Heather Champ and the Biggest Threats to Great Online Communities
A few weeks ago, the Community Signal team was discussing the upcoming schedule for the show and talking about the then recent news that Ravelry had decided to ban any pro-Trump related content. Community guidelines and how we moderate conversations in our respective communities are frequent topics on Community Signal, and it’s also something that we work on everyday as community professionals. If you’re contemplating new community guidelines, revising your existing ones, or debating a tough moderation decision, this episode has some terrific insights from Heather Champ.
Sharing stories from her time guiding community at Flickr, Tumblr, and more, it’s most interesting to hear from Heather not about exciting new tools and automations, but instead about how much empowering community members with options, filters, and clear community guidelines can create flourishing spaces for expression. Heather also brings up a very important topic –– the level of vulnerability that community managers face in their jobs and the repercussions of trolling and stalking as we become more deeply embedded in our communities. With Heather’s experience comes deep insights and knowledge, but also a clear message that we need to pay attention to the roles and protections that we’re building for community managers and our communities.
Patrick and Heather discuss:
- Why algorithms can’t replace moderators
- How Flickr created a safe space for sharing adult content
- The role that Section 230 plays in fostering healthy conversations for everyone, including community managers
Defining clear community guidelines and sticking to them (8:10): “A company can decide what is and isn’t appropriate and then have the strength to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this behavior because you are, as a company, what you allow people to post.” –Heather Champ
The role of humor in community management (38:52): “As people who are representing the voice of a company or representing trying to talk about these things, where I see things go off the rails is people not understanding that while you can always make fun of yourself or the company as a whole, you can’t use humor to make fun of other people or even other individuals within your company. I love making fun of myself. That’s not a problem. Just be very careful of what might come across like your humor at somebody else’s expense.” –Heather Champ
How Section 230 protects those you agree with and those you don’t (47:59): “Section 230 is the same law that protected me when I was 13 years old and started moderating content. It’s the same law that protects me now. [It applies to] big companies, small companies. It’s the thing that says that you can have a space where you can say, ‘This isn’t okay.’ It doesn’t matter what that is. If you want to start a community and you’re a Republican and you want to make it so that no one can say bad things about the president, Section 230 has got your back. You can do that.” –@patrickokeefe
On the implications of working in community management (54:41): “Flickr was the best of times and the worst of times. It was absolutely magical, but a lot of what happened there has had a lasting impact. I’m on a [Department of Justice] victims list for extortion because somebody was upset that their account was deleted and they threatened to put my face on pornography and flood it out there. … Subsequently to that, I was at a different company where I insisted on having a persona because I was so completely freaked out by … other issues with harassment and stalking that happened.” –Heather Champ
About Heather Champ
Heather Champ built her first homepage in 1994 and has worked online ever since. Joining Flickr immediately after the acquisition by Yahoo in 2005, she cowrote Flickr’s community guidelines, which became a template for best practices around the web.
Heather has led community teams at Flickr, Findery, and FiftyThree and consulted with Tumblr, Etsy, and VSCO. Enamored with photography, she created The Mirror Project (1999–2005), a website that celebrated self-portraiture well before “selfies” were a thing, and cofounded JPG Magazine, the photography magazine made by its community. She lives outside of Portland on two acres with her husband and continues to learn new things about communities from their dogs, goats, chickens, and turkeys.
- Heather Champ on Instagram
- The Mirror Project
- JPG Magazine
- Facebook’s $5 billion FTC fine is an embarrassing joke
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
- Twitter’s rules
- Derek Powazek on Community Signal
- The Right Way to Build an Online Community: 3 Rules From Investor and Flickr Cofounder Caterina Fake
- Ravelry bans Trump support: why a popular knitting website’s anti-Trump stanceis so significant
- Milk Barn Farm Tumblr
- Tom Coates’ take on Flickr
- Flickr’s safe, moderate, and restricted content definitions
- DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
- Flickr’s community guidelines, which Heather co-wrote with George Oates
- David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on Community Signal
- WeTransfer, where Heather currently works
- Senator Ron Wyden, Christopher Cox, and Senator Ed Markey
- The Telecommunications Act of 1996
- SESTA and FOSTA
[00:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal. We have been on some sort of forced summer vacation. I don’t think the podcast gods wanted us to do a show, but I’ve been itching to get back and I couldn’t be any more excited about our guest, Heather Champ.
Heather is a legend in the community space for her work at Flickr and she’s one of my favorite voices in our profession. I’ve wanted to have her on for as long as I’ve been doing the show. She’s feeling a bit down about online communities right now and we’re going to discuss why.
Thank you to our wonderful supporters on Patreon, including Rachel Medanic, Serena Snoad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley. If you find value in our program, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle to find out more.
Heather Champ built her first home page in 1994 and has worked online ever since. Joining Flickr immediately after the acquisition by Yahoo in 2005, she co-wrote Flickr’s community guidelines which became a template for best practices around the web. Heather has led community teams at Flickr, Findery, and FiftyThree and consulted with Tumblr, Etsy, and VSCO.
Enamored with photography, she created The Mirror Project, a website that celebrated self-portraiture well before selfies were a thing and co-founded JPG Magazine, the photography magazine made by its community. She lives outside Portland on two acres with her husband and continues to learn new things about communities from their dogs, goats, chickens, and turkeys. Heather, welcome to the show.
[00:01:38] Heather Champ: Hello. How are you?
[00:01:40] Patrick O’Keefe: I am great. It’s so good to have you on. As I mentioned at the top of the show I’ve had you at the very top of my list of potential guests for quite a while. Probably as long as I’ve been doing this show frankly and I’m so glad that we were able to find some time.
[00:01:55] Heather Champ: I feel embarrassed because it has been a long time. I don’t remember when you first contacted me but I do have a strong memory of agreeing to do the show probably this time in 2016. Then you sent me a survey. I’m really bad about signing out forms, and then feeling embarrassed about that. Then the election happened and I had a real moment of crisis. At the end of November, I rage-quit Twitter. I no longer have a Facebook account.
I’d really struggled with community for a while and wanted to think about it, where it’s going. I didn’t know how to talk about with anyone other than people who know me really well kind of what was going on in my brain, and what I wanted to do. It was this even an industry that I still wanted to participate in given where things are. Now it’s a few scandals on and a couple of years. It just seems like this is- I don’t want to say this is the new normal. That sounds a little cliche, but this is where we’re at.
What do we make of what’s happening? What’s going on? What does community mean and what does it mean to be a part of a community? What are our responsibilities? What are ethical responsibilities to our users? I’m just really struggling with it?
[00:03:14] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting because if I listen close enough I think in the background I can hear Robert Mueller testifying right now in front of the House Intelligence Committee which is led by my representative Adam Schiff who I actually like, but what do you think the election– in some ways I can guess. I have friends just all over the place, as you do too. I have friends who live in Georgia and were once just super conservative, identified with Republican that left the party during that cycle essentially.
