EModeration, launched in 2002, provides user generated content moderation for a number of clients in the US, from children's virtual worlds to ad campaigns that have a UGC element.

I've been talking to CEO and founder Tamara Littleton about her approach to the issue of online moderation, and the work she has been doing for advertisers...

Can you tell me a little about eModeration?

Moderation is a moderation and community management company. We help companies set up and manage online communities, and moderate user generated content within those communities. We also work with advertising agencies who are including user generated content within their ad campaigns. We have offices in London, New York and LA.

How big is the team?

We have 80 people working for us.

How does your service work? Do you use technology, manual review, or a mixture of both?

We use technology and human review techniques. We provide mostly human moderation, but also work with technology partners including Crisp Thinking and Reality Digital to provide automated moderation. Where technology works particularly well is in automatically filtering things like personally identifiable information that children will often post to communities, or in identifying and preventing potential grooming behaviour by being able to track the actions of a potential abuser.

However, human moderation is vital in understanding nuance, and also in providing a more visible moderation service, for example in helping online users engage with their community.

How has the market, and demand for, online moderation services changed over the last few years?

We’ve seen an enormous boom in user-generated content, and in brands engaging with audiences online over the last few years, be it through online communities, live comment streams (including Twitter), and virtual worlds, particularly for children. Brands have realised that if they are going to include content from users within these communities or on their websites, they need not only to protect their users from harmful, illegal or abusive content, but also their own reputations.

Brands are much more sophisticated in the way they engage now and we’re seeing a rise in advertising that includes user content as part of the ad, where of course moderation is critical, as no brand wants their advertising messages to be associated with abusive content, for example.

What kind of clients do you have?

We work with a number of household name brands, such as ITV (we’re moderating comments on the X Factor websites currently), MTV, 02,  Hyundai, Procter & Gamble etc, but also with a number of ad agencies, including Publicis, Digital Outlook, Wieden+Kennedy, AKQA, and Crispin Porter Bogusky.

Do you think governments are dealing effectively with the issue of child safety online?  Is there adequate legislation? 

There is some great work being done by the UK government, I was part of the Home Office Sub Committee that advised the Government on moderation of communities to help safeguard children, and am currently part of the moderation sub group of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, and by government-supported bodies such as the Internet Watch Foundation, CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) which is part of UK policing. Where I don’t think there is adequate legislation or action is in cross-border policing, particularly outside the EU.  

What are the biggest problems for brands and websites which target children online? 

Child safety is obviously the biggest concern. Children will often freely share contact or personally identifiable information (and will often try pretty hard to get round automated content filters to do so) and so moderators have to prevent children from inadvertently putting themselves at risk. ‘Flaming’ and bullying are also problems.

Children will often be much bolder in their actions online that they would be face to face, and so bullying rates online are high (the charity ‘beat bullying’ has some great research in this area). Knowing where to draw the line (and seeing the difference between banter and bullying) can be hard for brands running communities for kids.

How to engage children is difficult for some brands to do well. Understanding how a child’s mind works can be tricky for an adult! Try to be a ‘cool kid’ and you risk looking ridiculous, but be too heavy-handed and kids will leave the site. We’ve written some white papers addressing this area. 

What kind of work do you do for advertising clients? Can you give me some examples?

We’re doing more moderation of advertising campaigns where advertisers are engaging with consumers (getting them to help ‘create’ the ad, or submitting content that then becomes part of the ad, for example). We’ve recently completed a project with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for its client, Sprint, which won a number of awards. Sprint took over Google’s YouTube home page for 24 hours, creating a ‘human clock’ from videos submitted by users. Users were given a number and asked to shoot a video of that number. The videos were then used to create a ‘digital clock’ – so for example, at 12.09, the ad would show four people, each holding a number ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘0’, ‘9’.

Another recent campaign was Cesar ‘I promise’ campaign, where we worked with the agency Catapult Marketing. Pet owners were asked make a ‘promise’ to their pet, which then went up on a live display.  

Is there a growing demand for this sort of work?

Yes. Advertising and communications now is all about engaging with an audience, rather than just displaying a message in front of an audience. Web 2.0 has had a huge impact on this, but so have shows like the X Factor which rely on user participation. This trend has moved into ad campaigns, where advertisers are looking to get users involved with their brand. The moderation can be slightly different here – for example, if a client is running an ad campaign that invites consumers to upload photos of a specific subject, our job might be to check that the submissions meet the competition criteria.

How strict are brands about moderation of UGC? What is best practice in this area?

Brands are getting stricter about moderation. It’s a big subject, but broadly, moderation should be about protecting users from harmful content, protecting the brand from association with that harmful content, and engaging users in a positive way. It is not about censorship. Brands who engage with users successfully are those who allow and listen to user comments – good and bad – and respond to them quickly. This applies across all audiences. There are obviously best practice techniques and specific requirements that depend on audience (for example, what you could allow onto a site like MTV would be different from what you’d tolerate on a child’s virtual world).

The important thing is to create clear site terms of use, and enforce them. If a site says it will not tolerate any swearing, for example, it must enforce that.

The Daily Mail removed pre-moderation recently, does this arguably present fewer risks from a legal point of view?

The legal question is really one for a lawyer. But the Mail’s approach is to expect users to do its work for it. Success depends entirely on its trust in its users to stick to the rules, and report anyone who doesn’t do that.

Graham Charlton

Published 28 September, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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