Ethical Communication Platforms

Marie ConnellyAs we talk about harassment and fake news online, we are often discussing what responsibility platforms have in the matter. What should they do? What shouldn’t they?

What does it mean to build an ethical platform? On this episode, with Marie Connelly of Vox Media’s product team, we talk about how algorithms aren’t a simple answer, why we should treat spam like we treat harassment and the cost of thoughtlessness. Plus:

  • What Marie did that caused lurkers to raise their hands
  • Community as education
  • Baking community engagement into products

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Big Quotes

“The days of writing documentation, tutorials and guides, based upon what you think will be the problem, or what you think people need to know, are dead.” -@patrickokeefe

“[With documentation and education,] I’m still trying to shed part of this mindset as an English major … ‘Oh, if I just get the words perfectly right, I will be able to explain this to everyone in one go.’ … What I have really learned in this work in the last year, is it’s important to get that message in as many places as possible, make sure it’s accessible to people, however they want to interact with it, but then also be available for all the times in between, because you can’t just build documentation and assume that people will come.” -@eyemadequiet

“When we announced [our first in-person] event, we also said, ‘Hey, we know that lots of people aren’t going to be able to make it, but let us know if you’re interested in doing something like this in your [local] community.’ When we did that, we found lots and lots of people raised their hands and said, ‘Yeah, I want to do this in London, in Kigali, in Delhi.’ And when I started to go in and look at who was responding and volunteering to attend or organize events like this, a lot of them had never contributed to our community. They’d never posted publicly, but they had been reading the updates and following the discussions for, in some cases, years. And [that] showed the extent to which people may identify with your community, even if you don’t necessarily identify them as being a really strong member.” -@eyemadequiet

“I’m very concerned about this idea that algorithms are neutral because they are technology. Algorithms are created by people, and humans are imperfect. We have our own biases, we have our own perspectives. I think this idea that you can build tools that don’t reflect that is naive. We need to be more aware of those assumptions that we are baking into our platforms.” -@eyemadequiet

“Everybody going into building a communications tool is aware that spam is a problem. That somehow people are going to try to use this to scam people out of money. Why is it also not the default assumption that somehow people are going use this communication tool to post hateful content or engage in harassing behavior? I think a lot of that comes back to the demographics of our industry and who is building these tools, who’s leading these teams and not having a lot of marginalized voices in positions of power. To speak up and say, ‘Okay, wait, we’ve seen this before, we know what’s going to happen to people of color. We know what’s going to happen to women when they start speaking out in these places. We know what’s going to happen to other marginalized groups.’ This isn’t new anymore.” -@eyemadequiet

About Marie Connelly

Marie Connelly been managing communities online since 2007 and believes deeply in the power of community to make the web better for everyone.

Marie is currently a community manager on the product team at Vox Media, where she spends a lot of time thinking about editorial workflows, product documentation, training and communication. In the past, Marie has run community platforms for WEGO Health and the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University, served as the blog editor for A List Apart and contributed to The Pastry Box Project.

When not nerding out about words and the web, she can be found making ice cream and listening to songs that have handclaps.

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