-class boosters is limited. He needs it for Starlink. The USSF could use it. But most satellites these days are small and getting smaller. However, he once said (a slip?) that the upper stage alone can reach LEO by itself. “Just with a small payload.” Hmm… a reusable SSTO launch system can undercut everybody…

            “Never mind the little man behind the curtain…”

            Musk knows a viable Mars settlement, if at all possible, will take far more money and tech than he can soon muster. Starship won’t be the tool for that regardless of his sales pitches. It’s just Phase two of maybe five.

            It’s a worthy endeavor but beware his salesmanship.
            So yes, D.D. Harriman he is.

        • Not much chance of government ties.
          (The only way he got any satellite launch contracts was by suing repeatedly and winning repeatedly. The Old Space mafia hates him. More now that he leads everybody else by a decade in tech and is 30% cheaper. And non union.)


          After two years of stalling STARSHIP (the FAA demanded a *book report* and payments to a “friends of the party” gang to *maybe* allow him to launch) the WH gets no love from Musk. The FAA keeps moving the date for the license, waiting for Boeing or ULA to launch something. Anything. Still waiting. If SLS blows up next month there’s no telling what excuse they’ll float.

          They also held an “EV summit” to plan subsidies to car companies and Excluded TESLA and all non-union car builders. They came out with a subsidy plan that excluded non-union companies; that is everybody but Ford and GM.
          Latest report is they want a “national security” review of his companies.

          And they were “shocked, shocked, I tell you” that he announced he was voting for the other guys. 😯

          It’ll be a cold day in the Amazon before Musk does the WH any favors.
          Maybe in 2025.

        • Don’t assume that “spying” needs to be by the government to be in service of totalitarianism. There are at least three $100M-in-annual-billings-to-the-government “private intelligence agencies” currently making no secret of it.

    • I suspect the PG13 would be empty. The problem isn’t that people are offended by what they read themselves. It’s that they don’t want anyone else to read what they don’t like. So, the free wheeling version would be where the target content resides, and knowing it’s there without seeing it would be unbearable.

  3. The key point, of course, is that every time action was “required” it was delegated to a poorly-paid intern and not one of the half-of-the-employees-let-go-today who would actually get paid to take those actions without screwing something else up.

    Just like the entertainment industry (including its publishing segments).

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