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The never-ending fight to moderate the internet for kids

This week's news cycle sends chills down the spines of parents everywhere. But can we protect kids without ruining the internet?


Lon Harris


Posted on Sep 21, 2023   Updated on Dec 8, 2023, 12:33 am CST


In a troubling clip posted over the weekend to Twitter/X, content creator “Sneako” (real name: Nicolas Kenn De Balinthazy) is seen getting mobbed in public by a group of young fans. The influencer is a fixture in right-wing internet communities, particularly those associated with the “red pill” movement, and so the kids are attempting to get their hero’s attention by repeating hate speech they presumably picked up via his streams. The boys shout misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic things at Sneako, who seemingly play-acts being shocked and appalled by what he has heard. (In case anyone is fooled by his performance in the video, later comments and videos posted to his social media channels demonstrate a general lack of remorse.)

The revelation that kids are being exposed to Sneako-type content isn’t happening in isolation. YouTube also just turned off monetization on Russell Brand’s channel, which itself has taken a hard-right and conspiratorial tone as of late. According to a new joint investigation by three U.K. publications, the actor and comedian was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women (one who was only 16). “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland was also removed from his show following an arrest in January for felony domestic violence. (The charges were later dismissed due to insufficient evidence.) Then, last week, NBC News published an exposé revealing a disturbing pattern of Roiland using social media and dating apps to pursue young fans.

The internet is teeming with billions of people messaging each other and creating content, and true content moderation at this scale is neither straightforward nor practical. Hence why social media companies are protected under Section 230 from liability for illegal or hate-filled content users post on the internet.

Nonetheless, in the cases of larger and more prominent sites and communities — such as Google’s YouTube or Amazon’s Twitch — the option to do nothing no longer applies. From a public relations perspective, these businesses thrive on advertising, and most sponsors don’t wish to be associated with divisive, third-rail content like Sneako’s or Russell Brand’s. …

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2023, 12:51 pm CDT