A community of nearly 500 researchers and practitioners gathered for a sold out Trust & Safety Research Conference at Stanford University in late September. Attendees represented a wide range of academic fields and professional disciplines, from social media product development to advocacy organizations and government regulators.
The Stanford Internet Observatory works to support collaboration and research opportunities in the trust and safety space and the second annual conference came at a pivotal time. A rapidly changing social media landscape, new risks and opportunities from generative AI, and fewer resources for trust and safety teams present urgent challenges. Researchers also now have less access to data or opportunities to collaborate with industry to study online harms and information.
“We need to develop new methods to study new platforms under new constraints,” said University of Washington professor Kate Starbird in the opening keynote. “We’re really moving to a different era in terms of conducting research in online spaces right now very quickly, and we’re not able to see what we were able to see before.”
Conference participants had the opportunity to attend 27 sessions spanning topics including AI risks, content moderation challenges, mental health challenges, abuse reporting, and handling harms in different global contexts. Meta and TikTok held workshops on new tools and programs for researchers who had a chance to weigh in on current challenges and areas for further development.
The latest issue of the open access Journal of Online Trust & Safety, a peer-reviewed journal that puts research on online harm mitigation out in a fast and timely manner, complemented the conference. The conference proceedings included five peer-reviewed articles and five commentaries from presenters at the conference.
Conference participants also contributed to the Trust & Safety Teaching Consortium, a group of educators building curriculum material for higher education coursework in trust and safety. The group to date has developed 13 teaching modules and developed courses at ten different colleges and universities.
In a closing fireside chat, Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, urged researchers to continue to study and challenge the practices of social media platforms, “because that’s the pressure that drives companies to do better.” He cautioned that if the research community backs away from their critical review of platform products and practices, “I think we’re unfortunately going to see platforms retreat back to a position more like where they were in 2015 where it felt like they wanted to tell the good news stories and that was pretty much it. I don’t want to send it back there.”
This year's conference was made possible by a generous grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The Stanford Internet Observatory looks forward to hosting the Trust & Safety Research Conference again in fall 2024. Dates and a call for proposals will be announced in early 2024.