Digital Human Takes A Look At Modern Day Sin Eaters – The Content Moderators

Aleks Krotoski is back on BBC Radio 4 with a new series of the excellent The Digital Human and this week’s episode is entitled “Sin-eaters” :

Sin eating was an age old British practice carried out by those on the fringes of their communities. When someone died the sin eater would consume a ritualistic meal over the corpse and in doing so they would take on their sins. Whether they were outcasts because of this, or to start with folklorists can’t say. What is known for certain though is that they were among the poorest – who else would do it?

It’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it. This episode takes a look at modern day Sin-eaters in the shape and form of content moderators. Early in the episode we hear this :

“One woman I spoke to, told me, after I stopped working on content moderation I wouldn’t shake people’s hand. If you’ve had the job that I’ve had you know that people are nasty.”

This is a harrowing episode in many ways, touching upon offensive content to content that is much much worse. This is the side of content moderation that we don’t hear much about, it’s a side of content moderation that isn’t widely talked about due in part to the fact that companies simply don’t want to talk about it and that in turn means it’s a side of content moderation that is greatly under appreciated.

Aleks Krotoski points out :

Their job is vital, but we treat them like second class citizens.

The episode features input from Sarah T. Roberts, Assistant Professor of Information Studies at UCLA who has been studying content moderation since 2010. Sarah runs a website on content moderation, or Commercial Content Moderation (CCM); The Illusion of Volition.

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Will Voice Chat Dominate As Virtual Worlds Become More Immersive?

The next episode of BBC Radio 4’s Digital Human sees presenter Aleks Krotoski takes a look  a voice, or rather the lack of voice in online communications :

In this weeks Digital Human Aleks Krotoski asks if the Digital world is robbing us of our voice. When we’d rather text or message than speak to someone are we still listening?

While radio may well be thriving look at just about every other digital device and its pictures , video and text communication that dominates. So what is the future for the voice?

This has potential to be interesting, although this show runs for less than half an hour so they may not be able to squeeze enough in but voice is an issue that has been raised in many a virtual world and has been a bone of contention in Second Life since it was introduced.

So why is voice a second class means of communication online? I haven’t done any research into this but I would hazard a guess that some of the reasons are to do with identity, some of the reasons are to do with language barriers and some of the reasons are to do with the online experience being so visually rich, text simply has more mileage in the tank. However as virtual worlds become more immersive, this may change.

In February 2007 Joe Linden blogged : Bringing Voice to Second Life and over 500 comments appeared below the post, many of them disagreeing with the addition of voice. Some of the comments on that blog post explain why voice isn’t as widely accepted as text :

“The voice ‘improvement’ avoids one obvious issue… In what human language are all the voices to use? English? Chinese? Spanish? Portuguese? It’s bad enough bridging the language barriers when we are IMing (where one has time to think, compose, and apply rules of grammar and remember foreign words over a span of time)… But speaking demands faster recall and faster integration of language elements in real time… tough in one’s own language… sometimes almost impossible in another language… Good luck, but I have my doubts….”

“I suppose this was inevitable, but it will further divide those for whom Second Life is a truly second life, very possibly a fantasy life, from those for whom SL is an extension of their first life. I wonder if there will end up having to be a grid (from LL or someone else) where those who don’t just want another first life will be able to go.”

“Anoynimty has always been one of the main points of SL. Until it can be perserved then their should be no voice like Philip Linden originaly said.”

“But you have to understand the emotions and fear of the other people playing here that don’t want to use voice, either if they can’t speak well or don’t want to show their identity. SL is in my opinion a place used for leisure, fun, relaxation and even psychotherapy.

If you introduce this babylonian tower this will be the first step of isolation by nations. While chatting you still can look up the dictionary or take your time to answer. This is not possible while having a live talk. And don’t forget the dialects. not everybody speaks a clear tongue understandable even for foreigners.”

There are other objections there, people in homes with families where they don’t want to engage in voice chat because others are in the home. Females in particular have complained of being harassed about not using voice and then been accused of not really being females.

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Telling Tales

I was listening to Digital Human on Radio 4 on the way home from work this afternoon and this week’s edition was about how storytelling is changing, rather interestingly one of the people interviewed claimed that storytelling is taking a step backwards to older times with people telling stories they’ve heard from others in different mediums, similar to how stories would move from place to place as people travelled but now travel can be a digital step, rather than a physical one.

A lot of the episode was about something I’ve never heard of called Slender Man, which has apparently got a large following. However another part of the episode involved Alison Norrington, who has in the past used Second Life as part of a transmedia storytelling project, that was back in 2007 so it isn’t new. Transmedia is using different formats to tell your story, each one delivering a unique piece of the project, so for example, in Alison’s case she used blogs, emails, Second Life, YouTube etc. to tell the story, rather than having the whole story on each format … I think I’ve got that right!

I don’t think Alison is in Second Life anymore, maybe The Blarney Stone was too much drunken debauchery for her, but the project and use of Second Life was an interesing concept.

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