In this episode, our host Tiffany Xingyu Wang interviewed Alice Hunsberger, Senior Director and Head of Customer Experience of Grindr, the world's largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people. In this episode, Alice discuss's developments in the field of Trust and Safety, changing approaches to the moderation of online communities, and the need to make greater efforts to consider and protect members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The world of online dating is convoluted and tricky enough to navigate. Imagine trying to manage it from the inside, creating the policies that have to apply to and, ideally, work for each and every person on your dating platform. No easy feat. Disruptive behaviour is present on every platform on the internet, and online dating apps are no exception, with behaviours like scamming, catfishing and bullying. Throw in the hard truth that most apps are developed for the heteronormative and the space becomes a lot more complicated.
Online safety is always important but it becomes even more crucial when it comes to dating apps. Here, people expose themselves and make themselves vulnerable within a community of mostly strangers. Emotions run high, as do the risks involved.
Developing policies, guidelines for safe and inclusive communities is what Alice Hunsberger tries to do everyday at Grindr. Her job involves tackling trust and safety, customer safety, and developing policies for any kind of User Generated Content (UGC). She also works with a community insights team, to make sure that internally everybody is on the same page when it comes to the trust and safety of their users.
Alice is more than a little passionate about this topic. She’s been in the field for over 10 years and began advocating for standards of internet safety long before the industry at large was ready to have that conversation.
Now in 2021, the world is starting to catch up on the importance of ensuring that the platforms we develop are fitted with policies and community guidelines that protect, defend and celebrate the need for true equity online - something the LGBTQ+ community strongly values. Working at Grindr, which focuses exclusively on the LGBTQ+ community, Alice is constantly engaged in creating policies that address the needs of this particular group of users.
The area of Trust and Safety, however, is still in its infancy, and while there has been a lot of trial and error in policy making, the lack of long term data is a challenge to policy makers.
Some of Alice’s recent efforts include the publishing of a whitepaper calling for platforms that have UGC, or a dynamic where the app’s users are communicating with each other, to truly reevaluate the ways in which they handle situations that arise through online interactions. This is the first step towards building a platform that treats its users fairly and inclusively, an area that Alice stresses is necessary for people who identify as transgender and non-binary. With more of the younger generations identifying as trans and non-binary, these issues need to be understood now.
Through the whitepaper, Alice explains that it is impossible to have procedures and policies that work according to the specificities of each group, but also what ‘works for the ‘default’ isn’t going to work for other people’. The ideal solution is to have policies in place that work for everyone as a whole, and ‘don’t take gender into account when deciding what content to allow or not allow’. When moderators are developing their moderation policies, they need to be flexible and consider who is really making up their target audience in order to create the most inclusive moderation work flows.
When it comes to making changes like this, there are undoubtedly going to be obstacles that get in the way. In an ideal world, all platforms would automatically work to be inclusive in their policies. However these efforts can be confounded when apps are forced to comply with the policies of app platforms such as the AppStore and Google Play, whose policies are not always designed for inclusivity.
And while it’s difficult to work against that, there is another obstacle that is more disheartening. Alice stresses that having the conversation is the most important part, and most companies are not doing that. She sees a strong presence of ‘performative allyship where companies say they value inclusion but don’t actually do the work to make sure that they’re fully inclusive, and that they’re actively combatting the bias that their community members face.’
A further problem is that platform users also possess their own biases towards other members of the community. A number of users still feel uncomfortable with people who identify as trans or non-binary being present on dating apps, which leads to a lot of reports being made against trans and non-binary people for simply identifying as themselves.
The industry needs to work towards making the internet a more equitable space for everyone, and to work on tackling disruptive forms of online behaviour before they become an issue. This is particularly true of online dating platforms. To have a space where people are looking for companionship and connection, but instead are met with judgement, harassment, and general feelings of being unwelcome, does not pave the way for an educated and safe online experience. It all starts with having the conversation.
Companies need to be ready to look at themselves closely and see where the LGBTQ+ users of their community are falling through the cracks. They need to develop policies and community guidelines that make sure that not only are the moderators united and informed, but so are their other users. Trust and safety isn’t easy and neither are the judgement calls that it involves - however when weighed against the benefits to users as well as the commercial benefits to online platforms, it is a challenge well worth accepting.