It's the tragedy of the Internet: Every cool thing that makes society more interconnected is in danger of being ruined by jerks. From misogynistic attacks on Twitter to racist comments on YouTube to general profane abuse in multiplayer video games, instances of online unpleasantness have raised questions about how to give everyone the best possible experience without crossing a line of censoring free speech.
A new solution for live-streaming app Periscope relies on the community to moderate itself. On May 31 parent company Twitter announced a tool that allows Periscope viewers to report inappropriate comments. Once a questionable comment is reported, the app selects a random group of viewers watching the broadcast to act as a sort of jury: If they agree that the reported comment is spammy or abusive, then the commenter will be "temporarily disabled from commenting within the broadcast," according to a press release from Twitter. (It is unclear whether the vote requires majority or unanimity.) Previously broadcasters were able to moderate comments, but this update puts power into the hands of viewers as well.
To be "transparent, live, and community-led" is the stated goal of the tool. Commenters, moderators and reporters alike will understand what is happening and what the consequences are, and Periscope users will also be able to opt out of being selected as comment moderators. Periscope says it has designed the tool to be "lightweight" so as not to disrupt the viewing experience.
It will be interesting to see whether this works for Periscope and whether a similar system might be effective on other platforms. Of course, the tyranny of the many has the potential to negatively affect this tool as well. It's easy to imagine a majority of people deciding to disable a commenter who is expressing unpopular opinions without being inflammatory or abusive. As always, the danger of unfair censorship lurks behind every attempt to enforce politeness.
If you are using Periscope for brand communications, you should be aware of how user comments are affecting the viewing experience for others. As a broadcaster, you will be able to turn off the community moderation tool, but if you do, take the responsibility to moderate comments yourself seriously.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @ianwright0101