Rebecca has been responsible for community, moderation and safety at some of the largest kid-friendly online communities in the world. At AOL, she managed a volunteer program that numbered 16,000. At Sulake, Rebecca helped expand Habbo into 24 countries. At Mind Candy, she led a community of more than 100 million Moshi Monsters fans.
We talked about her experiences scaling moderation systems and navigating the legal hurdles tied to expanding globally, plus:
- How the e-mint listserv started
- The filtering vendors that Rebecca relies on to keep communities safe
- What brought about the end of the AOL Community Leader program
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Emoderation.
“You can’t pre-moderate every single thing that people put up. You build tools and algorithms that are smart.” -@rebeccanewton
“I said, ‘what would you do if an 11-year-old comes online and somebody friends them and misbehaves through text?’ They said, ‘I would tell the kid to log off.’ And I thought, ‘OK, they don’t know anything about community,’ because you don’t just log off. People will still do that. They will still tell people, ‘why don’t you just leave that community if somebody is trolling you. Just turn it off and go someplace else.’ But we don’t do that offline.” -@rebeccanewton
“95 to 98% of all user generated content is fine. 2 to 5%, depending on your community, is something you have to look at. Out of that 2 to 5%, 1/2 to 2% is something you have to take action on.” -@rebeccanewton
About Rebecca Newton
Rebecca Newton is an online kids community and safety expert with more than 20 years of experience, beginning at AOL in the early 90s. She later worked at Sulake as the global director of community for Habbo. More recently, Rebecca was the long time chief community & safety officer at Mind Candy, where she and her team managed a community of 100 million Moshi Monsters fans from around the globe.
Rebecca has provided her expertise to numerous groups aimed at making kids safer online, including the All Party Parliamentary Group for Young People and Technology, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and the Family Online Safety Institute. She is an advisory board member for AgeCheq.com and has just co-founded an independent consultancy with high profile clients in the EU and US, including Mind Candy, as well as being the head of trust and community at SuperAwesome.
- My Community Manager’s Community Manager Appreciation Day livestream
- Crisp Thinking
- Community SIFT
Welcome to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Emoderation: smart social, globally. Here’s your host: Patrick O’Keefe.
Patrick O’Keefe: Hello. I’m so glad that you tuned in today for Community Signal.
I have received so much great feedback about this show and I’m grateful for the fact that we’re creating something that professionals in our industry are finding valuable. Thank you to everyone who has spread the word about this show online, including Sherrie Rohde, Sue John, Scott Moore, We Support, Ted McEnroe, Rachel Medanic, Carrie Jones, Sherry Wilcox and many others.
The show is now on both iTunes and Stitcher. If you are so inclined, a review on iTunes would mean a lot, sharing whatever honest feelings you have about this show. On this episode, my guest is Rebecca Newton who is among the most deeply experienced professionals in our industry. Rebecca is an online kids community and safety expert with more than 20 years of experience, beginning at AOL in the early ’90s.
She later worked at Sulake as the global director of community for Habbo. More recently, Rebecca was the long-time chief community and safety officer at Mind Candy where she and her team managed a community of 100 million Moshi Monsters’ fans from around the globe.
Rebecca has provided her expertise to numerous groups into making kids safer online including the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Young People in Technology, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, and the Family Online Safety Institute. She’s an adviser and board member for AgeCheq.com and has just co-founded an independent consultancy with high profile clients in the EU and US including Mind Candy as well as being the head of trust and community at SuperAwesome.
Rebecca Newton: Thank you. Wow. That was impressive.
Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve done a lot of things. I mean, you are a community management legend I would say.
Rebecca Newton: Thanks. That’s sounds good. I like it.
Patrick O’Keefe: Just call me. Whenever you need someone to read your bio, just give me a call and I can pre-record something.
Rebecca Newton: I’ll take a little snippet out of there and put it on my profile.
Patrick O’Keefe: Feel free. You co-founded the e-mint listserv in 2000 and I don’t know of any active community management resource that has existed longer. In doing so, you’ve helped so many professionals in our industry grow including myself. Thank you for that.
