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June 2020
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Trust & Safety Professional Association Launches: This Is Important

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One of the most frustrating things out there is the idea that content moderation choices made on various platforms are coming directly from the top. Too often, I've seen people blame Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg for content moderation decisions, as if they're sitting there at their laptops and twiddling their fingers over who gets blocked and who doesn't. Over the last decade or so, an entire industry has been built up to figure out how to make internet services as usable as possible, to deal with spam, and abuse, and more. That industry is generally called "trust and safety," and as a new industry it has grown up and professionalized quite a bit in the last decade -- though it rarely (if ever) gets the respect it deserves. As I mentioned on a recent episode of The Pivot podcast, many of the assumptions that people make about content moderation unfairly malign the large crew of people working in trust and safety who aren't interested in political bias, or silencing voices, but who legitimately are working very, very hard to figure out how to balance the many, many tradeoffs in trying to make internet services useful and welcoming to users.That's why I'm really happy to see a new organization launch today, the Trust & Safety Professional Association, along with a sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation.

Today, we're pleased to announce the Trust & Safety Professional Association (TSPA) and the Trust & Safety Foundation Project (TSF).* TSPA is a new, nonprofit, membership-based organization that will support the global community of professionals who develop and enforce principles and policies that define acceptable behavior online. TSF will focus on improving society's understanding of trust and safety, including the operational practices used in content moderation, through educational programs and multidisciplinary research. Neither TSPA nor TSF are lobbying organizations, and will not advocate for public policy positions on behalf of corporate supporters or anyone else. Instead, we will support the community of people doing the work, and society's understanding of it.
And I should note that the people behind this organization are incredible. If you told me about such an organization and asked me to suggest who should be involved, I would have included exactly the people who put this together, starting Adelin Cai and Clara Tsao, who both have tremendous experience in the trust and safety space, and the knowledge and thoughtful, balanced approach necessary to build organizations like the two launched today. If you ever need someone to talk through all the challenges to think through in building a successful trust and safety team, I'd highly recommend both Adelin and Clara. The board also includes some names you may recognize, including Professor Eric Goldman, former Twitter/Google lawyer and White House deputy CTO Alex Macgillivray, and former Mozilla Chief Legal Officer/COO and current Stellar Development Foundation CEO Denelle Dixon.And... one of the initial projects that the Trust & Safety Foundation has launched is an ongoing series of trust and safety case studies written by... us. Techdirt's think tank arm, the Copia Institute, will be providing a series of trust and safety case studies to the Trust & Safety Foundation, which they'll be posting each week. We'll eventually be posting many of them to Techdirt as well, so you can expect those coming later this summer. The point of this library of case studies is to give people a better understanding of the impossible choices and tradeoffs that internet services need to make on a daily basis, and to highlight why what often seems like an "obvious" way to deal with some piece of content may not be so obvious once you explore it from all sides. Personally, I'm excited to get to help build out this library and to work with such a great team of people who are devoted to improving and professionalizing the space, while further educating everyone (both inside and outside the trust and safety space) how trust and safety efforts actually work.

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posted at: 12:00am on 18-Jun-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Nintendo Cryptically Points Out That Selling 'Animal Crossing' Assets For Real Money Violates ToS

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Back in May, we wrote about something of an economy springing up around Nintendo's hit game Animal Crossing. With so many folks enduring the hardships of layoffs, or unable to find work, it turns out there are people making very real world money selling in-game assets and collecting payment outside of Nintendo's platform, which doesn't have a method for these types of transactions. This sort of thing fascinates me on many levels, perhaps mostly in how nearly perfectly this highlights the reality of income disparity in America. Some folks have to farm digital bells to make money by selling them to people with enough money to buy them.But we also mentioned in that post that Nintendo is notoriously protective over how its games are played and used. On top of that, the only real way to be effective in this economy is to screw around with the clock and timer settings on the console itself to speed up the harvesting process. That, too, is the sort of thing that normally gets Nintendo's fur up. So, it's perhaps not surprising that Nintendo has pointed out recently that all of this violates its Terms of Service, though the company has remained cryptic as to exactly what it plans to do about it.

Nintendo has strictly defined rules about monetization. As clearly stated on the network services guidelines, Nintendo writes, “You may monetize your videos and channels using the monetization methods separately specified by Nintendo. Other forms of monetization of our intellectual property for commercial purposes are not permitted.”J-Cast reached out Nintendo regarding the real-money trade of Animal Crossing: New Horizons characters. “We are aware of the violation of our terms of use,” Nintendo replied. Nintendo added that it is currently considering what steps should be taken regarding the sale of New Horizons characters.
One presumes the same would be true for in-game assets like Animal Crossing's bells. As stated, Nintendo has a reputation for this... but should the company drop the hammer on this sort of behavior? I've put some thought into this and I can't really come up with a systemic major problem that is or could be caused by this emergent economy springing up around a game like this. How much does this break the game's community, given that there is clearly a demand from players for buying these assets? And how much interest in the game is built on players knowing they have an outlet for progression through these purchases?Interesting as those questions may be, Nintendo doesn't typically come off as though it engages in this type of self-interrogation. Instead, the company sees something happening outside of its control, has a visceral reaction to that something, and reacts with a heavy hand. Note that the quote from the Nintendo rep above says Nintendo is deciding what to do about all of this, not whether it should do anything at all. Which is too bad.

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posted at: 12:00am on 18-Jun-2020
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