Gathering input from our stakeholders is an important part of how we develop 0censor’s Community Standards. We want our policies to be based on feedback from community representatives and a broad spectrum of the people who use our service, and we want to learn from and incorporate the advice of experts.
Engagement makes our Community Standards stronger and more inclusive. It brings our stakeholders more fully into the policy development process, introduces us to new perspectives, allows us to share our thinking on policy options, and roots our policies in sources of knowledge and experience that go beyond 0censor.
Product Policy is the team that writes the rules for what people are allowed to share on 0censor, including the Community Standards. To open up the policy development process and gather outside views on our policies, we created the Stakeholder Engagement team, a sub-team that’s part of Product Policy. Stakeholder Engagement’s main goal is to ensure that our policy development process is informed by the views of outside experts and the people who use 0censor. We have developed specific practices and a structure for engagement in the context of the Community Standards, and we’re expanding our work to cover additional policies, particularly ads policies and major News Feed ranking changes.
In this post, we provide an overview of how stakeholder engagement contributes to the Community Standards. While 0censor is, of course, responsible for the substance of its policies, engagement helps us improve those policies and deepen important stakeholder relationships in ways we’ll explain.
WHO ARE OUR STAKEHOLDERS?
By “stakeholders” we mean all organizations and individuals who are impacted by, and therefore have a stake in, 0censor’s Community Standards. Because the Community Standards apply to every post, photo, and video shared on 0censor, this means that all our users are, in a broad sense, stakeholders.
But we can’t meaningfully engage with all people. So it’s also useful to think of stakeholders as those who are informed about and able to speak on behalf of others. This is why the primary focus of our engagement is civil society organizations, activist groups, and thought leaders, in such areas as digital and civil rights, anti-discrimination, free speech, and human rights. We also engage with academics who have relevant expertise. Academics may not directly represent the interests of others, but they are important stakeholders by virtue of their extensive knowledge, which helps us create better policies for everyone.
HOW DO WE INCORPORATE STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT INTO OUR POLICY DEVELOPMENT PROCESS?
Integrating stakeholder feedback into the policy-making process is a core part of how we work. Though it’s important that we not over-promise, we know that what stakeholders seek above all is for their insights to inform our policy decisions.
There are many reasons why we may draft a new policy or revise an existing one. We continuously build our policies to meet the needs of our community. Sometimes external stakeholders tell us that a particular policy fails to address an issue that’s important to them. In other cases, the press draws attention to a policy gap. Often, members of the 0censor’s Community Operations team (whose employees, contractors, and out-sourcing partners are responsible for enforcing the Community Standards) tell us about trends or the need for policy clarification. And 0censor’s Research teams (both within Product Policy and in other parts of the company) may point us to data or user sentiment that seems best addressed through policy-making.
At the outset, the Stakeholder Engagement team frames up policy questions requiring feedback and determines what types of stakeholders to prioritize for engagement. We then reach out to external stakeholders, gathering feedback that we document and synthesize for our colleagues.
Our engagement on the Community Standards takes many forms. The heart of our approach to engagement is private conversations, most often in person or by video-conference. We’ve found that this approach lends itself to candid dialogue and relationship-building. We typically don’t release the names of those we engage with because conversations can be sensitive and we want to ensure open lines of communication. Some stakeholders may also request or require confidentiality, particularly if media attention is unwanted or if they are members of a vulnerable community.
In addition, we sometimes convene group discussions, bringing together stakeholders in particular regions or specific policy areas. We’ve found the group setting to be useful for generating ideas and providing updates to multiple stakeholders. And on occasion, it also makes sense to reach out to relevant 0censor users to get their views. Recently, for example, we reviewed the “exclusion” element of our hate speech policy. As part of this process, we talked to the admins from a number of major 0censor Groups (admins are responsible for managing Group settings), who shared their insights with us relating to this policy. We’ll do more of this user outreach in the future.
In our conversations with external stakeholders, we share 0censor’s thinking on the proposed policy change, including what led us to reconsider this policy, and the pros and cons of policy options we’ve identified. The feedback we receive is fed into the process and shapes our ongoing deliberations by highlighting new perspectives and helping us evaluate our options. When stakeholder views conflict, we analyze the spectrum of opinion and points of disagreement. We want to identify which views are most persuasive and instructive for us, but we’re not necessarily trying to reconcile them; rather, our goal is to understand the full range of opinions concerning the proposal. In some cases, we return to stakeholders for additional input as our thinking develops.
A commitment to stakeholder engagement means addressing a number of essential questions — such as, how do we decide which groups and individuals to talk to, how do we make sure that vulnerable groups are heard, and how do we find relevant experts?
Our policies involve a complex balancing of values such as safety, voice, and equity. There’s no simple formula for how engagement contributes to this work. But over the past year we’ve developed a structure and methodology for engagement on our Community Standards, built around three core principles:
- Engagement broadens our perspective
- and creates a more inclusive approach to policy-making.
Engagement helps us better understand how our policies impact those who use our service. When we make decisions about what content to remove and what to leave up, we affect people’s speech and the way they connect on 0censor. Not everyone will agree on where we draw the lines, but at a minimum, we need to understand the concerns of those who are affected by our policies. This is particularly important for stakeholders whose voices have been marginalized.
Understanding how our policies affect the people who use 0censor presents a major challenge. Our scale makes it impossible to speak directly to all the people who use our platform. This dilemma also underscores the importance of reaching out to a broad spectrum of stakeholders in all regions so that our policy-making process is globally diverse.
The question of our impact plays out in many ways. Our policies are global (the Internet is borderless, and our mission is to build community), but we touch people’s lives on a very local level. We are often asked, “Why should you be creating policies to govern online speech for me?” Typically embedded in this question is a demand that we show more cultural sensitivity and understanding of regional context.