Rebecca Newton: Yes, you’re welcome. Thanks for mentioning that.
Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, to this day, it’s still something I look forward to receiving emails about. The volume, it’s like community. Ebbs and flows. Sometimes there will be 20 in a day, sometimes there will be none but it’s always good stuff.
Rebecca Newton: Yes, I agree. That was really an interesting time. That followed something called the first iteration of the Virtual Community Summit. They were out in California, in San Francisco in ’99 and 2000. There were only 2 of them. After the 2000 Virtual Community Summit, some of us were sitting around in a lobby and said we should really have a … Back then they were listserv. We should have a listserv of people so we can share our best practices but we didn’t even use that term. I can’t remember what we said.
Next thing I knew, there we were creating a listserv of people in the UK and US and then now it’s global and pretty big and been around for nearly 16 years. 15 1/2 years.
Patrick O’Keefe: It’s amazing. Your first community job was at AOL. You volunteered there for a year before actually being employed. What were you doing as a volunteer? How did they find you?
Rebecca Newton: Oh, boy. I was doing everything. Everybody was doing everything back then. It was $3.95 or $12.95 an hour. I can’t remember, one of those 2. The only way you can afford to be online was to volunteer because you got 2 hours of online time for every hour that you volunteered at AOL. This is before it was a flat fee for a month.
Patrick O’Keefe: Wow.
Rebecca Newton: My first bill was $1,000. It was in 1994 or something like that. I could have access through the universities from the ’80s and the ’90s but that was to Gopher and stuff. I did have an access 800 number through this modem. It was a 9.2. I don’t know. 9600 baud, I guess, modem for my job, a day job. Then when I got my own account, my first bill was $1,000. I was like, “that’s not going to work.”
I went and looked at all the volunteer stuff that you could do and I worked for ACC. It was an online teaching group at AOL. It was AAC, the Academic Assistance Center. I volunteered there and then I was a graphic designer for George Magazine that John Kennedy, Jr. started on AOL. Then I taught HTML and Rain Man and forum management.
I did a little bit of everything and then I joined the Virtual Leaders Academy which was a very prestigious thing back then. I got Hal from the AAC, from the teacher’s group, to recommend me. You had to go through this really intense interview process. Now, people would laugh about that. It was a big deal. We taught everybody, all the community leaders at AOL how to do everything, how to build everything.
Everything was volunteer back then. I went in there. I remember in my interview the only reason I’m bringing this up is because they said, “where do you see yourself in a year?” This was all chat. We didn’t have voice or any of that stuff. I said I’m going to be working for AOL in a year. They all laughed. They were like, “right. Take a number.” In a year, I was working for AOL. I was in-charge of the very group that I was interviewing to join.
Patrick O’Keefe: Wow.
Rebecca Newton: I just remember feeling like, “yes!” You laughed at me but here I am. A year later I was in charge of the community leader college, VLA which was the Virtual Leaders Academy. Then that went away and then the guide program, we had 250 students a week coming through all our classes at AOL. We educated all those staff up in remote and, at that time, they had just moved in to that British airlines hangar in Dallas.
It was in interesting time. That was a really long answer but that’s why I did. I ended up being in charge of the community leader program which was the volunteer program. There were 5,000 people when I started that job and there was 16,000 when I left. It was a job and that was a big job.
Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like it. It’s amazing. You volunteered to be able to go online because the cost was so high for really what was very slow internet but of course early days, it’s almost an unfathomable proposition for people today.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right.
Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned the AOL community leader program and 5,000 when you got there, 16,000 when you left. Let’s get in to the nitty-gritty just a little bit because that’s a lot of people. That’s more volunteers than me, most people probably will ever manage in their entire career, probably. When you talk about some of the method you still use and ways that you on boarded people or identified people and made them a part of that culture, can you talk about some of that?
