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A Twitter Solution to a Twitter Problem

07/08/2013 14:49 BST | Updated 07/10/2013 10:12 BST
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Twitter recently announced that it would be adding a reporting button to its platform and hiring moderators; this news got me thinking. While I agree Twitter does need moderation, I am of the opinion that having an in-house team isn't the best solution. Instead they should outsource the moderation of Twitter back to the Twitter community and have a democratic solution for what has become the platform for free speech.

Twitter needs a report button; I am surprised it lasted this long without one. Yet the majority of cases that are reported do not require Twitter or law enforcement involvement, they can and should be judged more by a jury of community members. This would ensure that just as in society the majority of misdemeanours are handled by the community rather than through legal proceedings or a company who must be afraid of letting something slip.

Where do we find this jury? In Twitter there is an engaged and active community made up of people who want to keep Twitter a sane and safe place without imposing too much regulation. This is a desire that can be harnessed to create a force of volunteers to oversee complaints and disputes.

You can effectively weed out fake accounts by requiring a minimum member date and number of Tweets and have these moderators evaluated by a member of the team at Twitter in the first instance. After the initial backlog of applications this becomes a system that is easier for Twitter to manage and maintain than one where the company takes all the burden upon itself.

That is my idea, crowdsource the moderation of Twitter out to the people who most want to see Twitter work well - the community. It works for articles on Wikipedia, it works for gamers in League of Legends, and it has worked for academic papers for years. If you include enough people the voice of moderation will out.

There will be cases that need to be referred higher and dealt with differently but those will be few and far between. I think we all know the majority of tweets that get reported will be children and teenagers who don't know any better and just need a slap on the wrist and a temporary ban from Twitter.

So why do we need this?

Twitter is in essence a peer-review platform for crowdsourcing the truth. Everything that's posted is evaluated for relevance, truth and importance by other members of the community. The content that is shared is either true or not - think of reddit and the Boston bombings - but regardless of truth the more people who share an item the more important it becomes. As a message spreads some people are inspired and some are enraged and the importance to society of the ability for everyone to interact with like minded individuals and respond to detractors publically cannot be undervalued.

Free speech should be sacrosanct as it creates vital social energy which can be harnessed to do amazing things from crazy campaigns on Kickstarter to social campaigns like '#dontbethatguy'. Twitter was even used to help reconnect families separated by the tsunami in Japan when the main line phone system crumbled... the things we can do with the right tools and the ability to interact freely amazes me more every day.

Yet free speech comes with its problems; some would argue that communication through the internet is devoid of a moral compass and that people become monsters when they sit behind a screen. These people would see free speech on the internet curtailed by regulation in an attempt to contain the maliciousness that seems to be let loose by the anonymity of the internet.

These people aren't wrong, whilst the freedom to speak your mind is a powerful tool it is also easily abused. Out in the society we have methods to censure those who cross the lines we have drawn whereas the internet hasn't drawn lines yet and it sorely needs to.

The only way we can generate these social rules is through consensus and dialogue. Twitter should harness this social energy from its community and use that to generate a positive dialogue as to how to solve this online ethical crisis. My suggestion is just one idea for how to kick-start this properly.

Finally

Why is this good for Twitter? Firstly the cost of having a moderation team to oversee around 400 million tweets a day would be lessened once this system was up and running.

More importantly it gives Twitter the protection of not having to be the moderators of free speech on the internet. If misdemeanors and stupid off-hand comments are handled by the community and proper malicious threats are handled by the authorities then Twitter can do what it is good at - running Twitter. Rather than getting caught up deciding what is or is not acceptable for everyone in its community.

Why is this good for us? It allows the public to determine in a democratic way what is and isn't acceptable. There will be disagreements and arguments about how cases are judged but that is society. Perhaps I am being naive but this sort of feature should create a positive dialogue about what is and isn't acceptable online and debate always results in some intelligent and ethical leaders rising to the top who can lead the charge towards a better net-future. .

I'm sure there are plenty of pros and cons that I haven't covered or thought of yet. The way people behave on the internet leaves a massive scope for debate about how we should be responding but we need to keep this discussion going. You've heard my thoughts feel free to let me know yours in the comments.

Interested in reading more from me. Go to finbarrbegley.wordpress.com for an archive of all my tech related blog posts