Friends- they wouldn’t be friends of mine any longer. [laughs] Really, but they essentially said, “I don’t know these people. These people I don’t know here. I don’t know these people anymore.” They voted against Trump. They voted for Hilary Clinton even though if you talk to them 20 years ago, 15 years ago there’s no way they would have voted for Clinton. They’re good people who can change, and evolve, and adjust and see things for what they are, right?
I get the catalyst of that how because that night was just crazy. It was the internet failing like what was sort of the more words like, “Okay, now, do I even want to do this anymore?” Because this happened, it makes me reevaluate everything.
[00:04:13] Heather Champ: I was born and went to school in Canada. I’ve been in the US for close to 30 years, very close to 30 years now. I became a citizen on March 1st of 2016.
[00:04:25] Patrick O’Keefe: You don’t know if there is a right time, I think it was two months later you got the nominations. [laughs] You really chose the moment.
[00:04:30] Heather Champ: When we were living in San Francisco, it was again tech survey representation. We lived in a place where it really didn’t feel like my vote mattered all that much. Derek and I have now moved to Oregon. We live in a small town outside of Portland and if you look at the precinct data in Portland, it starts out pretty blue. By the time you get out to where we’re living it’s red. I realized you know what, actually now it does make a difference. It was beautiful moving and then as we were moving towards the election, if we look at let’s say the big online spaces where people are having conversations.
[00:05:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
[00:05:06] Heather Champ: Yes. Looking at leading up to the election, the short-term business decisions that were being made by individuals who really may not have a lot of life experience or being in a position where they are at risk making these short-term business decisions that then are setting the standards for how communities will function. So you’ve got top-down justification for moderation, a lot of moderation.
I really feel that those decisions that had been made for possibly 10 years leading up to this have had a huge impact on online communities. Now, it’s even developed further, we look at Cambridge Analytical and all of these- there’s just a new article out that Facebook I don’t even know what the $5 billion–
[00:05:59] Patrick O’Keefe: Fines for…
Now there has been this timeline where venture capital comes into it, and now people are like, “This internet’s going to be a thing,” as opposed to, “It’s never going to take off,” and you have people looking at it like, “This is how we’re going to make money.” Well, making money people have to make certain choices and decisions on growth.
[00:06:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Scale and growth hacking. [laughs]
[00:06:55] Heather Champ: Yes. Scale and growth hacking versus organic growth and so you have these decisions that are being made in terms of what is and isn’t appropriate. For me, as somebody who feels very strongly about protecting the user, I didn’t want to participate in communities where I didn’t feel like the people who were running the company have the best interest at heart. I just rage quit Twitter and I didn’t have a huge account. I had maybe like 5,000 people following me. I loved it because I felt like I had a certain community of people who I really loved engaging with. Then there are certain people who are gone. I don’t have other ways. Granted, I still do have an Instagram account and of course, there are problems and it sounds very hypocritical that I would quit too and not Instagram, but I feel like we’re at this point in time where it’s even getting crazier now, right? So we have Congress wants to– I sent this to you in an email. What’s the–?
[00:07:55] Patrick O’Keefe: Section 230.
[00:07:56] Heather Champ: Section 230-
[00:07:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:07:58] Heather Champ: Do you think it can get any worse? I’m like “Yes” and yet it’s just like–
[00:08:05] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a tough time.
[00:08:05] Heather Champ: It’s so interesting because these communities are not government, right?
[00:08:10] Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
[00:08:10] Heather Champ: Part of you joining a community and in any terms of service, there is a line that we reserve the right to terminate any account for any reason. That is where it’s at. Then a company can decide what is and isn’t appropriate and then have the strength to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this behavior because you are as a company what you allow people to post.
It’s very obvious that I come down on the side of it’s not all good and not all communities have to be all things for all people. We shouldn’t be tolerating this because I bet for let’s say 99% of the people Twitter is an awesome place, but for the 1% of people, it’s a terrible horrible place. There just are horrific behaviors that are going on seemingly because the company isn’t taking action. It is now signaling to the rest of the industry that this behavior is okay.
It really puts some people at real risk to the point where people have died like swatted, “Oho, haha,” like swat it and they kill people in their houses. Really, is this what it means to be a responsible industry? We left San Francisco, we moved here in 2014. We’re on two acres. I can step away and go outside and sit down with my baby goats and it’s just like getting a huge serotonin boost and feel better.
What can we– what can I do as an individual where I’m 56 years old, I’ve been doing this for a really long time but that in itself is something where you’re just an old dumb white lady, what can you bring to this? I’m like, “I’m in my ‘20s I make how many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I know more than you do,” and it’s like, “Well, do you? Do you?”
[00:10:05] Patrick O’Keefe: [laughs] It’s history. There’s a lot here. I kind of want to put it in kind of where you introduced a third category. I think the first thing you’re really talking about is sort of the– We got online in ’95. Apple Mac Center 610, that was my first computer. We got that ’93. My parents got us online in ’95. I think I launched my first Geocities in ’96. I don’t know if you call it a homepage or not, but like Angelfire, I’m sorry with Angelfire. I launched my first homepage was Angelfire. It was one page. It was like in teal with white text. It was a thing.
[00:10:32] Heather Champ: They were still fugly– [crosstalk]. It was like, “Oh, my God.”
[00:10:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it was a thing. What I hear you talk about that era to now I really hear about sort of, you can talk to anybody who’s been doing this sort of thing for a long time community blogging, whatever writing online and they’ll talk about sort of how decentralized the web was, compared to today. Everyone had their own niche, everyone had their own blog, then we grew up a little bit we had little communities and congregated, but they were all essentially like small-ish, even the big ones at the time.
I would say what something like– I was in Yahoo chat rooms at one point. Yahoo chat rooms was a really dominant chat room at one point. Even that didn’t feel like it was big and overwhelming. It was just a place where a lot of people were. Now you have sort of the last– You put the last 10 years, but where a lot of people who had those sorts of things who had a blog or had something they did, have sort of forsaken those things.
Myself included, unfortunately, I looked at my blog the other day, I realized I hadn’t written in two years. Before that, it was a year or so. Everyone is congregating in so many singular spaces where I don’t know, there’s just not enough specialization. Those places still exist. You can still Google anything and add community or forum to the end and find an active community for that thing and people seek it out.
I have my day job and then I have my own one community that I manage, karateforums.com, sort of back burner for me, but a nice community of people interested in the martial arts. We’ve had people who have come back after 5, 6, 8. Is 19 years old now, or it turned 18 in May. It’s about 18 plus. I think people come back after five years, six, eight years of being gone and say, “Hey, I’m so glad this blog is still here.”
They’re rediscovering it, which is kind of funny that you can be around for that long where people can go away and like live lives and then come back and say, “Hey, how’s everybody doing?” Like, “I’m so glad this is still here. I’m fed up with what I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, and I just want to talk about the martial arts.” That sort of decentralization is, I think part of the problem. Of course, like I talked about this with Derek a lot and– Derek’s hanging out on Twitter I know fighting for all of us.