Rebecca Newton: Sure. I had an awesome orientation team leader or manager and she works for Emoderation still. She’s still been with them a long time. Her name is Sherry Wilcox. She was awesome. She did all the orientation and then I had somebody named Debbi Colgin who works and she’s still a great friend who was the recruitment piece of everything. Somebody is going to have my head but I can’t remember. There was so many people involved in the actual training and teaching and putting the modules together.
There were people from earlier days who had done some of that work as well but I have great group there. Just having highly competent good energy, high energy dedicated people working really well together. Nobody was an island. Nobody was out there doing their own thing and understanding the importance of making this whole thing work with 250 students per class a week.
I just had this whole group of highly motivated organized intelligent people who worked really well as a team and respected each other. It just made all the difference in the world.
Patrick O’Keefe: You’d have 250 new volunteers coming in each week. They’d be educated and taught and then they’d be deployed. They’d be out in the world doing stuff. Once they’re out there, were they monitored? How were they monitored? How did you keep tabs on things?
Rebecca Newton: Let’s say they would apply. We also were the people who dealt with all the volunteers who wanted to be with sales, who wanted to go work at the academic assistance center for 10 hours a week or whatever. The head of the academic assistance center or the pet forum or whatever it was, would deal with all the hours if the person was going to work. Now, this is going to lead in to a legal conversation.
Patrick O’Keefe: It is. That’s the next question actually so it’s good.
Rebecca Newton: They set up the hours and then their next step was that they register for jour classes based on what they were going to do. There were 300 forums at AOL back then.
Patrick O’Keefe: Got it. It was the leaders and individuals sections and forums that would be responsible for them after you got them ready.
Rebecca Newton: That’s correct. We have a whole process for letting them go back and start their volunteer position. That’s right. Managing volunteers, it’s an interesting. I think it’s fascinating because you will get some of the best work and ideas from volunteers. As soon as you pay them, if they take the jobs, I found that they weren’t as happy. They didn’t even say. They like volunteering. They liked being able to be in control of their time. As soon as you pay them, I’d say oh my gosh, this person is great. I want to get him on the staff.
Every once in a while – for the most part, it would work out fine – but every once in a while there would be somebody who was amazing as a volunteer and then was so unhappy being a paid staff member. There’s that balance of some people just like me at my age, I just want to go volunteer for stuff. I don’t want anybody to pay me. In that way, I don’t feel like I’m obliged like oh, I’ve got to do this for the next 8 months or something.
Patrick O’Keefe: The difference between being something you choose to do versus being a job.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right. Although hopefully, we’re lucky enough to choose to do our jobs.
Patrick O’Keefe: Ideally. You mentioned it and I going to mention it but the AOL Community Leader Program is somewhat infamous in our space because of the 11 year-long class action lawsuit that occurred. What can we as community professionals take away from that situation?
Rebecca Newton: I wish people knew the real story on that but from the law point of view, we had to scale back because of a handful of people who were control freaks. We had some people from the old days before when you had to work a bazillion hours to be able to be online. It was a very close knit small group and then when it expanded and flat fee and gazillion people started coming in, there was this whole feeling of “oh, man, our beautiful world has just been destroyed because people discovered America.” That’s how it was.
Some of those old timers were control freaks. They would say to people if you don’t show up for your shift, you’re getting fired. I came in right at the end of that stuff that was going on at AOL and took over that volunteer program. Bob Marean never acted like that but some of the volunteer team leaders would behave like that and browbeat people.
It was bizarre. It was like slavery or something. I remember thinking, “holy mackerel, what have I done taking this job?” I just didn’t know that there was some of this going on. It’s a very small percentage but a loud percentage. When people would get threatened like that, they all talk to each other. One person started that lawsuit and she really believed she was going to be able to get millions of dollars out of AOL. That’s what that was all about.
