Tech whistleblowers have gotten much attention in press and policy conversations around tech reform. But many others who work or have worked in social media have great interest in having conversations with legislators, journalists, civil society, and academia. They seek to offer pragmatic perspectives from inside industry and promote better understanding between industry, the public, and government. These individuals are part of a major shift that has happened over roughly the last five to ten years: the rapid professionalization of the field of online speech governance — sometimes called trust & safety, sometimes called integrity.
This conference — the first in what will hopefully be a series — is for those people: the individuals from the industry side of online speech governance outside of their formal roles at companies who are interested in engaging researchers, stakeholders, policymakers, or the public to foster better understanding of industry or to help craft well-tailored solutions.
There is an audience for their expertise: regulators and average citizens are more fluent than ever before in the previously invisible world of online safety and content moderation. Yet there are still several hurdles towards productive education, dialogue, and policy making.
- The first problem is that between companies in the social media industry working in The Field there is no centralized source of knowledge, expert conversation, or consensus. As a result, any one expert – current or former – is usually limited to their firsthand expertise within one company on one product. There is danger in over-extrapolating and creating poor policy, even with good intent, from these compellingly descriptive anecdata points, that don’t realize the larger history or framework of the industry, never mind the legal or rights-based implications. Creating a diverse leadership cohort of those working in industry, academia, and civil society to share history, experiences, and rationales will facilitate better policies and advocacy.
- Translating across such groups is the second problem. Despite industry experts being willing to speak and policy makers better at listening to them, it is still incredibly difficult to translate across these two groups. Policy makers have relied on intermediaries like academics and civil society as “translators” to understand the ramifications of new policy in legal, economic, and rights-based frameworks. In turn, industry experts trust these translators to convey the pragmatic non-legal or market effects to policymakers. Efficient communication between a cohort of industry and civil society, academia, and journalism is therefore key to informing policy and public education.
- The third and final problem combines the prior two. While the potential around direct industry-policymaker conversation is well-placed, that there is no discipline of knowledge being conveyed at the industry-expert level of The Field, nor consistent dialogue between those expected to translate hobbles the potential for fruitful policymaking.
To address these problems and start to build a networked cohort of professionals interested in the greater, The Governance in Online Speech Leadership Series is an interdisciplinary 3-day workshop that aims to connect those currently working in trust & safety, content moderation, content policy, integrity, and governance at speech platforms with the original generation of people in industry, civil society, and academia who pioneered these fields as lawyers, policy-makers, project managers, engineers, stakeholders, or scholars.
The goal is to both educate around the history of this new profession, and give practical tools and connections to industry online speech governance leaders on how to engage in productive stakeholder conversations.