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Discord adds AI moderation to help fight abusive content (2021)

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. 

Written by The Copia Institute, October 2021

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