It wasn’t that we were abusing people and all that stuff but it’s a fine line because for so many years, it was all volunteer but so was the web, hello. It wasn’t like that was anything new. Then AOL started making it hand over fist – the dough. People felt we should all be hired. Some people shouldn’t be hired. There was good reason they weren’t. What do we take away from that? Here’s what we take away from that? Volunteers and employees same, I think you treat them equally. You respect them for what they’re doing.
You don’t say if you don’t do what I want you to do, you’re never going to … They would say things like, “You’re never going to work in AOL again.” It was just ridiculous some of the behavior that I saw. I just heard about it and people had to just … We didn’t have screenshots back then. They’d have to do key loggers and stuff just to get proof. It was too dramatic.
I just would have to intervene and say I don’t agree with this and I think so-and-so should be able to stay and we can’t tell people you have to be here on Thanksgiving and things like that or you’re going to lose your volunteer position. I think treating people with respect, it just goes a long way whether they’re paid or unpaid and recognizing them.
We were very good in my little team or our little team that got so big but in the early days about respecting each other and all the people that were coming through there. We set the tone of that community, the community of community leaders, in mutual respect, self-respect, and being very open about that and I’m appreciative of people giving their time. People like me were spending 40 and 50 hours a week online besides day jobs just learning. It was like school, Patrick. It was like free school. I mean, free I guess in a way that except that $1,000 bill but I felt like I couldn’t have paid for that education because nobody would have even known how to teach it.
Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, I think in some way, it’s like the internet growing up, in a way I think because if you tell someone that they’re going to volunteer 40-50 hours a week for a for profit company, these days, it’s a little different. It wouldn’t go so hot. I think one of the main things is just a great awareness of laws relating to volunteers. Assigned shifts and things like that. It came from an organic place of people wanting to participate in a community and it became a business. That’s when it became challenging.
Rebecca Newton: It was leaving people behind. Some of the people who got left behind weren’t very happy about that. That’s when all that started. Then immediately we had to change everything about how we worked for volunteers which honestly I didn’t have a problem with it because I thought, hey, now we won’t have any of these people over in these 12 forums which I couldn’t keep up with 300 forum leaders and what they were doing.
I’d hear things. That way, we had a uniform like set of rules and regulations about you can’t threaten people who are volunteers. They had to sign a lot of documents. This was the thing that was heartbreaking though is that all the kids who had been working and learning all this cool stuff that we couldn’t keep them as volunteers anymore because the laws are so strict on volunteerism and kids.
That was heartbreaking to me. That really broke my heart because we had a great, great group of young people. Some of those people are CEOs. They keep in touch with me because this was 20 some odd years ago. They’ll be asking me this or that question and they’re like all grown up and running companies or venture capitalist and stuff. It’s so fascinating. It’s fascinating to be in this world for this long and see kids – from Habbo, too, in the 2000s – all grown up and how they turned out. Pretty interesting.
Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of volunteers, Rebecca and I, along with Scott Moore and David DeWald, are slated to talk about managing online community volunteer programs during My Community Manager’s Community Manager Appreciation Day livestream at 4 PM Eastern Time on January 25th. Other presenters in the live stream will include Carrie Jones, Blaise Grimes-Viort, Joe Cothrel, Crystal Coleman and Tim McDonald. For more information, go to cmad.co.
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Let’s talk about moderation systems especially for massive amounts of volume. What’s the key to achieving scale with moderation?
Rebecca Newton: Good question. I’m just in the middle of doing that with photographs now which is a whole new world. Back in the day, everything was text based, people started building filtering systems in the 90s and then in 2000 most people were doing proprietary stuff back then. Everything was upside down. The 95% – as we know just from years and years of doing this and lots of studies on this – 95 to 98% of all user generated content is fine.
2 to 5%, depending on your community, et cetera, is something you have to look at and figure out what to do. Out of that 2 to 5%, 1/2 to 2% is something you have to take an action on. Between that, that’s a big scale. That taking action can be anywhere from a suggestive 8-year-old selfie trying to look sexy and it’s maybe just not appropriate or school uniform for instance or something identifying to the F word and something horrible and things that we don’t want to talk about online.
