Content Moderation

What is Content Moderation?

Content moderation is the process of reviewing and monitoring user-generated content (UGC) and generative AI content to ensure it is not offensive, harmful, misleading, illegal, or otherwise inappropriate. Effective moderation can help create a safe and positive online environment for individuals and the general public.


How Content Moderation Works

Content can be reviewed to ensure it meets standards and guidelines before it becomes publicly visible, or it can be published and then reviewed after the fact. The actual process can be automated, carried out manually, or use a hybrid approach that includes humans-in-the loop.

  • Manual Moderation: Human moderators are hired to review content for a specific platform and are responsible for manually removing content that does not comply with specified guidelines.
  • Community-based Moderation: Members of a platform’s community review and moderate content themselves by voting content up or down. Community members may also be given the right to flag or remove inappropriate content.
  • Automated Moderation: In this approach, machine learning (ML) algorithms or web scraping tools extract published content on the internet and flag certain types of content based on predefined criteria or known data patterns. Robotic process automation (RPA) systems can then take action on the flagged content and remove it or carry out some other predefined response.
  • Hybrid Moderation: Human moderators review content that has been flagged by ML algorithms and then remove it or carry out some other predefined response, such as contacting law enforcement.

Content Moderation and Free Speech

When social media platforms and websites that allowed unchecked comments were first being used to spread hate speech and disinformation, the need for content moderation quickly became a growing subject of debate in the media and among policymakers.

In the early stages of implementing content moderation measures, concerns emerged regarding the delicate balance between maintaining a safe online environment and upholding the principles of free speech.

The fear of censorship and bias in content removal prompted debates about the extent to which social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly called Twitter) should be responsible for policing user-generated content – and whether these efforts might inadvertently stifle diverse viewpoints and hinder the free exchange of ideas on the internet.

Over time, the landscape of content moderation and free speech concerns has evolved in response to a combination of technological advancements, legal frameworks, and shifting societal expectations.

People have started to recognize the need to strike a balance between allowing diverse opinions and preventing the spread of harmful or misleading content. In the EU, for example, a large portion of the Digital Services Act focuses on content moderation and the responsibility that online platforms have to identify misinformation and remove harmful content.

AI and Content Moderation

Initially, AI offered the promise of automating the detection and removal of inappropriate or offensive content and safeguarding users from exposure to potentially harmful material.

AI models trained on large datasets of pre-labeled content were an effective tool for helping to identify inappropriate or illegal content. While this approach was not always 100% effective, studies showed it has helped prevent the spread of inaccurate, harmful and disturbing materials more effectively than was ever possible with human moderation alone.

The advent of generative AI, however, introduced a new layer of complexity to content moderation efforts. The same technologies that power AI content moderation can also be used to craft convincing misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, deep fakes, and other harmful content that can evade today’s most sophisticated moderation techniques.

The coexistence of AI as both moderator and potential perpetrator has raised some important concerns, including the need to:

  • Constantly refine multimodal AI algorithms to enhance their ability to differentiate between genuine and manipulated content. The incorporation of context, intent, and cultural nuances in moderation models can minimize the risk of false positives or negatives.
  • Ensure social media and website comment platforms are transparent about how they use AI for content moderation and the limitations of the technology.
  • Educate users about the potential misuse of both user-generated and AI-generated content. Today, more than ever before, it’s important to support digital literacy initiatives that empower users to think critically.
  • Always keep human moderators in the loop. When AI is used to augment intelligence, people can provide nuanced judgments that AI might miss, especially when evaluating complex or context-dependent content.
  • Champion collaboration between AI researchers, ethicists, policymakers, and platform developers to ensure ongoing research can identify emerging threats and guide future content moderation technologies.

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…