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The Trust & Safety Professional Association: Advancing The Trust And Safety Profession Through A Shared Community Of Practice

from the strength-through-collaboration dept

For decades, trust and safety professionals in content moderation, fraud and risk, and safety — have faced enormous challenges, often under intense scrutiny. In recent years, it’s become even more clear that the role of trust and safety professionals are both critically important and difficult. In 2020 alone, we’ve seen an increasing need for this growing class of professionals to combat a myriad of online abuse related to systemic racism, police violence, and COVID-19 — such as hate speech, misinformation, price gouging, and phishing — while keeping a safe space for connecting people with vital, authoritative information, and with each other.

Despite the enormous impact trust and safety individuals have towards protecting the online and offline safety of people, the professional community has historically been dispersed, siloed, and informally organized. To date — unlike, say, in privacy — no organization has focused on the needs of trust and safety professionals in a way that builds a shared community of practice.

This is why we founded the Trust & Safety Professional Association (TSPA) and the Trust & Safety Foundation Project (TSF) — something we think is long overdue. TSPA is a new, nonprofit, membership-based organization that will support the global community of professionals who develop and enforce principles and policies that define acceptable behavior online. TSF will focus on improving society’s understanding of trust and safety, including the operational practices used in content moderation, through educational programs and multidisciplinary research.

Since we launched in June, we’ve gotten a number of questions about what TSPA and TSF will (and won’t) do. So we thought we’d tackle them right here, and share more with you about who’s included, why we launched now, and what our vision is for the future. You can also hear us talk more about both organizations on episode 247 of the Techdirt podcast. And if you want to know even more, we’re all ears!


Q. How do you define trust and safety? Don’t you mean content moderation?

We define trust and safety professionals as the global community of people who develop and enforce policies that define acceptable behavior online.

Content moderation is a big part of trust and safety, and the area that gets the most public attention these days. But trust and safety also includes the people who tackle financial risk and fraud, those who process law enforcement requests, engineers who work on automating these policies, and more. TSPA is for the professionals who work in all of those areas.

Q. What’s the difference between TSPA and TSF?

TSPA is a 501(c)(6) membership-based organization for professionals who develop and enforce principles and policies that define acceptable behavior and content online. Think ABA for lawyers, or IAPP for privacy people, but for those working in trust and safety, who can use TSPA to connect with a network of peers, find resources for career development, and exchange best practices.

TSF is a fiscally sponsored project of the Internet Education Foundation and focuses on research.

The two organizations are complementary, but have distinct missions and serve different communities. TSPA is a membership organization, while TSF has a charitable purpose.

Q. Why are you doing this now?

We first started discussing the need for something like this more than two years ago, in the wake of the first Content Moderation at Scale (COMO) conference in Santa Clara. The conference was convened by one of TSPA’s founders and board members, Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, which you can read about right here. After the first COMO get-together It was clear that there was a need for more community amongst people who do trust and safety work.

Q. Are you taking positions on policy issues or lobbying?

Nope. We’re not advocating for public policy positions on behalf of corporate supporters or anyone else. We do want to help people better understand trust and safety as a field, as well as shed light on the challenges that trust and safety professionals face.

Q. Ok, so you launched. Now what?

For TSPA, we’re in the process of planning some virtual panel discussions that will happen before the end of the year on various topics related to trust and safety. Topics will range from developing wellness and resilience best practices, to operational challenges in the face of current events like the US presidential election and COVID-19. Longer term, we’re working on professional development offerings, like career advancement bootcamps and a job board.

Over at TSF, we partnered with the folks right here from Techdirt to launch with a series of case studies from the Copia Institute that illustrate challenging choices that trust and safety professionals face. We are also hosting an ongoing podcast series called Flagged for Review, with interviews from people with expertise in trust and safety.

We’re also looking for founding Executive Director, who can get TSPA and TSF off the ground. Send good candidates our way.

Q. Sounds pretty good. How do I get involved?

Sign up here so we can share more with you about TSPA and TSF in the coming months as we open our membership and develop our offerings. Follow us on Twitter, too. If you work for one of our corporate supporters, you can reach out to your trust and safety leadership as well to find out more. We’d also love to hear from organizations and people who want to help out, or whose work is complementary to our own. We’re excited to further develop and support the community of online trust and safety professionals.

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Companies: tsf, tspa

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Trust is a difficult thing.

And possibly an error by including it in the name of your organization. Trust and professional might be in conflict.

We have been burned by trusting supposedly ‘trusted’ entities in the past. I seem to remember some ‘certificates’ that made their way into the stream not too long ago that made ‘trusted’ sites untrustworthy (as well as ‘trusted certificates’ untrustworthy). Then there are the Bernie Madoff types, and he is not alone. How many times have trustees made off with the trust funds?

I know of Eric Goldman because of his mentions and participation with this website. I could give him some trust, and maybe to the two of you as well. But I learned a lesson a long, long time ago. One can start with a presumption of trust, but one also needs to verify. Trust but verity. I ran into this dilemma often in the employee/employer relationship, for example. From either position I could do a certain amount of research into the other entity and make some determination. But that determination assumes that if the relationship continued, so does the verify part. Trust until there is a reason to not trust, which one finds by checking. One group I worked for who did extensive pre-employment screening (physiological testing, PI’s doing background checks, primary and secondary reference checking (the secondary being people who were there at the same time and in related positions but were not listed as references)) and they stated that in their best year they got the hiring thing right only about 50% of the time. Then again, in the long run, it turned out that they had some issues of their own. So it can go both ways.

I am not trying to denigrate you or your organization. I am trying to point out that there is, and will be, some difficulty with the concept of trust. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that some unknown soon to be black hat hacker joins your group to learn not just your methods, but ways around them. How would you know? How would we know? Since you seem to be a fairly open organization (as you should be) how are you going to go about defending against someone using your openness against you (or more importantly us)?

I am not bringing these questions to light to put you or your organization down, but to emphasize the potential problems and to get you to think about mitigation (not that you haven’t already, but I did not see it mentioned the the article above). It is important, for you, and for us. I wish you well in your endeavors and hope that in time some good comes from the efforts, it is both needed and important. I don’t think it is possible to be ‘secure’, it is only possible to become ‘more secure’, and that is a worthy cause. And likely, an unending one.

Please think more about trustworthiness and how to not only be trustworthy (and check that you are), but how to go about selling that trustworthiness to the entities that will both directly (say online banks) and indirectly (say their customers) benefit from your goals.

Kelly Brown says:

That is really great that you have found such a useful organization that will help a lot of people. I am only student now, but I am thinking about the choice of profession and got a task from my teacher to write a paper on this subject. I decided to become a lawyer and would be happy to use your article as a secondary source. Safety is an important step in making the professional sphere better.

Joana Bones says:

That is really great that you have found such a useful organization that will help a lot of people. I am only student now, but I am thinking about the choice of profession and got a task from my teacher to write a paper on this subject. I have found help on and would be happy to use your article as a secondary source. Safety is an important step in making the professional sphere better.

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