That’s the scale. When you think about that, it’s like .5 to 1 to 2% is not very much. Now, when you’re talking about millions of people, they’re pretty noisy and it’s loud. The point of moderation systems when we started building tools for moderators instead of just dealing with moderators being in a live scrolling chat room which is all we had for a long time or the message boards is that now we were in a situation where 10,000 or more people could come together in 1 space and now millions and share information simultaneously which was huge, like how are you going to deal with that?
Now, we have automation. We have people, which we’ll always need I believe, and we have good software. Inversoft, Crisp and SIFT are the 3 biggies in my book. Crisp was the first group to really hone in on grooming and to get algorithms together and chat logs that were based on real cases. They had 7 million lines of chat from the Met police in the UK. I really got excited about them around 2007 when I saw what they were doing.
Emma Monks, who works for them, and worked for me at Sulake, and is brilliant, goes way back in this world. Anyway, she told me, “hey, check these guys out.” I liked working with them a lot back then in the early days because they got the whole thing of turning that whole model upside down where you’re looking at the 5% that you need to look at and at the 95% was lower prioritized in your queues.
They would send all the chat through their system and then it would go to a dashboard for moderators and moderators would be able to say that’s a red flag so I need to look at that one first and that’s orange so that’s second. It was like the Holy Grail for text moderation overnight for chat, et cetera. Then as the years have passed, they’ve gotten more and more sophisticated. Then not only was it … I mean, as we know grooming is not that prevalent online.
Patrick O’Keefe: I do want to say real quick for people who might not be familiar with that world of grooming we’re talking about, child grooming. Chatting with someone, making them feel comfortable with you and then taking advantage of them.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right.
Patrick O’Keefe: Having them meet you at a public place, having them send you pictures, something like that. A very serious issue. Thankfully most of us don’t deal with it but someone who works in the child friendly spaces deals with it.
Rebecca Newton: Or the online dating spaces too.
Patrick O’Keefe: Very true. Sorry, continue.
Rebecca Newton: That’s okay. Stalkers and stuff like that. Anyway overnight I basically was able to let go of 80% of my staff because if you think about it they weren’t having to sort through the 95% of the fine content to get to the non-fine or the possibly problematic. That was brilliant and that was a big deal in this industry. Inversoft, they were simultaneously working on filters but they weren’t as sophisticated. Now, this was years ago.
They’re probably, I’m sure as sophisticated now, but we used Inversoft for some things and then Crisp still at Moshi, at Mind Candy. Then SIFT which is a group from Two Hat Security, they’ve been around a couple of years commercially but before that, they were the Club Penguin tech folks. Chris Priebe is brilliant, genius.
Now, everybody is getting into to the photograph situation where now we have 95% of our … Not photographs but images which is what people are doing now. Everybody Instagraming, et cetera. 95% of that is fine but that 5% is not fine, it’s problematic. We have that same issue where it’s upside down, where we spend all our time going through the stuff that’s false positives and it’s fine. Trying to get to the 5% that we need to do something about.
We’ve spent the last 2 years when I was at Mind Candy. We spent 2 years working with SIFT or a year actually. We spent 2 years working with them but a year working with them just trying to figure out how do we make this system do what text now does because that’s a stretch doing that. That’s a lot of work. You have to tell it. You have to write, click on a picture and say put it in a category, et cetera. The system has to match that picture with another potentially problematic picture and it has to guess and that sort of thing.
It’s complicated but we’ve been at it for a couple of years. I believe that we’ll get there and people were like, “it’s never going to happen.” Look what Facebook can do. If they can recognize your face. They have that facial recognition software, you know that they can recognize anything now. The filtering systems will eventually look at photos and say that’s not okay. There’s somebody’s bits on that photo. That’s not okay or that’s a cutting photo. That’s not okay.
That’s going to be the Holy Grail for the entire internet. Now, there’s always going to be some percentage of people who will find a way around the filtering systems no matter what you do. They will find a way. They’ll layer images so it makes it really hard. They’ll strip things out. They’ll figure some way to get around it but then you’re talking about a half of a half of a half percentage or something.
