Social Media needs moderation

30 07 2009

Social Media is a great way of engaging the public, getting involved with conversations and enhancing any online presence you may have. However, like all things open to the general public, it can be open to abuse.

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter today about such abuse, mainly regarding spammers and “bots” (automated robot type applications) but also the actions of a minority number of actual users. You see, Twitter, like all social based websites, is open to abuse from anyone or anything that can get an account open. With today’s APIs and concept of sharing, it’s even easier for spammers to set up applications that latch onto people, discussions and basically hijack conversations going on sending out their load of rubbish to anyone and everyone…

Add to this that small number of people who seem to use Social Media to be abusive (just spend a little time on You Tube reading comments and you will see what I mean), you can see why large numbers of genuine users of Social Media get hacked off.

This is something we just need to put up with

Now this is a statement I hear far too often. Or alternatively we read something along the lines of “we provide users with tools that can combat abusive users”. The latter is true, on Twitter I can block someone if I feel they are abusive, I can also report a post as abusive on You Tube for example. However, how many of us actually take the time to help moderate? It also doesn’t help me with filtering out the amount of Spam I have to shift through when looking at a trending topic on twitter, or the amount of silly abusive comments I have to read on You Tube before I get to see something valid.

Websites that allow customer feedback are always prone to such issues, however, many of these (and I strongly suggest all businesses do this), moderate and check peoples posts before allowing them to be published to the world. I know this can be time consuming, but with a good business process behind this, it can be quicker and easier than you think.

Make it harder

Simple basics make a great difference. I am always surprised how many basic security features, or basic business common sense is missing with Social media sites. For far too long Social Media websites have been caught up purely with increasing the number of users that use their website. This drive for numbers has always been at the expense of security and funny enough, the ability to actually make money (the latter is a different post).

So what things can social media websites do to make it harder for abusive users and spammers?

First off, why do Social Media sites not always authenticate a genuine user? Let’s check that someone is actually at that web address and make them follow some instructions before allowing them to open an account. Let’s get some information including their IP address.

Secondly, let’s follow their first “x” interactions (tweets for twitter, status updates in Facebook etc), monitoring them for obvious Spamming / abusive activities. This could be seen as a probation period. This isn’t hard to set up though would require a human element at some point.

Thirdly, let’s set up some rules to at least try to flag content that may be viewed as abusive or again as Spamming activities. If possible let’s have a moderation business process in place so that as many as possible posts can be checked and moderated before being made public (I can see this wouldn’t work on Twitter)

Fourthly, if someone is reported for any abuse (spamming, abusive messages etc) lets investigate these claims and if true, ensure that account is banned and all content removed. If we have their IP address, lets see if we can follow up this user using this, maybe inform the users ISP?

Finally (well for this small list), lets monitor trending topics (Twitter specific) for Spam. Once something gets close to the top 10, why not increase monitoring or employ a human to keep an eye on this.

Conclusion?

At the end of the day, spammers and a small number of people / businesses with poor etiquette, have ruined the concept of mailing lists for eMail marketing. They now threaten to drown out valid content from within the Social Media sphere. Websites need to try to protect us, the users, against this behaviour. Its something they should have addressed from day dot, but since they haven’t, they need to address it as a matter of urgency…Facebook, Twitter, listen!

Lets try to ensure Spammers and the abusive few don’t ruin Social Media and destroy its potential…

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