(Dreamstime/TNS)

(Dreamstime/TNS)

Platforms struggle to keep up with moderating content amid COVID-19

Record numbers of people around the globe are spending increased amounts of time at home on their favourite platforms

While hundreds of thousands of companies across the country have seen work grind to a halt amid COVID-19, Chris Priebe is experiencing the opposite.

The owner of Two Hat, an artificial intelligence-powered content moderation company based in Kelowna, B.C., has never been busier helping customers including gaming brands Nintendo Switch, Habbo, Rovio and Supercell sift through billions of comments and conversations and quickly identify and remove anything harmful to users.

“We processed 60 billion last month. It used to be 30 billion. That’s how bad coronavirus is. That is at least twice the normal volume,” said Priebe in April, before monthly processing volumes hit 90 billion.

“(Platforms) are faced with, in some cases, 15 times the volume. How can they possibly care for their audience? Because that doesn’t mean that the revenues are up 15 times or that they can afford to hire that many more people.”

Priebe is not alone in the scramble to keep online, social media and gaming platforms safe amid COVID-19. Companies including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google have all been warning users since at least April that they are experiencing shortages of content moderators, causing a backlog in the removal of harmful posts.

The stakes are high. Record numbers of people around the globe are spending increased amounts of time at home on their favourite platforms, challenging servers and turning messaging services, social networks and comment sections into a wild west.

The situation has heightened privacy experts’ worries about the spread of misinformation and the likelihood that users will stumble upon hate speech, pornography, violence and other harmful content.

“Quite a few people are fairly dissatisfied with the content moderation process as it is…and then you add on this pandemic…You are seeing a huge increase in harassing behaviour and problematic behaviour and then having the content stay up longer,” said Suzie Dunn, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in the intersection of technology, equality and the law.

“It’s a real challenge because content moderators are a little bit like frontline workers. They’re an essential service that we need to have at a time like this, so we would hope to see more content moderators working.”

However, unlike workers in other sectors who have been working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, such a shift is difficult for many content moderators as their jobs deal with images and language you wouldn’t want kids or other family members catching a glimpse of.

“Some of them may not be able to work on certain things that they would work on in the office,” Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, told The Canadian Press.

“They’re looking at potentially private, and sensitive things that have been reported to them and we need to make sure….that these things can be treated in the secure and private manner that they deserve.”

Full-time Facebook employees have stepped up and are taking on some of the moderating work, including from contractors who can’t have proprietary and sensitive content at home. These workers are dealing with content related to “real-world harm” like child safety and suicide and self-injury.

“There is no question this is going to pose challenges to the degree to which we can be as responsive,’ Chan said.

READ MORE: B.C. records just one new COVID-19 case in last 24 hours

To deal with the situation, Facebook has rolled out measures meant to curb the flow of COVID-19 misinformation and is focused on weeding out and removing content around terrorism and anything inciting violence or linking to “dangerous” individuals and organizations.

At Twitter, machine learning and automation is being used to help the company review reports most likely to cause harm first and to help rank content or “challenge” accounts automatically.

“While we work to ensure our systems are consistent, they can sometimes lack the context that our teams bring, and this may result in us making mistakes,” Twitter said in a blog. ”As a result, we will not permanently suspend any accounts based solely on our automated enforcement systems.”

Google has also upped its reliance on machine-based systems to reduce the need for people to work from the office and said the increase in automation has many downsides, including a potential increase in content classified for removal and slower turnaround times for appeals.

“They are not always as accurate or granular in their analysis of content as human reviewers,” added a Google blog released in March.

This is a sentiment Priebe has encountered many times, but he has a counter-argument: “AI is not perfect but…humans are also not perfect.”

He gives the example of a child playing a game at home during the pandemic, when pedophiles might be more active online and trying to contact young people.

“You have three different humans look at the same conversation and they’re not going to give you the same answer. Some of them are going to call it grooming and some of them aren’t,” said Priebe.

Priebe believes an ideal system blends humans and AI because the latter is good at knowing what to do with obvious cases like when a user’s content is flagged almost a dozen times in a short period of time or when someone gets a message that only reads hello and hits report just to see what the button does.

“You don’t need a human to have to be looking at their screen and looking at this absolutely sexual content in front of potentially their children who snuck up behind them because artificial intelligence is going to win every time on that,” he said.

“Let humans do what humans do well, which is deal with that middle category of stuff that is subjective, difficult or hard to understand, that the AI is not confident about.”

Regardless of how the moderation gets done, some things will always slip through the cracks, especially in a pandemic, said Dunn.

“No system is perfect.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Gabriel Bureau president of the Prince Rupert Teachers union said on May 13 that SD 52 52 announced teacher lay-offs has broken the trust. (Photo:K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Teacher job losses are unnecessary, lay-off notices may be issued today, says PRDTU

Prince Rupert District Teachers Union says trust has been broken

Courtnay Girbav has been creating a little magic along the McClymont Trail in April with the initiation of a memorial fairy garden. The garden’s golden Buddha was recently found to be missing on May 2. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Fairy garden magic along McClymont Trail

An enchanted garden created in memory of a deceased friend has golden statue stolen

Prince Rupert Regional Airport is on track for flights to resume to the local airport on June 23. New airport federal funding was announced on May 11 to assist with COVID-19 recovery.  (Northern View file photo)
New federal airport funding takes off

Flights on track to resume June 23 at Prince Rupert Regional Airport

School District 52 Board of Trustees amended the 2021-2022 budget on May 11, eliminating 13 itinerant teaching positions as well as making other line item cuts and increases. (File photo)
SD 52 amends 2021-2022 proposed budget to eliminate 13 itinerant teaching positions

It has everything to do with the fact they were hired without the approval of the board - Tina Last

Seafest 2021 will see different types of bubbles, especially social bubbles for the June 11 to 13th weekend festivities planned in a COVID-19 safe format with activities for families bubbles able to social distance safely. (Photo: Nothern View file photo.)
Seafest is launching in June

New ideas, new format to keep Prince Rupertcommunity festival afloat

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Tinder, an online dating application that allows users to anonymously swipe to like or dislike other’s profiles. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. man granted paternity test to see if Tinder match-up led to a ‘beautiful baby’

The plaintiff is seeking contact with the married woman’s infant who he believes is his child

Most Read