Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: Discord Adds AI Moderation To Help Fight Abusive Content (2021)

from the ai-to-the-rescue dept

Summary: In the six years since Discord debuted its chat platform, it has seen explosive growth. And, over the past half-decade, Discord's chat options have expanded to include GIFs, video, audio, and streaming. With this growth and these expanded offerings, there have come a number of new moderation challenges and required adapting to changing scenarios.

Discord remains largely text-based, but even when limited to its original offering -- targeted text-oriented forums/chat channels -- users were still subjected to various forms of abuse. And, because the platform hosted multiple users on single channels, users sometimes found themselves targeted en masse by trolls and other malcontents. While Discord often relies on the admins of servers to handle moderation on those servers directly, the company has found that it needs to take a more hands on approach to handling content moderation.

Discord's addition of multiple forms of content create a host of new content moderation challenges. While it remained text-based, Discord was able to handle moderation using a blend of AI and human moderators.

Some of the moderation load was handed over to users, who could perform their own administration to keep their channels free of content they didn't like. For everything else (meaning content that violates Discord's guidelines), the platform offered a mixture of human and AI moderation. The platform's Trust & Safety team handled content created by hundreds of millions of users, but its continued growth and expanded offerings forced the company to find a solution that could scale to meet future demands.

To continue to scale, Discord ended up purchasing Sentropy, an AI company that only launched last year with the goal of building AI tools to help companies moderate disruptive behavior on their platforms. Just a few months prior to the purchase, Sentropy had launched its first consumer-facing product, an AI-based tool for Twitter users to help them weed out and block potentially abusive tweets. However, after being purchased, Sentropy shut down the tool, and is now focused on building out its AI content moderation tools for Discord.

Discord definitely has moderation issues it needs to solve -- which range from seemingly-omnipresent spammers to interloping Redditors with a taste for tasteless memes -- but it remains to be seen whether the addition of another layer of AI will make moderation manageable.

Company Considerations:

  • What advantages can outside services offer above what platforms can develop on their own? 
  • What are the disadvantages of partnering with a company whose product was not designed to handle a platform's specific moderation concerns?
  • How do outside acquisitions undermine ongoing moderation efforts? Conversely, how do they increase the effectiveness of ongoing efforts? 
  • How should platforms handle outside integration of AI moderation as it applies to user-based moderation efforts by admins running their own Discord servers?
  • How much input should admins have in future moderation efforts? How should admins deal with moderation calls made by AI acquisitions that may impede efforts already being made by mods on their own servers?

Issue Considerations:

  • What are the foreseeable negative effects of acquiring content moderation AI designed to handle problems observed on different social media platforms?
  • What problems can outside acquisitions introduce into the moderation platform? What can be done to mitigate these problems during integration?
  • What negative effect can additional AI moderation efforts have on "self-governance" by admins entrusted with content moderation by Discord prior to acquisition of outside AI?

Resolution: So far, the acquisition has yet to produce much controversy. Indeed, Discord as a whole has managed to avoid many of the moderation pitfalls that have plagued other platforms of its size. Its most notorious action to date was its takeover of the WallStreetBets server as it went supernova during a week or two of attention-getting stock market activity. An initial ban was rescinded once the server's own moderators began removing content that violated Discord guidelines, accompanied by Discord's own moderators who stepped in to handle an unprecedented influx of users while WallStreetBets continued to make headlines around the nation.

Other than that, the most notable moderation efforts were made by server admins, rather than Discord itself, utilizing their own rules which (at least in one case) exceeded the restrictions on content delineated in Discord's terms of use.

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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Filed Under: abusive content, ai, content moderation
Companies: discord


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  • icon
    Emelie (profile), 1 Dec 2021 @ 8:32pm

    Companies refuse to make good decisions.

    Because AI moderation works SO good for youtube, twitter, google, facebook, etc / sarcasm

    Not to mention that users have already figured out how to work around AI mods. For example some youtube channels ban the word sex so we use an alternative for example "bed time fun", "slimy/wet snuggle", "adult cuddling", "child free service", etc. There are so many ways to use obfuscation language that you simply can't moderate with an AI currently. It's also hard to figure out if the meaning is literal or suggestive like the examples above which is something no AI can do yet and is hard to achieve with good accuracy. Also AI don't understand context at all which is why so many comments/posts get removed by mistake. Youtube videos get flagged and removed because covid is mentioned or the text is displayed. It doesn't understand the video is reporting news about it. There are so many examples of getting flagged incorrectly and there is no way to get hold of a human to correct it so the only recourse is to have multiple accounts and in so doing violate site rules. These sites force you into violating the multi-account rule. Sites shooting themselves in both feet just to be thorough. And so many ways to avoid getting detected of using multiple accounts.

    We the victims (users) of these abusive behaviors like AI mods without human oversight unless you're "important" like to share these tricks with each other. "Sharing is caring". Internet was made to share knowledge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2021 @ 3:50am

      Re: Companies refuse to make good decisions.

      And people have been using alternative words/codewords/steganography/dogwhistling/whathaveyou since forever.

      While I generally agree that AI mods need human oversight, the alternative is even less feasible, ie, have an army of human mods. And all it takes is one or a few powertripping, easily offended bastards to ruin the work of YEARS. And there's plenty of examples of that, including how the community manager of Mighty No.9 ruined the game by not letting through playtesting reports of people they hated...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2021 @ 7:07am

    Can't let those server admins make their own decisions on what to allow on their own channels...they might not agree with Big Brother.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jono793, 4 Dec 2021 @ 12:16pm

    Discord has unique moderation challenges.

    Unlike a lot of social media, individual discord channels aren't public facing. Even the most niche of subreddits, could theoretically end up on the front page one day.

    With discord, you have to opt in or opt out. Which deals with 99% of the moderation issues right there! Using being an abusive troll? Server admins will kick them out pretty quickly. Server degenerating into a cesspit? (or just not interesting any longer).Users can leave it at the touch of a button.

    Discord's moderation challenge is that the majority of the bad behaviour happens outside of discord!
    Some prominent examples include rogue servers used to organise "hate raids" on Twitch. Or being used by neo-nazi extremists to organise and coordinate.

    In a way, it's a lot closer to services like WhatsApp or telegram, rather than public facing social media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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