It’s no different than going to a bus stop offline and somebody drawing a picture of something that they shouldn’t with graffiti or a can of spray paint or putting the F word up on the bus stop. It was just going to happen. To me, the big thing now is getting this image moderation to a point that it makes it affordable and scalable. That’s what I’m working on right now because Popjam was bought by SuperAwesome.tv.
Popjam was something that Mind Candy built for teens originally and now tweens. That is basically like their Instragram but it’s a little more interesting and creative. We’re about to launch in the US. It’s big. It’s going to be a big deal. Trying to stay COPPA compliant and make sure everybody is happy with it; that they’re not worried about seeing the occasional picture they shouldn’t and that sort of thing. I’ve got this really experienced team and I’m working with SIFT and we’ll work with whoever we need to work with.
Chris is also working on photographic moderation and stuff. There’s going to be more and more companies out there and it’s going to all get more sophisticated. It will be scalable. Right now, it’s okay. I mean, honestly when I was at Mind Candy and I first started working with Crisp, I had maybe 30 people at the peak of 110 million, maybe 60 at 110 million users and Club Penguin had 300 people.
People were like what? How can you do it with 60? You get really smart about it. You can’t pre-moderate every single thing that people put up. You build tools and algorithms that are smart.
Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, that’s an area where some companies and community departments especially would get in trouble is continuing to throw people at their problem. There was a time when they might not had a much better option that to just throw more people on it but now thankfully I think we’ll be able to salvage some departments. Thanks to the tools that exist. I agree with what you said as far as always seeing people because I think it’s hard for me to see a time when people won’t be necessary but it’s really about helping those people to be a little more efficient and ensuring that they see the more nuanced stuff.
The stuff that a machine can’t fix for us. I think that’s where software really is helpful. Real quick, SIFT is a communitysift.com. Crisp Thinking, we’ll have links of this in the show notes for anyone looking at these providers. The answer to scale is really the combination of humans and technology. It’s incredible how far we’ve come.
Is there are point financially, the money you’re making as a platform, as a service, where it becomes a viable to start to use these services because obviously they charge money and it’s not the average let’s say forum or community or whatever website won’t necessarily sign up for these things. Is there a point where you can start to say we can now qualify for this sort of thing?
Rebecca Newton: That’s a really great question. I mean, it just depends on who your sales person is I guess at each company and what level of service you want. Inversoft, they offer lots of different levels of filtered systems, which is good. It’s a very smart model. Crisp has some but they’re pretty expensive. They used to be anyway. Then SIFT is pretty high-end I think. Probably when you have about a million registered users and your community is really starting to see – maybe half a million.
And you’re starting to see a lot of activity, it would be smart to go to a higher end solution but everybody should have some kind of solution whether they build it themselves or get … Inversoft’s really entry level solution or something that you can tweak and same with Crisp. Everybody should have something because it doesn’t matter whether you have kids or no kids or anything. There’s always going to be trolls, there are always going to be stalkers. There’s always going to be disruptors just for the heck of it, that sort of thing.
In my opinion, spend the 100 bucks a month, work it into your budget when you’re throwing together a community. Don’t wait until you get 500,000 people and, in the meantime, somebody is misbehaving so badly and you can’t keep up with it. In my opinion, you do it right away. Really what should happen is that these companies, their payments should be scalable. I mean, because they’ve already made the software. It’s not like they’ve got a develop software for each company.
If I’ve got 100,000 lines of chat or pictures or whatever images a day, and somebody else has a million, then the 100,000 should not be paying what the million person, up to a million a month or a week or a day is paying. If I were in that business, I’d say okay, how many users do you have? Okay. You know what, it’s going to cost you 100 bucks a month because you’ve only got 5,000 people a month coming through this community or whatever the number is.