[00:12:31] Patrick O’Keefe: Some people would say Twitter is not a community, it is a community, it’s communications platform, whatever. Twitter’s policies to me were never the problem, right? You can go read Twitter’s guidelines, they’re like, “Yes, that’s fine. These are fine.” It was always the application of them. It was always how they were applied, how consistently they were applied, who they were applied to.
They’ve come out now and say, essentially, that public leaders don’t have to follow their guidelines, which is certainly a choice but that’s one of the choices that I think when you’re talking about choices they’ve made it’s that sort of choice that I think creates this sort of hostile environment that we’re in right now where we don’t really see a way back. I don’t see– There’s a great phrase not to draw from Derek Powazek’s episode too much but, you are what you tolerate, he said that and I think that’s a great thing.
I read an interview with Caterina Fake. She said that you said that. I think you both said that and now I’m saying that. You are what you tolerate. Twitter at this point has tolerated so much where there is no going back. Twitter is just what it is. You rage quit it and it hasn’t changed since you rage quit frankly, it is probably not going to. It’s just is what it is now because of the choices they’ve made.
[00:13:34] Heather Champ: True. I guess that we as individuals have to decide if that’s something we’re okay with. For me–
[00:13:41] Patrick O’Keefe: You weren’t.
[00:13:42] Heather Champ: I’m not.
[00:13:42] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I thought about it. [laughs]
[00:13:44] Heather Champ: I guess what is the value? I realized there’s some people who can’t, right? Absolutely. There are certain people this is their main individual creators. This is their kind of way forward. I just really struggle. Granted, if I ever was in a different position, I have the luxury of being able to rage quitting. I have so much privilege in kind of all of these things. Even looking back to, oh my god, I built my homepage in 1994. That’s an incredible amount of privilege to be online.
It’s still really expensive, or to have the equipment. I can look at my desk and there’s thousands of dollars of equipment line here. There’s still so much privilege. Other people may not have the choices. I just kind of feel like we’ve done a huge disservice to people with putting money and growth over people’s happiness and their safety, a kind of hope that there’s a multiverse and somewhere in a different multiverse out there, I’d love to know if the decisions were different. Would the outcome be the same or different?
You have people who are making hard choices like, “No one, I’m not going to allow this,” or, “No, just because you’re a public figure, you can’t be an asshole.” Stand up and do that. What would that look like? Because I don’t know. If you said, “These are the guidelines.” You can see political figures who have absolutely violated that. I don’t know, what would come from tossing the president of the United States off of Twitter. I think that’s engaging, I don’t know.
Did you ever watch, was it the very first episode of Black Mirror? The one where the politician in the US has to violate a pig? There’s the scene in that episode-
[00:15:36] Patrick O’Keefe: No, I didn’t.
[00:15:36] Heather Champ: -where you have all the lawyers sitting in the room discussing what to do about this. I remember at Flickr, it wasn’t about violating a pig, but there would be discussions of, “Here’s an event that’s happening or what’s going on. Then how do we look that from a legal perspective?” What are our responsibilities? What do we legally need to do? Then what is best for– These are just trying to go through.
I remember watching that episode and I’m like, “This isn’t really near-future science fiction, it actually happens in some form right now. I just wish that we could be a fly on a wall to some of those decisions and just understand how because I don’t know.
[00:16:19] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s tough to moderate scared. That’s what I think happens in a lot of cases. There was someone blocked on Twitter, I have no idea who she is, couldn’t tell you a name. I happened to see the president tweeted about it and said that, “This one person was blocked on Twitter and Twitter should fix it.” She was – they’ve invented this term for people who have loved ones that are killed by people who are here illegally or undocumented immigrants, “angel mom,” but let’s not even get into that.
It lays a societal context over moderation where, “Okay, this person experienced tragedy, and that’s terrible. I’m compassionate and empathetic to them. Therefore, the standards should apply to them differently. It doesn’t matter. It could be you’re the president. You’re the president of this country, you’re a leader. You are a veteran. You are a teacher, you know any number of functions in society, jobs, people perform things where people sacrifice Facebook, Twitter. I find that they often moderate in this scared way that has to do with PR. You can’t do it.
[00:17:11] Heather Champ: Exactly, exactly. What is the media story? The problem is, though, with that idea is that we don’t know that. If somebody who doesn’t have that experience or doesn’t fit into one of those buckets, then they see like, “Oh, this individual can do this.” They don’t know that they can do it because of that. If that individual can do, why can’t I? Then you end up with this really weirdly porous, applied guidelines, where if people see that I can do this, why can’t I?
Here’s the thing. You don’t want to piss people off, because if you piss people off, then they retaliate. The way that they retaliate, then brings it to somewhere else online, right? That can happen in other ways so then it leaks out into other places where then people get docked and all of that because it feels to me like there are really no civil discourse, has like gone completely out the window and it is so divided that people don’t want to put people at risk. The train has gone out of the station. It’s gone. We can’t come back for that. This is what it is. It’s having real-world implications we know that are just now, it’s like the snowball is going down the hill and it’s getting bigger and bigger.
[00:18:31] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s funny because when–
[00:18:31] Heather Champ: Wow, this is a cheery show.
[00:18:34] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I know. It’s so funny you mentioned that you read my mind there. It’s funny because when I was coming up with things I wanted to discuss with you, one of the things I had on my earlier slate of ideas and questions is, are you optimistic about online communities? Because I really felt that you just from following you loosely seeing that maybe you wouldn’t be and then when I asked you what you were thinking about, you actually told me that you’re feeling pretty down about community and I wasn’t asked why we got into that. We took care of that.
[00:19:00] Heather Champ: These are the big communities. What’s going on in the smaller modest communities where they probably are running a division scale. We have Ravelry, like, oh my God, I want a group hug Ravelry for the choices that they’ve made recently. Because you have niche communities. Those are the things that I love right now. These are the places where I feel people have a better understanding of how their choices have impact. You have a company like Ravelry where they have decided, no conservative politics. It’s no Trump. That’s a good point.
[00:19:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Ted Cruz is fine.
[00:19:37] Heather Champ: I’m sorry.
[00:19:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Ted Cruz is fine. [laughter] He’s not Trump. As long as you’re not talking about Trump or his policies.
[00:19:45] Heather Champ: Right, and so that– You have an online community.
[00:19:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Just to back up a second, so Ravelry came out and they said last month that they had expanded their policy on hate speech to include, “Support of Donald Trump and his administration.” If you’re in support of Trump or his administration, that’s now under their hate speech policy. Continue.
[00:20:01] Heather Champ: This isn’t to say that you can’t be a member. It’s just that it is something that really isn’t appropriate or isn’t allowed in this community.
[00:20:11] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, that’s part of who you are, you can’t share that part of who you are here. You can be someone who loves knitting and who loves knitting flowers and doing everything else, but if you want to knit the President, find somewhere else.