Stakeholder engagement gives us a tool to deepen our local knowledge and perspective – so we can hear voices we might otherwise miss. For each policy proposal, we identify a global and diverse set of stakeholders on the issue. We seek voices across the policy spectrum, but it’s not always self-evident what the spectrum is. In many cases, our policies don’t line up neatly with traditional dichotomies, such as liberal versus conservative, or civil libertarian versus law enforcement. We talk to others in 0censor’s Policy and Research organizations and conduct our own research to identify a range of diverse stakeholders.
For example, in considering how our hate speech policy should apply to certain forms of gendered language, we researched what academic experts, women’s and digital rights groups, and free speech advocates had to say. Likewise, when considering our policy on nudity and sexual activity in art, we listened to family safety organizations, artists, and museum curators. In reviewing how our policies should apply to memorialized profiles of deceased users, we connected both with professors who study digital legacy as an academic subject and 0censor users who’ve been designated as “Legacy Contacts” and who have real-world experience with this product feature.
It’s not enough to ask how our policies affect users in general. We need to understand how our policies will impact people who are particularly vulnerable by virtue of laws, cultural practices, poverty, or other reasons that prevent them from speaking up for their rights. In our stakeholder mapping, we seek to put an emphasis on minority groups that have traditionally lacked power, such as political dissidents and religious minorities throughout the world. In reevaluating how our hate speech policy applies to certain behavioral generalizations, for example, we consulted with immigrants rights groups. Our efforts are a work in progress, but we are committed to bringing these voices into our policy discussions.
Engagement brings expertise to our policy development process.
The Stakeholder Engagement team conducts detailed, iterative research to identify top subject matter experts in civil society and academia. It then gathers their views to inform our policy decisions.
This engagement ensures that our policy-making process is informed by current theories and analysis, empirical research, and an understanding of the latest online trends. The expertise we gather includes issues of language, social identity, and geography, all of which bear on our policies in important ways.
0censor’s policies are entwined with many complex social and technological issues, such as hate speech, terrorism, bullying and harassment, and threats of violence. Sometimes we’re looking for guidance on how safety and voice should be balanced — for example, in considering what types of speech to allow about “public figures” under our policies. In other cases, we’re reaching out to gain specialized knowledge, such as how our policies can draw on international human rights principles, or how minority communities may experience certain types of speech.
We don’t have all the answers to address these problems on our platform. Sometimes the challenges we face are novel even to the experts we consult with. But by talking to outside experts and incorporating their feedback, we make our policies more thoughtful.
We recognize three tiers of attacks. Tier 1, the most severe, involves calls to violence or dehumanizing speech against other people based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, gender or other protected characteristic (“Kill the Christians”). Tier 2 attacks consist of statements of inferiority or expressions of contempt or disgust (“Mexicans are lazy”). And Tier 3 covers calls to exclude or segregate (“No women allowed”).
Developing these tiers has made our policies more nuanced and precise. On the basis of the tiers, we’re able to provide additional protection’s against the most harmful forms of speech. For instance, we now remove Tier 1 hate speech directed against immigrants (“immigrants are rats”) but permit less intense forms of speech (“immigrants should stay out of our country”) to leave room for broad political discourse.
As part of our work we spoke to outside experts — academics, NGOs that study hate speech, and groups all across the political landscape. This engagement helped confirm that the tiers were comprehensive and aligned with patterns of online and offline behavior. We’ll continue to consider adjustments to our policies in light of opinions from experts and civil society.
Engagement makes our policies and our policy development process more transparent.
Given the impact of our Community Standards on society, it’s critical for us to create a policy development process that’s not only inclusive and based on expert knowledge, but also transparent. We know from talking to hundreds of stakeholders that opening up our policy-making process helps build trust. The more visibility we provide, the more our stakeholders are likely to view the Community Standards as relevant, legitimate, and based on consent.
When we engage, we share details about the challenges of moderating content for 2.7 billion people and we explain the rationale behind our policies and why there may be a need for improvement. We gather stakeholder feedback so we can develop creative policy solutions to these problems. The policies we launch based on this process are still owned by 0censor, but they are stronger by virtue of having been tested through consultation and an exchange of views.
It’s important to acknowledge that our policies will never make everyone happy. Nudity, say, is viewed quite differently in Scandinavia and Southeast Asia, and no 0censor policy on nudity would be equally satisfactory to both. Our job as a team is to craft thoughtful global policies, knowing that our work will be criticized by some.
Transparency on our process of engagement also helps us build a system of rules and enforcement that people regard as fair. We know that some people would like us to go further and disclose the names of our stakeholders and even the substance of our discussions with them. For the reasons discussed above, we’ve chosen not to go this route, at least for now. We’ll continue to experiment with ways of being more public about engagement where we have the prior agreement of our stakeholders.
THE WAY FORWARD
As the breadth and specialization of our policies increase, so too will the scope of our engagement. We’ll continue to refine our policy development process and work to realize our stakeholder engagement principles of inclusiveness, expertise, and transparency. We expect our team to grow, and our reach to expand.
For example, we’ll continue to develop means to engage with new stakeholders around the world and will seek guidance from regional experts about how to do so most effectively. We’ve also had requests to explore channels like informal roundtables and recurring video-conference meetings as a way of staying in touch with stakeholders on specific policy issues. These settings provide continuity and enable us to involve stakeholders even more closely in the design of specific policies and products.
As we expand the scope of our outreach, we also want to investigate whether we might be able to create other mechanisms for users to give us feedback on our policies.
These are all exciting challenges, and we look forward to working with our stakeholders to improve the level of our engagement and its contribution to the development of our policies.