Sarah T. Roberts is an associate professor at UCLA (Gender Studies, Information Studies, Labor Studies), specializing in Internet and social media policy and culture, and the intersection of media, technology and society. She is the faculty director and co-founder of the UCLA Center for Critical
Internet Inquiry (C2i2), co-director of the Minderoo Initiative on Technology & Power, and a research associate of the Oxford Internet Institute.
Roberts researches information work and workers, and is a leading global authority on “commercial content moderation,” the term she coined to describe the work of those responsible for making sure media content posted to major commercial social platforms fit within legal, ethical, and the site’s own guidelines and standards. She is frequently consulted on matters of policy, worker welfare, and governance related to content moderation issues and the broader social media landscape. She can be seen and heard in many news reports, interviews, podcasts and programs. Additionally, she has experience in industry as a consultant and researcher, most recently working as a Staff Researcher for Twitter in 2022.
She is a 2018 Carnegie Fellow and winner of the 2018 Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Barlow Pioneer Award in recognition of her work on commercial content moderation. She is a 2023 honoree of the 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics.
Her book, Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media, was released in June 2019 and in paperback with a new preface in early 2022 (Yale University Press) and in a French edition, Derrière les écrans (Éditions La Découverte) in October 2020. A Mandarin edition will appear in early 2023.
An overview of 13 years researching at-scale moderation of social media, which Sarah refers to as commercial content moderation. Describes origins of phenomenon, key aspects of its human labor, historical roots in colonialism, contemporary challenges of moderation labor and practice.
Sarah gives her professional and personal take as a longtime researcher, power user, and former employee at Twitter of the dangers and disasters of the Musk takeover thus far, as well as those to come, and what avenues of escape might exist.
In this talk, Roberts discusses the contemporary case of Twitter, once a publicly-traded company and now gone private, but always in the business of trying to maximize gains, and extends the critique of this business model from Twitter to others in the social media space. She offers a view to the pre-commercial social Internet of the late 1980s and early 1990s, offering amusing anecdotes along the way about the way things once were, and a view toward a future for the social internet that explores hopeful and alternative models that, she argues, put people in charge of their own experience in a way not possible under the profit-driven, massive online spaces of today.
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