[00:20:21] Heather Champ: I think that’s interesting. I’m sure it’s going to be one of those things where, with any guideline that you create, people are trying to saddle up to it as close as they can without causing issues. That is the challenge of any moderation team who’s moderating. How do people interpret those guidelines? There’s always a balance when you’re writing guidelines about being specific. You can’t write all the words of what it means because then people will really try and go-
[00:20:50] Patrick O’Keefe: What it teaches. [laughs]
[00:20:50] Heather Champ: -as far as they can. Yes, but there’s an awesome article on Vox about this and what that means, because it’s not one thing. When you start unraveling, there are so many aspects to what this is about. Something that I’ve seen on Instagram, definitely in the last year, is more conversations about privilege, about people of color, about body consciousness or body inclusivity. I’m probably saying the wrong things, but it’s something where there’s so much wrapped into it that people don’t want to accept the nuance of these things.
It’s just like, “Oh, they’re just a bunch of lefty liberals.” It’s like, “No, let’s slowly pick it apart and look at the bigger story about the underrepresentation of people, like, who is featured.” I’m not talking about on Ravelry now, just in general how people participate. I am a member, a very lax member of Ravelry. I get an American Knitting Company catalog. I think I finally stopped getting it. It was driving me crazy.
If you would go through, it was all like white ladies. I’m just like, “How can you tell me that there are no knitters of color?” Who are you selling to? How are you representing? You go through and you look at companies who make things for people. Is it all like skinny white women? If you don’t see yourself, then how are we continuing this vision of what sells, what people will buy?
[00:22:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. It’s interesting because one thing that gets lost in the Ravelry stuff, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, you’re not on Twitter, so maybe you haven’t, you’re so lucky, there was sort of this hubbub about that, predictable in a lot of ways like, “This is why, this is what they think of us. We can’t even have a space,” all the sort of predictable reaction. Now it’s over.
I think part of the reason for that, and if you don’t manage communities, if you don’t moderate communities, you don’t really get this, but when you start something to be something specific, and you have something that threatens your time commitment, where you have to spend all your time on that thing and takes away from your main thing, then it’s not a hard thing to get rid of. Just to be more specific, like the martial arts community I manage, we’ve banned politics for like 17 of our 18 years.
[00:23:07] Patrick O’Keefe: That was done a week after we launched. I was like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is a community about the martial arts. I’m not here to moderate your thoughts on President Bush, or Gore, or whoever. That’s not my life. There’s plenty of places you can do that stuff. This is a martial arts community, and that’s just not relevant.” From a Ravelry perspective, I see it in two ways. I see number one in the sense that, “Oh, God, we got to deal with all this crap now that Trump is starting, and everything he says gets knit into a pattern that we have to then get reported and vet, and look at, and spend moderator hours on.”
Because as you know, and this is why I recommend people generally just ban politics if they’re not about politics, especially volunteer moderators, and which is most communities, you can spend 90% of your time talking about stuff and reading through posts that have nothing to do with what your community is about because those are the most heated and challenging things.
First of all, there’s wasting time on this, but number two, the point you were getting at is are the things we’re allowing inspiring the type of audience that we hope to cultivate and the type of community we hope to cultivate? If we allow these sorts of things– I did plastic canvas knitting. My great grandmother taught me, and I can still do that, but that’s the extent of my knitting prowess.
If people are talking about things the President is espousing, if they’re talking about, let’s say, we all know there was build-a-wall patterns up there. If they were talking about building the wall, is that encouraging people from these groups to join this community, and if we want those people, or are we turning them away? We’re here to be an inclusive knitting community. We’re going to make choices that make sense for that goal.
From that perspective, regardless of where you fall, if you’re a logical thinking person, it’s a very defensible, I don’t want to say common sense anymore because I think that’s dead, but it’s a very defensible move. It makes a lot of sense.
[00:24:52] Heather Champ: [laughs] Right. When I first read about it, what I was more concerned about for them were not the people within the community, but that brought anger from people outside the community coming in. People who are never going to knit, but like, “Oh, my God, I have an opinion about your guidelines.” Well, yes, you have an opinion, but–
[00:25:10] Patrick O’Keefe: If you’re not in the Elks Club, who cares what you think of the Elks Club?
[00:25:13] Heather Champ: Exactly. Maybe niche communities. I think part of the problem is large communities who want to be everything for everybody. Because we as human beings are so multifaceted. How can I be me as the person who doesn’t crochet as much as I used to participate in that, versus the person who milks goats a couple of days a week, versus the person who is a remote worker for a European company?
I don’t need to express all of those in one place. Maybe who I am on Instagram is like this little portal into aspects that I choose to share. I don’t know if you’ve seen that picture where it’s like a frame that’s perfect, and then outside the frame is there’s complete chaos going on. It’s not necessarily a complete representation of ourselves.
[00:26:06] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to come back to Section 230 because I think it’s really important to talk about it. I wanted to change gears for a second. I don’t know if it’s more lighthearted, but you just mentioned your goats. Can you tell the goat Tumblr story about the content you had removed?
[00:26:17] Heather Champ: It’s so funny because we really enjoyed Tumblr, and when that happened, we stopped posting and that was the end. I don’t know. It must have been the first summer or the second summer, so 2015 or 2016. Derek and I had a Milk Barn Farm Tumblr where we would paste various bits of content. I think it was midsummer, one of the goats was sitting on the picnic table, and I recorded this video of her ruminating. Ruminating goats have three stomachs. Food goes into one stomach, they regurgitate it, and they masticate, and then they swallow it again.
It’s just fun to watch because you can actually see it go down and come up again, and it has sound like somebody’s chewing. It’s the person you don’t want to have dinner with because it’s very loud. She’s a fawn colored goat. She’s very pale. The sunset was behind her that was very pink and golden tone. Let’s say possibly flesh colors. Then it was this slapping sound of a goat chewing, and it got tagged for being pornography. This is the story you’re talking about?
[00:27:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, because you were on Twitter then, and we talked about it on Twitter because you made it– I think you said something about they need to hire more people, and I joked that they were hiring plenty of engineers because their jobs page had a bunch of engineers and no community hires.
[00:27:36] Heather Champ: It was, obviously, like somehow this had tricked some algorithm into fleshy pink colors and slapping sounds, and it’s pornography. It’s a goat ruminating. You can’t allow for algorithmic moderation because there’s always going to be that outlier to what was going on. Derek and I had done some work for Tumblr. I reached out to somebody that we had worked with like, “Hey.” It got unblocked but then it got blocked again. It was somehow tripping something.
You can have certain parts of moderation being done by robots, but then at the end of the day, a human has to look at it and figure out if this is safe or sane. Because that really bummed us out and we stopped posting to it because like, “Oh, are we going to keep having this problem?” It probably got removed quickly because we knew somebody, but not everybody knows somebody to deal with this. Those were part of the problems of how we look at content moderation.
[00:28:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Anyway, it’s interesting coming from you because you’re obviously someone who understands the challenges of moderation and scaling moderation, and the things that can happen as you have to make those decisions, and the pressures that exist on you. You are not happy.