I don’t understand why and maybe I’m just completely ignorant about this but I don’t know. I just don’t understand why that doesn’t happen. Give everybody the same level tools and then if they don’t use it as much, then don’t charge them as much. Somebody has got to get on that bandwagon because then you could have 500 communities instead of 10 big clients. I get that. They don’t want to deal with 500 people’s questions. You tell people, you know what, you only get this level. You got the same tools but you only get this level because you’re only spending $100 a month or whatever.
Patrick O’Keefe: I’d love to see that. I think you can see the reasons they’re going after the big dollar clients and there is this thing that you hear where people who don’t pay as much are more demanding. They’re the people who the money means more to them. That amount of money is a bigger deal. They complain more. They want more. I’d love to see that, that’s lower tier because I think that’s where you can really impact the community space.
I recognized these companies they don’t exist for altruistic purposes necessarily but the biggest change in the community space isn’t the one that affects the person that has a billion users, it’s the one that … In my opinion anyway, it’s the one that affects the person who has 10,000, 50,000, 100,000. When you’re impacting that number of communities for the space as a whole, you’re impacting it in a more positive way.
Rebecca Newton: That’s a good way to put it.
Patrick O’Keefe: You’re very uniquely qualified to speak about community on an international level. At Sulake you oversaw community, moderation safety in the 24 countries where it’s heavily operated. You also advice on a regulatory compliance in the UK, Australia, US, Canada and in the larger EU. For someone who is stepping into a global community management role where they will be working with many different regions in the world, it can be a little overwhelming to say the least. What would you say to that person?
Rebecca Newton: Wow. First of all, bravo for taking that on. Go find people who have been doing it. It’s like looking for the ancestors. You always go find those who came before you and who make your life and your work life so much easier because they’re going to have all this knowledge. Annie Mullins, me, I don’t know too many global people in this – Emoderation, I mean, they know everybody everywhere and they’ve been global for a long time but if you find people in the space who have the experience, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Setting all of that aside, the world is your oyster because you’re going to have to know a lot about a lot of different countries. Their regulatory issues, you’re going to have to meet people like I have to work with law enforcement all over the world. I have lots of different relationships that have been built over the years and why not come to somebody like me or Annie Mullins and say, “Can you introduce me because I might run into this and I don’t even know where to start. What do I do if I have an Australian problem?”
What a cool thing to be able to learn. You have to learn all the labor laws, right? Like Spain has a completely different labor laws when you hire moderators from Germany and France has completely different labor laws. You have to learn all this stuff that I think is fascinating and what a great resource you become because you know all these things; you can’t do this. You can take those skills with you and to any job.
I’m doing this executive director/CEO job right now very part-time because it’s going to be a year before they’re really ready to roll but for a nonprofit group in North Carolina that has nothing to do with the internet and it’s a health group. It’s fascinating how all of my 20 years of community management moderation, management, people management, tool building, process building, all that stuff is directly applicable to this company.
It’s 21 years old but they just started a nonprofit section of the company and I’m building it right now. It’s all directly applicable. I don’t have to say I don’t know anything about health so blah, blah, blah. It’s all business. It’s building a business. Anything you learn is going to be applicable in anything else you do.
Patrick O’Keefe: Being in the US, I actually pride myself on being pretty well familiar with the US laws that apply to our work. It’s funny because I’ve been beating that drum a lot lately and there’s a lot of professionals just in the US that don’t really have a very good grasp of US laws forgetting any other country that might exist. The US laws even the simple stuff like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Even the DMCA. Very simple basic federal stuff, a lot of people don’t have any concept for it.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right.
Patrick O’Keefe: I think that’s unfortunate. I think that that’s one of the areas where it’s very easy to become informed. That’s a good step to being global is to understand your home wherever that is. That might not be the US or wherever you’re based, just understand the laws that apply to you. Speaking of the laws, the international legal climate for community builders, you touched on it.
Being familiar with US law, I tend to think that those of us in the US are quite fortunate legally. There’s a lot of other countries where the environment is quite a bit more hostile toward our work. You’ve worked in a lot of different countries. Is that something you find as well?
