Content Moderation: Modern Adulting Is Too Much Work

August 28, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Content moderation requires editorial policies. Editorial policies cost money. Editorial policies must be communicated. Editorial policies must be enforced by individuals trained in what information is in bounds or out of bounds. Commercial database companies had editorial policies. One knew what was “in” Compendex, Predicasts, Business Dateline, and and similar commercial databases. Some of these professional publishers have worked to keep the old-school approach in place to serve their customers. Other online services dumped the editorial policies approach to online information because it was expensive and silly. I think that lax or no editorial policies is a bad idea. One can complain about how hard a professional online service was or is to use, but one knows the information placed into the database.

8 26 take out garbage

“No, I won’t take out the garbage. That’s a dirty job,” says the petulant child. Thanks, MidJourney, you did not flash me the appeal message this morning.

Fun fact. Business Dateline, originally created by the Courier Journal & Louisville Times, was the first online commercial database to include corrections to stories made by the service’s sources. I am not sure if that policy is still in place. I think today’s managers will have cost in mind. Extras like accuracy are going to be erased by the belief that the more information one has, the less a mistake means.

I thought about adulting and cost control when I read “Following Elon Musk’s Lead, Big Tech Is Surrendering to Disinformation.” The “real” news story reports:

Social media companies are receding from their role as watchdogs against political misinformation, abandoning their most aggressive efforts to police online falsehoods in a trend expected to profoundly affect the 2024 presidential election.

Creating, producing, and distributing electronic information works when those involved have a shared belief in accuracy, appropriateness, and the public good. One those old-fashioned ideas are discarded what’s the result? From my point of view, look around. What does one see in different places in the US and elsewhere? What can be believed? What is socially-acceptable behavior?

When one defines adulting in terms of cost, civil life is eroded in my opinion. Defining responsibility in terms of one’s self interest is one thing that seems to be the driving force of many decisions. I am glad I am a dinobaby. I am glad I am old. At least we tried to enforce editorial policies for ABI/INFORM, Business Dateline, the Health Reference Center, and the other electronic projects in which I was involved. Even our early Internet service ThePoint (Top 5% of the Internet) which became part of Lycos many years ago had an editorial policy.

Ah, the good old days when motivated professionals worked to provide accurate, reliable reference information. For those involved in those projects, I thank you. For those like the companies mentioned in the cited WaPo story, your adulting is indeed a childish response to an important task.

What is the fix? One approach is the Chinese government / TikTok paying Oracle to moderate TikTok content. I wonder what the punishment for doing a “bad” job is. Is this the method to make “correct” decisions? The surveillance angle is an expensive solution. What’s the alternative?

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2023


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