[00:28:51] Heather Champ: Oh, my God, at Flickr, we were doing something. I guess there was an integration with– I can’t remember what companies were, but, “Hey, you can take your photos, and you can put your photos on stuff.” I was like, “Awesome. Let’s try it out. Let’s make sure this is a good process for people.” Oh my God, every time I got like, “No, we can’t do this. This violates our guidelines.” I’m the community manager. How is this violating?
One of them was a photo that I had taken with a pinhole camera of a cement stack statue in a friend’s backyard of Eve holding an apple. That violated the nudity guideline. I’m like, “She’s a cement lady who’s holding an apple.” Another one was a picture I’d taken on Haight Street of a de-stuffed Elmo sitting on top of a news box. It was like, “No Sesame Street. You can’t do Sesame Street characters.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, okay.” I do have a good track record of tripping over community guidelines in a ridiculous way.
[00:29:49] Patrick O’Keefe: Now, as you mentioned, you’re active on Instagram. Last year, Tom Coates was lamenting what he saw as Flickr’s declining sense of community. I came across it just searching for your name, I’ll be honest, and seeing what people have said since you left Twitter and he credited you with the work you did there. He said, “Honestly, just a more engaged humane version of Instagram would be a huge step forward.”
I was just curious, given, obviously your time at Flickr, where do you think Instagram fits in, in this online photo community of lineage if that makes any sense? Do you get anything out of Instagram that resembles what you once got out of Flickr?
[00:30:24] Heather Champ: Yes. Well, this week, for example, is Roll Film Week. There are a lot of people that I knew who are photographers on Flickr and other people I’ve come to know, people are for five days sharing pictures that they’ve taken. I miss the groups a lot. Flickr groups were wonderful, because if you had an interest in X, there were 60 groups, because search was so bad at the beginning, that people couldn’t find each other, and they’d make more groups.
I do miss aspects of that. Something that I think is really interesting about photo communities is the struggle around nudity. Like, free the nipple. What is artistic nudity versus pornography and those boundaries shift for so many people. I kind of feel like the work that we did at Flickr around, “the adult wall” was super helpful, because the idea was that you could share content that wasn’t illegal or prohibited that was between consenting adults. There was safe, moderate, or restricted. We created a place where people could share content to people who wanted to see it in a way that was respectful within the community. You could share full nudity, and you just had to mark it as restricted. This came about as part of it internationalization plan because different countries have different regulations about what is and isn’t allowed and they’re like social norms about what is and isn’t allowed or how it’s shared.
By putting up this adult wall, it was a place where we never wanted to be the judges or arbiters of what isn’t artistic nudity. I graduated a bazillion years ago with a Fine Arts degree. I’m going to have a very different idea about what is their artistic nude that you will have or 50 other people on the street. That was a way to remove judgment from that, as long as you are doing it respectfully. If you have people who are uploading content, marking it restricted then other people who had opted in to see restricted content could see that.
It took away our having to judge and allow people to share in a global environment because what’s really interesting to me is, the birth of the internet happened in the US and came out of the DARPA initiative, whatever. A lot of what is seen online is based on the US Constitution and American culture. The US is the only country in the world that has freedom of speech baked into the documents.
Americans now broadcast that around the world but that doesn’t exist everywhere else. If you have companies, people on the ground in countries, then you have to abide by those guidelines. You’ve got these different structures around what is allowed, who can see it, but a lot of Americans don’t understand that. They don’t understand what that means. Then I would say, a lot of people don’t even understand what freedom of speech is.
They think that you can say whatever you want. Well, you can’t say whatever you want at any time but should you say that. Then this comes back to Article 230 because Twitter isn’t a government. It doesn’t have to allow freedom of speech. It can absolutely say what is acceptable, what isn’t acceptable. I think there’s this incredible struggle. By creating an adult wallet Flickr, we took some of the pressure off where people could still be themselves and share what they want to share.
I think there’s a real struggle with Instagram, even just around nudity and that free the nipple campaign, part of it is any nipple is sexualized, where that isn’t the case. Like, where you just see them tripping over themselves with guidelines of like, this is a sexualized image of a woman breastfeeding. That’s not a sexual act. What that comes down to, I think, is again, content moderation gone awry, where you may have people flagging it, who think it’s inappropriate.
Then the whole issue around content moderation is how can we make this as cheap as possible? You’ve got US companies who are then offshoring content moderation to other countries where they can probably do it for cheaper. The training materials to actually try and enable people to understand what that means, that can be very difficult. Some of the things to keep in mind is some of the content that you need people to train and look at, if it’s illegal or prohibited, you can’t put it into the training materials. People don’t even really know what that means, right? For a lot of stuff that’s like the big bad stuff is really clearly obvious. For some of this more nuanced stuff, you have people who are like, “Oh my God. This is costing us too much in the US. We want to send it to the Philippines or like sites as a company that Yahoo had used.
They were sending it to Manila, where they can pay people a lot less, which I think is just gross and reprehensible for all these companies who are doing this. There are articles written about this where you’ve got people who are doing the most difficult labor who are being paid the least in this. That’s another real imbalance in that. I see the struggle that because it’s so simple on Instagram, it’s just the stream.
There isn’t a lot of nuance to allowing people to potentially add filters for what they want to see, what they want to see. I think it’d be awesome if there would be a way to add filtering on top of that to allow people to have a little bit more freedom so that people can share what they want to share that isn’t illegal or prohibited. That’s between consenting adults. There would be more freedom, more creative freedom.
If you think about it, the big difference was that Flickr was web first and Instagram was mobile first and is mobile, period, really. It doesn’t really have a web base. They’re very different things, but I think that there’s a way that you might be able to do some of these things. Well, like do some of these things if you were starting all over again. It’d be really hard to kind of change the tires on a race car that’s driving around the track.
[00:36:44] Patrick O’Keefe: You talk about groups on Flickr like Instagram really has just hashtags. That’s kind of it, right?
[00:36:49] Heather Champ: Right.
[00:36:50] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s all there is when it comes to curation. You can set your account as private and you can use hashtags. That’s very much all you can do on Instagram.
[00:36:58] Heather Champ: Yes. So many times, I’ll see something and somehow I get distracted. I can’t find that thing ever again.
[00:37:04] Patrick O’Keefe: When you were writing Flickr’s community guidelines, did you look anywhere for inspiration? Was there any other communities who are part of that where this seems like good policy or something that came before? Was there anything you look to on?
[00:37:16] Heather Champ: I can’t remember. The community guidelines, I co-wrote with George Oates and it took a while. It was an ongoing document and it started as a discussion. It’s pretty funny that you would have a Canadian and an Australian having a conversation about what is and isn’t appropriate for ostensibly what started as a US company. I had had experience writing guidelines for the Mirror Project. When I started that, it was so simple. Take a picture of yourself in a reflective surface, period.