Rebecca Newton: Yeah. I mean, it just depends. If I turn the clock back to 2002 or 3, as we started expanding Habbo in 24 countries, I can remember … I mean, just the grasp of understanding of community wasn’t even there. The basic things like what do you mean community? I remember when I was hiring for hotel manager or community managers or whatever that I would ask what would you do if XYZ happened?
I remember in France, one of the people that I was interviewing, I said, “what would you do if an 11-year-old comes online and somebody friends them and then they do something through text?” I just don’t want to use language that’s scary but misbehave. Let me just put it that way. They said, “I would tell the kid to log off.” And I thought, “OK, they don’t know anything about community,” because you don’t just log off. People will still do that. They will still tell people, “why don’t you just leave that community if somebody is trolling you. Just turn it off and go someplace else.” But we don’t do that offline.
There are some countries where they’re still far behind culturally in the online culture. I don’t mean the offline culture and they don’t understand. Some of it is just a cultural thing and some of it is just catching up with the online culture and understanding it’s not integrated in their lives like Americans. We’re pretty quick to integrate online world in their lives completely like 20 years ago.
Everybody else was about 10 years ago and got more access starting 10 years ago around the world. There still some places where they don’t even have access. That’s still happening. It’s interesting to see like at Habbo when we opened up in Spain, they were all 21 and over. I was like what? It just seemed bizarre and that most of the Habbos were 21 and 21 plus. Then in some countries, they were like 8. In some countries, they were like 15.
The kids in Canada and the Asian countries always behaved really well. We just hardly had any problems. But the kids in Australia and in the Netherlands, in the US and in the UK were ridiculously bad. You just start learning about all these ways and it’s based on their offline culture and then their online culture. Whether they even accept what you’re doing or they don’t get it and they don’t understand it.
You have to find an analogy. I spent a lot of time coming with a lot of analogies in each country and getting to know and respect their offline culture. You have to.
Patrick O’Keefe: Even if you come to people and their answer is they should log off, it seems like in some of those cases, there might be laws on the books that maybe weren’t written for the internet but exist and will bite you in the butt.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right.
Patrick O’Keefe: If that is your attitude to it, it’s almost, I don’t know a lack of understanding of the law and then what happens is each country as the internet explodes in each country as it happened in the US and happens in every country, every country subsequently is there’s a rush to apply the laws as it is and there’s a period of adjusting where they write laws that apply specifically to the internet and I think we get better overtime.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right. That was a good question to ask because it is a whole different world going global and all the things you have to do, the hoops you have to jump through and just getting to know the culture of what you can do and the legal aspects. How you build each instance of your product, in each country is different. Your advertising laws are different. Everything. What kind of data can you keep? How long do you keep it? How do you inform them in every single country?
It’s over the top. We need some kind of a global agreement because it’s almost impossible now. Everybody is saying I made my … You can only get this in the US app store because it’s just too much trouble to try to do this in every country. I’ve twice been with companies who went – no, 3 times now- who went global and just the headaches are just unbelievable. I mean, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying it’s big. You don’t just go global.
Patrick O’Keefe: Rebecca, where can people find you online?
Rebecca Newton: I’m redoing my site so if you go now, you’ll be like, “what is this?” It’s www.rebeccanewton.com. SuperAwesome.tv. I don’t know. You probably know more than I do about where I can be found online.
Patrick O’Keefe: I know you can be found on Twitter @rebeccanewton.
Rebecca Newton: That’s right. Thank you. That is something I do religiously. I am on Twitter. That’s right. I’m on @rebeccanewton. That’s where people can find me. They can also find me at rebeccanewton.com.
Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you for coming on the program.
Rebecca Newton: Thank you for having me. I really love doing this so anytime.
Patrick O’Keefe: Thank you for listening to Community Signal. Visit our website at communitysignal.com for subscription options and more. This show is produced by Karn Broad and I’m Patrick O’Keefe. Until next week.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.