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Overcoming challenges in audio content moderation

Posted January 25, 2022
Person with headphones looking to the right

From podcasts and audiobooks, to voice assistants and social media features, the world whirs with the sound of audio content.

Clubhouse in particular — a social media platform that brings users together to converse in audio chatrooms — helped make “social audio” one of the World Economic Forum’s tech buzzwords for 2021. Its meteoric ascent even had some aptly dubbing 2021 “the year of the ear.” Running parallel to Clubhouse’s rise, Twitter launched its Spaces feature, Facebook introduced Live Audio Rooms and Spotify rolled out Greenroom.

Along with social audio’s emergence and popularity comes new, unique challenges surrounding users’ trust, safety and security while engaging in real-time conversations. Community members are looking for brands to step up in this regard. A survey by TELUS International revealed that it only took two or three exposures to inappropriate or inaccurate user-generated content (UGC) on a website for 40% of respondents to lose trust in a brand. In the same survey, 78% of respondents indicated they’d like to see brands take responsibility for creating a positive and welcoming online user experience.

As the trend continues to develop in 2022 and beyond, and as audio user-generated content also blossoms, companies are becoming increasingly aware of their needs for an audio content moderation strategy — applying such a strategy is critical to maintaining a thriving, safe community, and ultimately business growth.

Challenges in audio content moderation

Human content moderators reviewing audio UGC are tasked with striking a delicate balance. With a firm understanding of relevant community guidelines and regional laws, these digital first responders work to keep community members safe — acting swiftly to address violative behavior like hate speech and harassment while allowing for honest discourse.

Given the critical work undertaken by content moderators, brands must have a holistic wellness strategy that incorporates both human and tech elements. For instance, help can come in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). Capable of combing through and evaluating impressive amounts of data, AI can save its human counterparts time by filtering out obvious violations and simultaneously shield them from having to listen to disturbing content. Within the field of AI, natural language processing (NLP) — a subset of AI that is essentially an amalgamation of machine learning and linguistics — is particularly relevant to the moderation of audio content. It is through NLP that brands can try to better understand human language data en masse in order to subsequently address noncompliant behavior.

While NLP and AI in general are useful in helping combat online toxicity, there remain unique moderation challenges specifically pertaining to audio as a medium. Since live audio data is not visual, moderation of this content requires more resources than text-based platforms. And when the audio content in question is live, its immediacy can make moderation more complicated still.

The best approach to content moderation in this sphere combines AI with the expertise of human moderators. Consider the following additional best practices to help you overcome some of the challenges of audio content moderation.

To record or not to record?

While recording makes the review of these real-time chats easier, and allows a combination of humans and AI to weigh in on the content’s appropriateness, it also means companies are responsible for storing these conversations. That begets server costs and a heightened requirement to safeguard the data and privacy of community members. For instance, users may not want their voice recorded, nor kept on a server for any length of time.

Each platform needs to make clear where they stand on this issue and what their policies are. For example, Clubhouse records audio while a channel is live. If a user reports an incident during this period, the company says it stores that audio until the claim is investigated.

Deciding on a recording policy is something each company must determine for themselves and their communities in order to ensure transparency and the protection of their users.

Context is key

AI is not as effective as human moderators at detecting subtleties of languages like implied tone, regional dialects, slang or how the same terms can mean something else in different locales or subcultures.

That is why audio content moderation requires a hybrid approach, one that brings the best qualities of human moderators together with technology. This combination truly sets brands apart in the social audio space: AI for audio content moderation can deal with or flag clear-cut cases across large volumes of data, while human moderators can tackle more subtle nuances.

Protecting the protectors

In recognition that digital first responders are key to a successful online community, brands have a responsibility to ensure their health and well-being.

While using AI catch the worst violations and to lighten the load is important, so too is instilling a culture of engagement. Offer programs for both their physical and mental health such as gym-memberships, dynamic social activities, group and 1:1 counseling services and relaxation areas to name only a few. It’s also important to foster a community of growth by offering ongoing training and development opportunities.

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Benefits of audio content moderation

It is through effective moderation that online communities are maintained as places in which people want to spend their time. Keep that up over time, and your customers are likely to become real advocates.

Consider the ongoing context of the pandemic. Its prolonged periods of isolation have made people lonely and longing for social connections. Many have found some solace on online communities where they can meet and connect with others who may share their interests.

For true connections to occur, though, these spaces need to be safe places — and that’s where audio content moderation comes into play. Brands looking to incorporate audio elements in their online presence find value in partnership. An effective content moderation partner should be a proponent of a hybrid approach — understanding AI and technology, and the importance of human moderators and their well-being. As well, they should understand the ins and outs of trust, safety and security in online communities, and their relationship to the overall customer experience. Seek a partner with the necessary certifications, credentials and a demonstrable understanding of the privacy laws that pertain to your company.

Ultimately, audio content moderation can bring major value to your company if you’re exploring voice-driven experiences. Keeping your communities safe is essential to winning new business and keeping existing customers engaged.

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