[00:37:48] Patrick O’Keefe: [laughs]
[00:37:49] Heather Champ: You think that’s fairly straightforward. It just got longer and longer and longer. I had had experience in writing this and knowing that words matter and nuance is everything. I’m kind of a nightmare when people are writing documents because I will look at every phrase and sentence and how will people read into it and what are we missing because that’s the problem. It’s not the words that people see. It’s the words they don’t see and the stories that they write in their heads about what that means, right?
[00:38:18] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:38:19] Heather Champ: George and I had an ongoing conversation. We were commuting to and from San Francisco down to Sunnyvale and we would just write bits and pieces. It was I think in a shared doc and we’d go back and forth. There was a little bit of humor in it. That’s a whole other conversation we had about humor, but I don’t really remember where else we may have looked. That’s a while ago now.
[00:38:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, totally fair.
[00:38:42] Heather Champ: I’m old. That’s 14 years ago.
[00:38:46] Patrick O’Keefe: [laughs] Let’s talk about humor. Humor in community guidelines? Humor in policies? Humor in communicating those policies?
[00:38:52] Heather Champ: As people who are representing the voice of a company or representing trying to talk about these things, where I see things go off the rails is people not understanding that while you can always make fun of yourself or the company as a whole, you can’t use humor to make fun of other people or even other individuals within your company, right?
You need to be very careful because everybody’s sense of humor is different. I’ve seen situations where people would try to be jokey about something. I just remember one thing wherein a Flickr forum, the team was always wonderful about coming in to help out and somebody who– I can’t remember who it was exactly, but I had been responding about why something wasn’t what it was.
The individual wrote that they couldn’t do it because there was a team of Mossad agents in the office standing over us, blah, blah, blah. Whenever my desk phone rang, I knew that was just never a good thing because the team would just stand up and go and find each other. Somebody from legal was like, “It would be really helpful if you could reword that because it’s suggesting that Israeli agents are in the Yahoo offices having an impact on our policies might not be a good thing.”
I was like, “That’s absolutely correct. We’ll go deal with that,” just like what the implications are. Also, making fun of people. I don’t know. It seems like it’s a national pastime right now. It’s just something I try to avoid. I love making fun of myself. That’s not a problem. Just being very careful of what that might come across like your humor at somebody else’s expense.
[00:40:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s go from humor to humorless. [laughs] Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. When I asked you about community challenges you were thinking about right now, you named Section 230 and how Congress could rewrite it. We’ve spent a fair amount of time on the show talking about this. I actually had the civil liberties director of the EFF on recently to break it down and talk through the implications of it and what could happen and answer it from that legal perspective.
You know what? I don’t think it’s possible to talk about Section 230 enough. Forget regular citizens because regular citizens don’t get it. Forget them. Professionals that do this work, not enough of them understand how important Section 230 is and how it empowers the things that we’re talking about here, empowers rivalry’s choice, right?
[00:41:26] Heather Champ: Right.
[00:41:27] Patrick O’Keefe: It creates that choice. You build community in a lot of different contexts. How important is Section 230 to you?
[00:41:32] Heather Champ: It would remove no shoes, no shirt, no service. That goes out the window, right? We reserve the right to terminate any account at any time for any reason is gone. In terms of being the master of your own ship of determining what isn’t or is appropriate for your community, you no longer have the ability to make those decisions, the what is right for the health of your community.
Individuals who see that they are somehow being held back by like, “Oh, you can’t do this.” It’s like, “Well, why can’t I do it? Why can’t I be this totally hateful person?” You’re the balance. The persecution that conservatives see about themselves and about their abilities is astonishing to me. You have old white guys who make the most money ever are somehow feeling that they are losing their privileges and can’t do this anymore.
Yes, you can’t come and be hateful on the site or somehow it needs to be fair and “balanced.” What does that mean? How would we even do our job? It’s like safe harbor, right? If you have safe harbor in terms of content– My understanding, and I’m sure some of you will disagree, is essentially– This is a can of worms, but in terms of content notice and takedown.
If somebody notifies you that there is something wrong with the content, that you have an opportunity to remove that content in a timely manner and you won’t be prosecuted for having it up because you did what you need to do. If that doesn’t exist, then it’s prohibitive to do anything. With Section 230, with the idea of removing the rights of a company to self-determine what is and isn’t appropriate, that’s the bit about Section 230 that really concerns me.
[00:43:20] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re right.
[00:43:21] Heather Champ: You wouldn’t be able to say, “No politics,” anymore on your marital arts site, right?
[00:43:25] Patrick: Right. Yes, exactly. When you boil it down, Section 230, what it really means is that the liability for someone’s words sits with the author of the words and not with the means through which those words are communicated. If I come to your blog and I post a comment and I say something very stupid, illegally stupid, I am held accountable for them, right? You are not responsible for those words. That’s essentially what Section 230 provides in the US. As you highlight in other ways, that doesn’t exist around the world just in general.
It’s not a thing that exists. It’s one of the reasons why the US is so prominent when it comes to online communities and online community work is because they created an environment where we have that protection where we could exercise discretion over this basis that we are responsible for. Without 230, the protection goes away and people are able to bully people who manage these spaces, financially bully them, legally bully them to ensure that what they want on those spaces is what happens, not just what is necessarily right for that space.
Section 230 protects big and small. Right now, like you say, conservatives are banging the drum on this. I have never seen as much Section 230-related criticism as I have seen right now from people in actual roles of authority. I’ve always heard it from people. You’ve got Senator Hawley from, what state, maybe Missouri. Josh Hawley. He’s the youngest sitting senator in the United States. He was born on the last day of 1979. I’m sorry that I know all this.
[00:44:43] Heather Champ: Oh my God. [laughs]
[00:44:45] Patrick O’Keefe: He does not understand how the internet works. He just introduced a bill– It’ll never get to the House. Maybe it could through the Senate. Basically, what it does is it makes platforms of a certain size and he’s put the barrier fairly high. Most online communities wouldn’t qualify. What it says is that for platforms of that size, they have to submit to an FTC panel to prove that they are operating in a way that is politically neutral.
The definition of politically neutral would be determined by that FTC panel, which is, of course, appointed by the president and relates to whoever has power at that time. It’s called the Ending Support for [Internet] Censorship [Act]. It’s one of the really great bill names. What it does is it places the ability to censor in the hands of the government, and in this case, the FTC, to certify a platform on whether or not they are politically neutral.
If they are, then they can continue. If not, then they lose their, as you put it, safe harbor. The thing that is lost in this conversation constantly will be two things. Number one is Section 230 protects me as much as it protects Facebook. That’s really my big concern with Facebook and Twitter in general. One of the things that I’ve always been afraid of is that they would cost us laws that protect us because of their own negligence.
[00:45:58] Heather Champ: Yes, exactly. Exactly that. In the last year, I work for WeTransfer, a phone transferring services based in Amsterdam. It is so interesting to work for a European company. What was always interesting to me when I was working with Flickr were privacy rights. Privacy rights in the EU look very, very different to what privacy rights are in the US. To now be seeing all of this through the lens of the European company, companies really care about privacy. They really care about users in a way that Americans have essentially put in a barrel thrown over Niagara Falls.
