Nilay Patel’s Welcome to hell, Elon is already a classic. Perhaps the most cited line is,
The essential truth of every social network is that the product is content moderation….
But I think most people still think of moderation as being about the “bad stuff”. Nilay doesn’t fall into this trap,
They all try to incentivize good stuff, disincentivize bad stuff, and delete the really bad stuff.
But I think “incentivize the good stuff” doesn’t quite pull out the full breadth of content moderation.
In a way, content moderation is about creating a community people want to be a part of. And that’s all well and good, but a critical part of accomplishing this goal is helping people find a community people want to be a part of. Social networks are not one community, they are a multiplicity of overlapping communities.
What I’m getting at here, of course, is that a key part of content moderation is content discovery. All the work to make sure good stuff is flourishing on your platform doesn’t help if users can’t find it.
What makes algorithmic timelines, searching, tagging, reposting, likes, quote-posting, and more critical is that these are the tools of content moderation to make it easier to find and participate in communities I want to be a part of. Bootstrapping community is incredibly difficult, and there’s a reason why Facebook API access got shut off real fast as people bootstrapped their networks across other social web services and why data portability is a powerful anti-trust tool.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of folks behind tools like Mastodon (and even Micro.blog) are terrified of providing tools that let individuals bootstrap a community. Discovery is weak across most of these platforms, at least partially because discovery has the potential to become a vector for abuse. But discovery is as critical a part of content moderation as any other tool. And just like users need to be able to report abuse and have tools for blocking and muting, users need tools to facilitate discovery that are up to the task.
I’m all for more, smaller, fractured communities on the web. I just hope I can find the ones that would welcome me and that I would welcome being a member of.