Learning from the Past to Shape the Future of Digital Trust and Safety

David Sullivan is the founding Executive Director of the Digital Trust & Safety Partnership, which is made up of technology companies committed to developing industry best practices to ensure consumer safety and trust when using digital services. From “puffer jacket Pope” deepfakes to rapidly proliferating age verification requirements for social media, public interest in online safety is at an all-time high. Across the United States and around the world, not a day goes by without some news of a powerful new digital technology, concern about how that technology could be used for abuse, and accompanying calls for regulation.  This surge of interest in safety is a good thing. With 66 percent of the world’s population using the internet, most of the planet has a stake in how digital services manage safety risks. At the same time, with so many new entrants joining this discussion, we risk forgetting the lessons learned from debates that have been raging since the internet’s inception.  The importance of learning from the past was on display recently at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, where on a panel on the future of content moderation, we spent most of our time talking about the history of trust and safety over several decades.  Since that discussion, several lessons became apparent about the evolution of online trust and safety mapped across four distinct eras.   1. Community moderation on the pre-commercial internet  In the beginning, there was the primordial pre-commercial internet. This was a world of bulletin boards…Learning from the Past to Shape the Future of Digital Trust and Safety