[00:46:36] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting. You know a bit about the e-commerce directive then? [chuckles]
[00:46:38] Heather Champ: This is the thing. We’ve got these huge companies that have made shitty decisions that are now dragging the rest of us around and are going to do within. I don’t understand what the point is aside from making bags and bags of cash so they can build spaceships and blast off of planet Earth because they befouled the planet. They’re going to go live on Mars and drink the blood of small children to live forever. Is that the point? I don’t know how people sleep at night that make these decisions. How is this even possible? These are companies. Why does the government want to get in the job of regulating and determining what is censorship? I hate that word.
[00:47:21] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, that’s the funny thing about the Republicans is because they’re anti-regulation supposedly.
[00:47:25] Heather Champ: I know. I know.
[00:47:27] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t want to get too political, but the Republican Party now is like there’s no more party.
[00:47:31] Heather Champ: We’re anti-regulation, but there’s so many rules around my uterus versus everything else.
[00:47:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Correct, yes.
[00:47:38] Heather Champ: It’s like upside-down world.
[00:47:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Exactly. That’s the first thing is people don’t realize like Josh Hawley is really– Again, I highlight his age only because I’m disappointed. He’s about five years younger than me. He’s the youngest. He’s 39. He’s the youngest sitting senator and frankly doesn’t understand the internet. He’s introducing legislation that targets Section 230 as a big tech immunity. If you talk to anybody who knows what they’re talking about, they will tell you that it’s not a big tech community.
Section 230 is the same law that protected me when I was 13 years old and started moderating content. It’s the same law that protects me now 21 years later. It’s big companies, it’s small companies as you’ve pointed out. It’s the thing that says that you can have a space where you can say, “This isn’t okay.” It doesn’t matter what that is. If you want to start a community and you’re a Republican and you want to make it so that no one can say bad things about the president, Section 230 has got your back. You can do that.
[00:48:25] Heather Champ: Go for it, go for it. This is the thing. It is so easy now. Well, “so easy.” This is the problem with things getting so big, right? It is now at the point where this is so big that, now, you’re going to have the government step in and make really dumb decisions because they just don’t understand how technology, internet or even understand community management or how things function.
[00:48:48] Patrick O’Keefe: The other thing people get really wrong about Section 230 and people like to repeat, especially on the conservative side of things, is that you’re supposed to be neutral or you lose your immunity. That was never the point of 230. It was never the point to be neutral. It was the point to empower people to take responsibility because they had a certain level of foresight when they wrote it, when Christopher Cox and Ron Wyden wrote that part of the Communications Decency Act. I’ve read interviews of Wyden. He sounded the alarm, which is concerning.
[00:49:12] Heather Champ: He’s ours. I do see him speak at his town hall.
[00:49:16] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to get him on the podcast at some point. If you bump into him, let me know.
[00:49:18] Heather Champ: Oh my God. So fabulous.
[00:49:20] Patrick O’Keefe: [chuckles] They had some level of foresight. I live in a building in LA that has a bunch of social media influencers in it or did. We had Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts come here and come to our building just to speak to people who live here. It was like 20 people. I went up there. He worked on the Telecommunications Act of ’96 which the Communications Decency Act is a part of and Section 230 is part of that.
When I talked to him, I said, “Hey, this is what I do for work and Section 230 is important. Section 230 is my job basically here. If I don’t have Section 230, then I don’t know what my job is or if I have a job because this has been important. This empowered me to find something that I like to do, that I built into a career.” I impressed that upon him just to kind of– People need to think of about Section 230 also in a sense of it being a job creator, I think, on some level. That’s the language we need to speak.
I really believe that at some point, community professionals have to stand up and use the spaces we’re responsible for. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to take something and use it for our own kind of information or knowledge. If it comes down to the point where, “Hey, you enjoy this community? If this goes away, this community goes away,” I think we need to use those platforms and use our voices to amplify this and make it clear, number one, that this empowers these communities you enjoy.
Number two, it also gives us a job. If you have to speak that way to your representatives and say, “Hey, this thing is important to me. This thing is a job creator,” there’s as many of us as there are coal miners. Frankly, there’s as many community professionals as coal miners, so I don’t see why our voice shouldn’t matter when it comes to those things.
[00:50:43] Heather Champ: They talk about neutrality, but there’s no neutrality in the government right now. I don’t even understand. It’s mind-boggling. It is mind-boggling.
[00:50:53] Patrick O’Keefe: 230 is important. If you don’t know about it, please read up on it.
[00:50:56] Heather Champ: [laughs]
[00:50:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Please call your representative because it really is a fringe issue and it’s one of the things that could sneak in. We’ve seen efforts like– Are you familiar with SESTA?
[00:51:03] Heather Champ: No. What is that?
[00:51:04] Patrick O’Keefe: SESTA was an act passed during the last couple of years. It was named again something like stopping sex trafficking or whatever it was.
[00:51:11] Heather Champ: Oh yes. My God.
[00:51:12] Patrick O’Keefe: SESTA weakened 230 with the idea of addressing human trafficking online. What it ended up really doing was creating spaces that were less safe for sex workers online and making people just close those sections of their website and say, “You know what? We can’t even have anything about sex. It’s too vague. We don’t want to be taken out of business.” They just got rid of it. That’s the same thing that will happen here if totally successful.
[00:51:35] Heather Champ: That puts so many sex workers at risk in absolutely unnecessarily way. It’s horrific. It’s really people not taking the time or being patient and nuance and looking at this. I think also really sitting down like, “Here’s an idea” or “Here’s a feature.” Like in a company, “Here’s some idea or a feature.” Now, let’s sit down and for a couple of months throw worst-case scenarios at it and get a sense of, how could what we’re about to implement go wrong? How could people abuse it? What could they do?
I really feel that people don’t do enough of that or really think through the implications, right? I think that’s the work that is so important that just companies don’t want to do or maybe just like nothing could go wrong. If you have people who’ve never had any issues with their own personal safety or security making decisions without understanding the repercussions, it’s going to be fine for 99% of the people. The problem is it’s absolutely going to fuck the 1% who really need our protection and support, right?
[00:52:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:52:38] Heather Champ: It just drives me crazy.
[00:52:40] Patrick O’Keefe: The neutrality in the government’s an interesting point because we’ve already gone political, so I’ll just say the president held a social media summit at the White House recently.
[00:52:47] Heather Champ: [laughs]
[00:52:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t need to be there. Frankly, I would refuse the invite, but I’m pretty well-networked in this space of people who know what they’re talking about. I feel you’re probably even more so well-networked of people who know what they’re talking about. If we looked at the list of people who went to that thing, I don’t think we will recognize a single person. I don’t know that anyone that I trust, respect, like in this space would recognize anyone who’s there because, frankly, he might talk about the best people.
