In Revenue Capital
September 14, 2023

A Guide to Building Trust and Safety in Online Communities

Recent trust and safety scandals have exposed the fragility between users and tech platforms. This underscores the need for proactive frameworks that protect users – gaining reserves of goodwill for inevitable challenges ahead.

In this guide, we’ll provide actionable best practices across four key pillars for developing core trust and safety:

  1. Ethical Design of Interfaces and Features
  2. Content Policies that Balance Free Expression and Safety
  3. Inclusion and Accountability Structures
  4. Transparent Processes and Communication

Getting ahead of issues shows a commitment to users over profits or growth. While imperfect, these strategies allow teams to uphold safety as an ongoing process.

Section 1: Ethical Interface and Experience Design

  • Build safety into core flows through risk analysis in design sprints. Don’t tack it on later.
  • Enable granular controls and explicit consent around data privacy—no tracking, profiling, or sharing without opt-in.
  • Follow stringent privacy and security by design principles. Encrypt data, minimize collection, and monitor access.
  • Allow pseudonymous profiles where possible to protect vulnerable users. Don’t force real names.
  • Scrutinize gamification elements that may enable addictive behaviors. Use motivating design ethically.
  • Adopt safety-oriented defaults like minimum ages, strong passwords, and data deletion tools. Users should opt-in to risks.
  • Analyze accessibility needs for disabled users. Build interfaces for universal access.
  • Conduct ethical reviews on features and changes, considering implications for at-risk groups.

Section 2: Content Policies that Balance Free Expression and Safety

  • Develop clear content rules grounded in ethical principles like justice, autonomy, and beneficence. Explain rationale.
  • Implement both proactive abuse detection and reactive reporting. Automation and human review should work together.
  • Apply policies consistently across user groups—more scrutiny on the powerful and those targeting the vulnerable.
  • Have a low tolerance for clear harms like hate speech, stalking, and threats. Weigh community impact heavily.
  • Allow appeals for takedowns and bans. Provide a path to reinstatement contingent on understanding the implications.
  • Regularly update policies based on new challenges observed in data and user feedback. Keep pace with changing tactics.
  • Look for exploitation of loopholes and coordinated harmful campaigns, not just individual incidents.
  • Analyze usage data responsibly to guide interventions around risks like self-harm and eating disorders.
  • For complex issues, convene an advisory ethics board with diverse representation to develop balanced policies.

Section 3: Inclusion and Accountability Structures

  • Establish inclusive processes for regular input from diverse users when shaping policies. Don’t make decisions in a black box.
  • Conduct rigorous third-party algorithm audits focused on uncovering biases and optimizing recommendations for good.
  • Implement vital whistleblower programs to surface issues without retaliation. Take staff concerns seriously.
  • Leadership must exemplify ethical practices in their behavior and decisions. Set the tone from the top.
  • Train all employees, not just T&S teams, on applying ethical thinking to product design, engineering, and marketing.
  • Fairly compensate T&S reps for the emotional toll of their work. Provide mental health support. Don’t take them for granted.
  • Create feedback channels for users to report feeling harmed by platform issues like bans. Be accountable.
  • Form an external advisory council of civil rights experts to assess where trust & safety policies can improve.

Section 4: Transparent Processes and Communication

  • Communicate openly with users on challenges and measures being taken to address them. Don’t appear indifferent.
  • Simplify how rules are described to users in plain language while providing rationale behind policies.
  • Adopt radical transparency around data practices, algorithm functioning, and how content decisions are made. Users deserve explanations.
  • Make it easy to access knowledgeable human support for account issues and disputes. Automation should assist users.
  • Share lessons learned from problems to reassure users that progress is being made. Don’t appear defensive.
  • Publish regular transparency reports on policies’ applications, including aggregate data on takedowns, bans, and appeals.
  • Open channels for users to give input on algorithms, new features, and community guidelines. And incorporate feedback.
  • Appoint an ombudsperson focused solely on representing excluded user perspectives and upholding their rights.

While perfect trust and safety are impossible, proactive and human-centric approaches can foster welcoming, ethical communities. This guide outlined achievable best practices across four key pillars.

Starting with small steps demonstrates prioritizing user welfare – building reserves of trust for when challenges emerge. At its core, trust and safety requires a mindset shift as much as any single tool or process.

If you lead a digital community and seek guidance on this journey, contact our team. Let’s have an open conversation on how to start.