Moderation can’t wait: The challenges startups like Clubhouse face trying to build community - Protocol — The people, power and politics of tech
“It is not something that you can push down the line because in a way it happens anyway,” Estévez told Protocol. “Culture will develop whether you want it to or not. Tone will develop whether you want it to or not.” She added: “I think moderation and community should be part of the product. It should be seen as an integral part of the product from the onset.”
Protocol spoke with Estévez, who is currently working on “something new,” after she wrote a widely shared Twitter thread on the challenges Clubhouse and other networks face when it comes to moderation and building an inclusive community — a problem that might only be amplified in a conversational setting where we know that it’s easier for men to talk over women.
In an interview with Protocol, Estévez talked about the challenges of audio vs. written moderation, what founders should be considering when building a community, and whether it’s possible to even have a safe space for conversation online.
So you had worked at Quora where you were focused more on written moderation. How is audio a different beast to moderate?
So I haven’t moderated audio, so this is speculation on my part, but you’re not going to think as hard when you’re having a conversation in audio. Even in a fast-paced online conversation, if you’re writing something, you can pause, you can think, you’re going to backtrack, edit. Whereas in conversation, you’re saying it as you think. And that’s going to be difficult.
You also have another aspect, which doesn’t happen as much when you’re writing, and that’s tone. You could say something perfectly nice that with the right inflection, with the right snark level, it’s going to be totally horrible. A few people have said like, could you capture this all in transcripts? But you can’t capture that tone. Also, if you’re going quickly back and forth, it might not be obvious from what one person is saying that that’s actually a reaction to what someone else said a few minutes ago. It takes a lot longer also to listen. It seems like a higher-cost kind of moderation with a lot of quite easy-to-miss stuff.
How should companies that are just getting started, like Clubhouse, be thinking about building a culture that is inclusive from the beginning?
So that’s the most important thing — that they are thinking about it from the get-go. It is not something that you can push down the line because in a way it happens anyway: Culture will develop whether you want it to or not; tone will develop whether you want it to or not. So, if you’re a founder, you’re going to want to think about: What kind of tone do I want this place to be? Do I want this place to be inclusive? Free speech is important, but is it at any cost? What kind of rules and policies do I need to make sure that happen?
It doesn’t have to be set in stone. In fact, it shouldn’t be set in stone. It should be like, what kind of place do I want this to be? What kind of voices do I want? I could see scenarios where there’s a very sort of a specific community for a very specific demographic, where inclusivity might not be a factor for that, but they still need to think about that and make that decision. For example, if it’s an LGBTQ+ forum, they don’t have to be inclusive to people who are anti-LGBTQ. Right? So you need to think about that from the onset, and then you need to think about who you’re inviting in.
You also need to be really aware as [people join], are the voices that you wanted to speak speaking? Or is it the same people that are being highlighted? We’ve seen this in so many social sites that the default is men tend to speak more than women, and they tend to speak louder, and it’s particularly white men. And we know we’ve seen that over and over again, and it’s not an accident. It’s not that it just happens to be that men like talking in social apps, there’s a reason why [others] are being pushed out.
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