[chuckles] He does not have the best people or close to it. When it comes to that summit, I looked at those people and I said, “None of these people frankly know what they’re talking about when it comes to social media, whatever,” but content moderation, community building, the types of things he’s concerned about or says he is, which is not censorship, there are no experts there.
There’s no one from EFF. There’s no one who’s managed online communities at scale. There’s no experts in moderation. None of these people. It’s just banned conservatives and people who hate Facebook, which I don’t love Facebook, but that’s all that was there. That’s who’s writing and helping to write policies, so that’s why you need to speak up on 230. Anyway-
[00:53:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to shift gears to close things out here. I wanted to talk a little bit about your career and some of the trips that you’ve taken. I want to talk about the time when you were at Flickr because when I look at where the space was then and where the internet was, you were director of community at Flickr. You worked there for over five years.
At that point, I would guess and I could be wrong, but that was probably one of the more highly visible community roles in the world. Flickr was a very successful one on platform, was well known for its community. You were director of community, so you’re thinking about your next move right at that point, looking around to what’s out there for you, “What’s my next step?” What were you seeing then? What was going through your mind? What was available?
[00:54:26] Heather Champ: I left Flickr and I think I slept for two months because I was a bit exhausted and then I did some consulting for companies.
[00:54:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Did you burn out? Were you burned out?
[00:54:35] Heather Champ: Oh God, yes. Absolutely.
[00:54:37] Patrick O’Keefe: You experienced the stereotypical community burnout basically that everyone feels?
[00:54:41] Heather Champ: Flickr was the best of times and the worst of times. It was absolutely magical, but a lot of what happened there has had a lasting impact. I’m on a DOJ victims list for extortion because somebody was upset that their account was deleted and they threatened to put my face on pornography and flood it out there. There was a community of people. Now, if we look back on it, it was straight-up bullying.
There was a member who just sharing full-frontal male nudity and not marking it as restricted and received a number of warnings. Stuart deleted his account and people got so upset that I was running a marathon through team and training. All those people came and donated some amount of money that the digits of the phone number where this person’s first three digits of their name donating to my team in training out of protest of this person having their account deleted.
That was my real first experience with having this bleeding from– I’m a community manager by day. I’m somebody who’s training for a half marathon to raise money for leukemia. Having all these people come from the Flickr community into this other space was really startling for me. Derek and I are very concerned about our privacy because there were people who were just complete assholes.
I can’t imagine doing that now. Subsequently to that, I was at a different company where I insisted on having a persona because I was so completely freaked out by people, other issues with harassment and stalking that happened. I didn’t do that. I have to say that I did apply for jobs at Twitter and Google and went in for interviews and then was completely ghosted by them.
Really, the culture within Silicon Valley is if you’re not an engineer, you don’t have a lot of value within the company. After Flickr, I didn’t really want to be at that scale anymore. Now, I can’t imagine that I would ever be in a position– I have very strong opinions about things. These companies wouldn’t tolerate that. I’d be like, “Delete it all. Let’s burn it all down and make it safe again.” That’s not going to be the case.
[00:56:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting. As companies grow, at least in your experience, they tend to become more hostile to community first principles basically is what I get from that?
[00:57:02] Heather Champ: Yes. I guess it depends.
[00:57:04] Patrick O’Keefe: With a lot of companies, not everyone.
[00:57:05] Heather Champ: Right. Well–
[00:57:06] Patrick O’Keefe: Is Facebook big because they eschewed community principles? Is Twitter big because they said, “Let’s not moderate. Let’s just go for volume”? Is that part of that scale?
[00:57:15] Heather Champ: I think that’s a whole other show.
[00:57:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. [chuckles]
[00:57:18] Heather Champ: I don’t know. It’s disheartening to me that you have people who don’t want to make difficult decisions, right?
[00:57:23] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes.
[00:57:24] Heather Champ: Is Jack going to tell Trump that he can’t do these things? I think that’s highly unlikely and that’s unfortunate. The entitlement there is people who were thinking that we are going to be able to do this because Twitter for so long has not made a stand and said, “We will not allow this in our community,” or built the tools or invested in. There was something recently. Yesterday, we’re like, “Hey, we’re going to let you do this.” Everybody’s like, “That’s great, but what about all these other things that we’ve asked about?” That’s really vague and doesn’t make any sense.
[00:57:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I get it. Going off that career thing, I don’t know what you’re looking at right now. You’ve talked about, is this a thing you even want to do anymore? You mentioned that before the show. You have someone like yourself very experienced thinking about like, “Is that even worth my time anymore? Is that enjoyable?” What do you think about the profession as it stands right now in 2019?
I’m going to guess maybe you’ve taken a look at what’s out there now. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re just happy with the goats and at WeTransfer and everything’s good. If you have, what do you think about how the profession progressed? What’s out there for opportunities? What’s out there for opportunities for someone with experience like yourself?
[00:58:26] Heather Champ: I don’t know. I haven’t looked. I’ve had just so much despair. We are working towards building a community for creatives at WeTransfer and that in itself has been an adventure. Just not for anything that’s happening at WeTransfer, just moving forward to build that.
I’m excited and I’m looking forward to that because it’s around a specific topic and have an opportunity for creative people who want to be able to share their journey in such ways. I think that’s interesting. I don’t think that there’s a place within really big companies, big, large existing communities for a lot of community work. Those companies seem to be pretty established on what their standards are. I don’t know. That sounds awful, doesn’t it?
[00:59:08] Patrick O’Keefe: It does. We’ve got to start new ones or something, right? At some point like when we talked about the law, just because we’re having this conversation doesn’t mean that I don’t think either of us think that there’s not things that companies are doing that might make sense to target legislatively, right? You can talk about breaking up big tech if that’s your bag without talking about Section 230. Those aren’t the same thing.
You can talk about privacy and how Facebook is cavalier with privacy and what should be done about that while not touching Section 230 because that’s not related. That’s not the way to break up big tech. If you think that’s a thing, that’s not the way to address privacy. There are issues here. It is disheartening, but it’s a good conversation to have. I appreciate you making time.
[00:59:47] Heather Champ: My pleasure.
[00:59:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you for coming on.
[00:59:49] Heather Champ: I hope I don’t sound like too much of a Debbie Downer. I love community. I absolutely love online communities. I have met people online who I’ve eventually met in the real world who become really good friends. There are a lot of people who I’ve met online who I’ve never met in the real world who I still consider to be good friends. I really do still do believe in it. I think it’s just a bit of a blue landscape right now.
[01:00:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Awesome. Thank you, Heather. Thank you for making time. I really enjoyed the conversation.
[01:00:17] Heather Champ: Oh, I did as well. Thank you so much and thank you for being so patient.
[01:00:23] Patrick O’Keefe: [chuckles] My pleasure.
[01:00:23] Heather Champ: However many years later from when you first asked me.
[01:00:26] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Heather Champ, who’s currently working in community and support at WeTransfer. You can follow Heather on Instagram @haitchchamp.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. See you next episode.
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